It took a giant leap of faith for Karyn Williams to move to Nashville in 2007 to pursue music. But then, she will tell you, her faith is what sustains her.
Five years later, she is now releasing her first album, Only You, on Inpop Records. And the new project is creating quite a buzz in Nashville Christian music circles. Billboard magazine called it one of the “Best Bets” of 2012.
Karyn’s unrelenting trust in God is homegrown, having been raised as the eldest child of nineteen, fourteen of whom are adopted. Her dad, Pat Williams, who is a well-known motivational speaker and the founder of the Orlando Magic, instilled in her a positive attitude. Her mother taught her to sing.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career, and what was the catalyst for taking the first step of your musical journey?
Growing up, my dad was a guest speaker at churches all over the country and my mom would travel with him and sing. One night when I was about three years old, I begged my mom to get up and sing with her. She reluctantly agreed thinking that I would hide behind her skirt the whole time but instead as we started the song together apparently I grabbed the microphone and took over, so she sat down on the pew in the front row and let me finish!
Music has been the only thing that’s ever made sense to me. A few years ago, I felt the Lord tugging on my heart to move to Nashville and build a ministry through music. I was terrified and excited all at the same time and the only thing I knew was that if He was leading, then I was in good hands. I tearfully said goodbye to my family in Orlando and headed north! My promise to the Lord during the drive that day was that I would walk through any and every door that I felt He was opening, even if it pushed me out of my comfort zone. As long as I knew it was from Him I would say, “yes.” I’ve kept that promise and He has been faithful to open some unbelievable opportunities that I never expected. Signing with Inpop Records and becoming a labelmate with the Newsboys, Jaci Velasquez, and Jimmy Needham is a huge blessing and I’m thankful to have such a great team of people around me who have true hearts for putting out music that will truly encourage people and spread hope.
For me, the catalyst for taking the first step of my musical journey was saying goodbye to my family and moving to a new place trusting the Lord completely. My advice to anyone afraid to take that first step is this; our days on earth are numbered and we never know which one we’re on today, so go after whatever it is you’ve been too afraid to try. You have nothing to lose! Uncork your imagination, silence your inner critic, ask yourself, “what if I tried that,” and listen for the Lord’s leading. Then start taking baby steps towards what you want most out of life!
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
In January of 2011, my dad was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma. It was the most devastating day of my life learning about this news. I was rocked to my core and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I walked around for many weeks in a total fog trying to understand it, trying to make sense of it, and trying to find the answers to all of my “why” questions. In the phone call when my dad told me about this news he said, “Karyn, God’s going to use this and He will turn this around for good.” Right then I didn’t know how He would do that, but as the months went on I started to see the good coming out of it all. My relationship with the Lord deepened to a whole new level and I started to understand that sometimes things in our lives that we think are so terrible are really just opportunities to grow, let the Lord shape us, and to show our faith to the world in new ways.
Not long after his diagnosis my dad said, “I thought I was close to the Lord before, but now I feel like I’m sitting on His lap hugging Him around the neck.” I thought that was such a beautiful picture of resting in the arms of Jesus, and my first single Rest In The Hope was born. My dad has been the most reckless Jesus follower I’ve ever known and cancer didn’t change that one bit. He has been able to share his testimony in places he never would have been before cancer and he’s led new people to the Lord because of it. At the end of our lives that’s what it’s all about—sharing Jesus with as many people as possible. Sometimes the Lord uses circumstances we don’t understand to do that, but I firmly believe that nothing happens to us that isn’t “Father filtered” and He has a reason for everything. Once we let go and let Him lead, we can take a deep breath, lay it all down at the feet of Jesus, and rest knowing He is always at work in our lives.
Here’s a blog I wrote about the entire experience.
How does your faith play into your work?
I have three things I’m passionate about in life, Jesus . . . people . . . and music (in that order) . . . so to be able to make a ministry out of all three is such a blessing. When I keep my focus where it needs to be, trying to write great songs and reaching out to people, then my “work” doesn’t feel like work. Yes, there are things I have to do every day that are part of the music business, but my focus is on living out my faith in this industry without all the ups and downs. My passion for Christ makes my passion for people real and as natural as breathing. We are called to love Jesus and love people—that’s where my focus is. Taking the hope of the cross to real people with real pain living in the real world.
I am SO excited to share this music! All of the songs on Only You come from a very real and very personal place for me. I co-wrote nine out of the eleven songs on the record, which I never would have expected. When I moved to Nashville, I didn’t understand a thing about the songwriting community and I literally fell into songwriting by accident. I just threw myself in and every songwriter I met I said, “Let’s write together!”My dad has always told me, “If someone asks you if you know how to do something, tell them ‘yes’ and then go learn how to do it!” So following my dad’s advice and my promise to the Lord that I would walk through whatever doors He was opening, I said “yes” to songwriting. I found that I had a passion for pouring my heart out into songs and that led to signing a major publishing deal with Brentwood Benson Music Publishing. I was writing for this record before I knew it. For two years I poured my heart out into songs and when the opportunity came for me to do my own record, I had the songs already written. It was a huge blessing and another example to me that when I take my hands off of things and allow the Lord to lead, He is always working for good in my life.
Do you have a favorite song on the project?
Oh that’s such a hard question! : -) All the songs on Only You are personal to me for different reasons. One of my favorite songs to be a part of as a songwriter is, Hey There. When Barry Weeks came to me with the idea, he had already written the first few lines of the first verse and I jumped all over it because I loved the honesty of those first few lines. “Every day it seems you’re lost in the mirror, there’s no reflection anymore it’s disappeared . . .” This song is like a big hug for anyone who is hurting. There is so much pain that we all carry around and we are really good at hiding behind the smiles that we learn to wear. I know there have been times in my life where I’ve looked in the mirror and felt completely lost. But to know that the God of the universe knows right where I am and exactly what I’m going through—that’s a pretty amazing thought and that’s a promise I’m not letting go of.
But probably one of my favorites to sing is Only You. Every time I sing that song, I am reminded that at the end of my life none of the things I’m worried about right now are going to matter. That’s what this song is all about. Only You came to me in the middle of the night when I was walking through a very frustrating time with “worldly” things hitting me left and right. I felt like as soon as I got up from one thing, something else came and knocked me down. I was wide awake all night and I felt like the Lord kept saying, “At the end of your life none of these things are going to matter. The only thing that will matter is whether or not you knew Me, loved Me, served Me, and told everyone you could about Me.” That’s how this song was born. The fact that it is the title track of my first record is the coolest thing in the world for me. This song is my heart put to a melody. It’s what I want my life to stand for.
Which song speaks most directly to your personal faith walk?
That would have to be This Is Freedom. This is a very personal song for me and I usually end up in tears singing it because it is so meaningful. Before I answered the call to pursue a music ministry I spent a lot of years quietly frustrated, living a life and working in jobs that I wasn’t all that passionate about. I felt trapped and guilty for some of my decisions that had landed me there. What I have come to find is that a lot of us feel this way—especially women. We wake up every day, slap a smile on our face, and do our best to fool the world, but inside we’re in pain. We feel stuck and many times shameful and unable to feel true freedom. What we forget is that God made a way for us to have eternal freedom when He sent His son Jesus to die on the cross and pay for our sins. He gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be free and it’s up to us whether or not we accept that freedom. When I finally let go of the guilt of my yesterdays and allowed God’s grace to cover my tomorrows, I found the freedom that He longs to give all of us. It’s the greatest news in the world and the best part is that it is not a temporary freedom—it’s for all eternity.
* This is a two-part interview. To read the conclusion, click here.
For more information about Karyn and her music, visit her website at http://www.karynwilliams.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/karynwilliams or like her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/karynwilliamsmusic.
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