Violin-flute artists on faith adventure
COLLEGE GROVE, Tenn. (BP)--Bruce and Lisa Wethey had never done a Christmas CD.
As the violin-and-flute Bruce & Lisa duo, they often fielded the question, "Do you have a Christmas album?" after their concerts during the holiday season.
"We had been holding off on doing one," Lisa says.
Sales were not to be the motivation for any recording, the husband-and-wife artists had resolved in leaving the world of classical music five years ago.
"It's not about us, it's about Him," they say from time to time, seemingly placing a capital H on their reference to God.
That outlook once drained their savings to $12, but still they were at peace in embarking on careers focused on uplifting others through their music.
A conversation one night stirred them to pray anew about a Christmas CD when they realized, as Lisa tells it, "Our concerts at Christmastime have been like everybody else's." A bit fancy, a bit jazzy, a bit reflective of the hubbub of the modern-day Christmas season.
"I said that's not what Christmas is. And we stopped and thought [how] it's so easy for all of us to get lost in that madness, forgetting that there were three people in a manger."
"It was such a simple, humble moment with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus," Bruce joins in. "Even though this was the greatest moment, the greatest gift from God that would transform the world as we know it, it started with no great fanfare, no great hoopla or hurrahs."
So they settled on a CD, titled "Christmas Peace," with simply the flute, violin and piano (featuring Jason Webb) to symbolize Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
Beyond the lament that people get too busy at Christmas, Bruce and Lisa hope to say in the CD and their holiday concerts that "we have to totally change our mindsets," as Bruce puts it, "and come back to the fact that God could have created a worldwide party, if he wanted, to announce the coming of Jesus."
But God chose the simple setting of Bethlehem, Bruce reflects, to show "that it's not all about the hoopla and fanciness in our lives. It's about simply dealing with the love of Christ, loving our neighbors ... not worrying about stuff ... not worrying about all the grandiose things.
"We need to have those real moments of meditation on Christmas," Bruce says, voicing a hope that the CD will help "slow people down just by the nature and the feel and the spirit in which we recorded it ... whether it's in the car or whether it's at home or when they're wrapping presents [or when] they have their feet up after a crazy day of Christmas shopping."
The CD still has a bit of "the Bruce & Lisa kind of jazziness to it," Bruce says. "There are a few [tracks] that are upbeat and fun, but some that are just very meditative."
The Wetheys reside in College Grove, Tenn. -– a sharp rural contrast to the hustle of the Miami area from which they moved in 2002.
Bruce had been the first chair violinist with the Florida Philharmonic in Fort Lauderdale for a dozen years and was an adjunct professor of violin at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach. And he had been the featured violinist on a Grammy-nominated CD of instrumental music.
Lisa was a concert soloist who often premiered composers' works for the flute, including some 15 performances at Carnegie Hall, and she was a professor of flute at Florida International University in Miami.
Both, however, had begun experiencing God in dramatic ways.
Lisa gained a rejuvenated faith when her eyesight was restored in a 1997 surgery for a large pituitary tumor that had pressed against her optic nerves. Doctors had not expected such a positive outcome. And Lisa's faith persevered even when her first marriage ended that year, leaving her with a 2-year-old daughter to raise.
"I had prayed to receive Christ when I was 17," Lisa recounts, "sitting in my own bedroom watching Billy Graham on my black-and-white TV set. I felt he was speaking straight to me and straight into my heart." Her faith had waned in the intervening years – until her sight was restored. "My whole world changed," she says. "I kept saying, 'Thank you [to God], show me what you want me to do [in response]."
A friendship with Bruce began in 1997 as well. Two years later, he stayed in the hospital waiting room while Lisa underwent a second brain surgery for the ever-growing but non-cancerous tumor. During the six-hour operation, Bruce was joined by two people he had never met -– Tim Perrin, then-pastor of Miami Shores Baptist Church where Lisa's daughter was in preschool, and Luann Willix, head of the congregation's children's department.
"I was not a Christian," Bruce says, "but I was so impressed with somebody doing that." Before Perrin and Willix departed, the pastor offered to say a prayer and told Bruce, "Just keep in touch. Let us know how things go."
Bruce later met with the surgeon and had goose bumps when told how unusual it had been for so much liquid to pour out from the tumor -– words akin to Perrin's prayer with Lisa several days before her surgery, asking God to "wash this tumor away."
"I realized there was something bigger going on here," Bruce says. "So I called the pastor the next day and said, 'We need to have lunch. I want to talk.' And over the next month or so, God used him to lead me to Christ.
"I lived life believing there was a God, but not knowing Jesus," Bruce recounts. His dedication to his musical career left him "little time to figure out that something was missing. I was generally 'happy' but lived as if it all depended on me and what I did, not realizing that I was nothing without Christ, who would ultimately shoulder the load on my behalf. With Lisa and her health, I quickly realized it was all out of my hands and God was in control -– and that God had given Jesus as a living Savior who wanted to redeem me."
A sense of call began to tug at Bruce and Lisa after their November 1999 marriage, nudging them to pray about using their talents for God.
They played their violin and flute in worship services at Miami Shores Baptist Church, but nearly all their time and energy were taken up by their careers and their family, especially with the birth of a daughter, Olivia.
As the call persisted, the Wetheys pondered a transition from classical music. After another tumor surgery in 2002, they selected Nashville for no specific reason other than prayer to launch their ministry. "We'd never been to Tennessee," Bruce puzzles, "and at the time I associated Nashville with country music. I didn't realize all the Christian music is based here too."
The Wetheys had counted on their savings to cushion their first year in Nashville, but their house in Miami stayed on the market, so they had an extra mortgage payment they hadn't foreseen. Coupled with a big jump in health insurance costs, their savings dwindled to $12. One week, their Sunday School class at the time, at Franklin's ClearView Baptist Church, gave them a grocery store gift certificate.
"I think that God wanted me to grow to the point where I was actually walking on the water," Lisa reflects. "I finally got to the point where I said, 'I know you want to build this ministry yourself, God. I'm yours. My husband is yours.... Just use us the way you want to.'
"And it's like the next day the phone started ringing and people started inviting us.... So we started telling our story."
"Over these last five years," Bruce picks up, "God has been so faithful in providing financially, in creating opportunities for our ministry. We don't have any agent, any booking people. We just totally believe in God taking us where he's going to take us. We go to churches, small and large, wherever he can use us."
The Wetheys, who now attend Thompson Station Baptist Church, underscore two key lessons from their spiritual journey.
Simply "showing the love of Christ," like how Perrin and Willix did in the Miami hospital's waiting room, "can radically change somebody's life," Bruce says.
And God can use all situations for good, even a brain tumor. "[God] allowed it to pass through his hands," Bruce says, "for tremendous reasons."
Bruce, for one, attests: "I came to Christ as a result of that trial in our lives, because of God's goodness."
"For the first time in my life," Lisa says, "I want to be exactly who God made me. I don't know how much time I have left on this earth. I don't know what's going to happen from here. It's the last thing I think about every single day." Back when they had "the big bank account," she reflects, "we had the emptiest hearts."
Now, "I feel like we're alive."
Lisa has been playing the flute since she was 9 when her mother purchased one at a yard sale. Bruce has been playing the violin since he was 3, when he pointed to a violin in a music store and his mother arranged for him to take lessons via the Suzuki method.
"I feel like it's my voice," Lisa reflects, "To me, the flute sings, and when it's played well it sounds like what I think we're going to hear up in heaven."
For Bruce, the violin has become "my way of expressing my love back to God. I can't sing very well, I'm not great at Bible quotes, but every time I pick up the violin, whether I'm by myself in a room, whether I'm in front of five people or 10,000 people, it's just me, the violin and God. I love offering every note I play as a way to say thank you, Christ, for your love and what you've done in my life."
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. This article first appeared at Williamson ClusterPaper – Faith & Values, on the Web at www.clusterpaper.com. Bruce & Lisa are on the Web at www.bruceandlisa.com. The site contains video clips from their concerts and information about their CDs.