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Artist Interview

Matthew West Leads Us Into the Light

By Hannah Goodwyn Senior Producer
Into The Light continues in the same vein as singer Matthew West's acclaimed record, The Story of Your Life. This latest project is the result of the 20,000 letters West has received over the past few years from fans. Each one shares a personal story that the Contemporary Christian artist reads for songwriting inspiration.

Recently, the Tennessee-based singer spoke with about making Into The Light, why he needs counseling now and how he's responding to the stories that don't make it onto his albums.

Hannah Goodwyn: Into The Light's first single, "Forgiveness", is based on Renee Napier and her 20-year-old daughter Meagan, who was killed by a drunk driver named Eric, who was 24 at the time. With Eric serving 22 years in prison for manslaughter, Renee has dedicated her life to giving DUI presentations at schools. Tell me more about their incredible story.

Matthew West: Over time, [Renee] felt like God was doing a work in her heart. She felt like it was time for her to let go of some of the bitterness that she had been holding on to towards this young man. Anybody would look at that and go, "That's understandable. The guy did it. He's guilty. He took the life of your child." And yet, with God's help, she reached out and did the impossible.

She reached out to Eric in prison, and said, "I forgive you." The ripple effects of that act of forgiveness have been felt by many, many people. Eric, as a result of Renee reaching out to him in prison, was basically given a second chance, because Eric got saved as a result of Renee's act of forgiveness.

He's quoted saying, "I can't even forgive myself, and this woman has forgiven me for what I've done." So, the story continues, and Eric starts getting released. The prison would bring him to the school to share at the presentations with Renee. And Renee felt like there was just such power in that, and she went to the courts and decided to convince the courts to reduce his sentence. They got his sentence cut in half. So, he's going to be released from prison this fall, and he'll be able to join Renee as they speak. She said, "Not only do we speak about the dangers of drunk driving, but we also share about the power of forgiveness."

It was a story that really hit me hard, man. It was a story that made me sort of ask some tough questions about my own life. I think anybody who hears that story would go, "Could I do the same?" My answer was, "No". Just if I'm being totally honest, I don't think I would be able to forgive. She said, "I wasn't either. But with God's help, I was." To me, that was the secret there. That's the key. With God all things are possible, even forgiving someone who's done something, by all accounts, unforgivable.

HG: That's an incredible story. I can't imagine reading 20,000 of those.

MW: Holy cow, I had to start going to counseling. No joke.

HG: Really?

MW: Somebody told me that every time somebody shares a tragedy with you, you experience your own little tragedy, which I never really thought about that. I don't know if I'd totally hold onto that, but I know that these stories have affected me. Some of them have really disturbed me. Some of them have challenged me. Some of them have inspired me. Some of them have restored my faith in people. Some of them have stolen my faith in people. At the end of the day, it's just been a lot to wrestle with. So, sometimes you have to get out of it, and just get some new perspective on it. But all in all, these thousands of stories have made me look at my own life; and take a deeper look, and go, "OK, what are you trying to show me through this?"

HG: One of the by-products of opening your heart to fans in this way is a new ministry you've started with your dad, correct?

MW: Yeah. It came out of all that wrestling. One of the things I've noticed is that many of the stories were cries for help. They weren't just stories. They were, "I have nobody else to talk to. I can't shake these suicidal thoughts I'm having. I'm battling extreme depressing and I don't know what to do." They were, "I'm a cutter, and it started when my dad walked out. I've been cutting myself, and I don't know how to stop." They were, "I'm battling an eating disorder, and it's stealing my life. I don't know what to do." They were, "My marriage is on the verge of divorce. I'm praying for my husband to come back, but it looks like it's past the point of no return." I mean, they were cries for help.

I felt so ill-equipped, and unqualified, and just all of the things that made me feel like there's no way I can respond. I don't have the time. I don't have the resources. I don't have the know-how, but I do know who does. That's when I thought about my mom and dad. I thought, "My mom and dad have been in the business of responding to those cries for help for 38 years." They've done it at one church, just caring for the least of these. And if they didn't know the answer, they'd find somebody who did. Plugging people in and helping their hearts heal, I thought, "That's what this is about. This isn't about music anymore. These 20,000 stories are basically saying, ‘What are you going to do about us?'"

I felt like God was asking me that same question: "Hey, your eyes have been open to some needs here. Are you going to just simply write a few songs about them or are you going to actually care enough to call that kid back who's struggling with suicidal thoughts? Because guess what, you know now, and you can't undo that." That's where I've gone, "OK, this is a responsibility." So, we started Population We. It's just getting off the ground right now…. It seems to be resonating with people everywhere I go when I share about it. They're like, "Yeah, that makes sense." I'm really excited about it. I think it's completely changed how I view what I do and why I do it.

HG: There's something therapeutic and biblical about writing and sharing your story. It's a process, but it's an amazing one. It always is when God leads you through something really difficult.

MW: That's the thing. When we're in the middle of it, we don't believe it sometimes. Ultimately, every story, according to God, is a story of redemption. He works all things for the good, for those who are in Christ Jesus and called according to His purpose. So, somehow, someway, we may not even be alive to see it, but there's some element of redemption.

That's the one true source of hope in knowing that my story will be a story of redemption, one way or the other either in this life, or in eternity in Heaven. Because that in itself is the ultimate redemption that any story can have, that any heartbreak can find.

There's still that glimmer. I think that's what a lot of people are writing for, because they are clinging to that. Maybe hoping, "If you read my story or if it turns into a song and then helps somebody else, well then maybe that's part of the redemption." I just wish I could write more songs.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.

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