Spiritual StrugglesWhen you struggle spiritually, how do you react?
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Christy Sutherland Her deep and abiding faith has sustained singer-songwriter Christy Sutherland all her life, so her destiny in Christian music should have been obvious. Her first public performance was in church. She won a national Christian-music talent contest. She starred on Christian television. Christy has always been candid about her faith. Ive been singing Christian music and country music my whole life. But being a girl singer from Texas, it only seemed natural to me to want to be a country music star. Christy Sutherland has spent more than a decade in Nashville performing country music. During that time, she garnered two major-label recording contracts, a staff writing position for one of the most successful publishing companies on Music Row and multiple appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Her songs have been recorded by several top stars. While working in the country industry, she read her Bible and prayed every day. And when she finally began putting Scripture in her songs, a door shed never knocked on opened wide. As a songwriter, Christy has suddenly become a presence on the Christian-music scene. I Believe was recorded by Rizen, who included it on a 2005 album that earned a top award nomination from the Gospel Music Association. You Call Me Yours is on 2007 CDs by both the legendary Sandi Patty and the new group Prelude. God Is In This Place is published in a popular Word Music worship choral. Cry in the Dark was picked up by Lifeway for its Christmas musical. All of this happened in the aftermath of losing her country-music career in one tumultuous week. It was January 2005, she recalls. After writing for the same publisher for 10 years, my contract ended. The label that I recorded for was purchased by another label, and instantly I was without a recording contract. The next Saturday night I was scheduled to play the Grand Ole Opry. So I cried on Friday, and I just had to really pray. I said, God, you know I cant get up there with swollen eyes and a bad voice. I have to just really knock it out of the park. I asked Him to be there with me. Ironically, that was the first time I chose to do a gospel song on the Opry. It was Angel Band. At the second show, I could just feel the Holy Spirit there. When I came off the stage, my producer at the time, Matraca Berg, had tears in her eyes. She said, God is here. It was amazing. I said, I asked Him to be here. There was no way I could ever have sung otherwise. That very next day, I was in my Sunday school class surrounded by Spirit-filled, prayerful, loving friends. I told them what had happened. It was finally OK to fall apart, because I had gotten through that horrible week. A little 7-year-old boy came down the aisle in our classroom and handed me a written note. It basically said, Do not be afraid. I am with you. I knew in that moment, God has a plan. Its OK. He knew everything that was going to happen to me. I moved in with a couple of girlfriends from church because I couldnt afford to keep my apartment anymore. I was at rock bottom, living out of a bedroom. I took a job at a cosmetics counter at a Nashville department store. I would hide in shame whenever somebody from the music business would come in. Jaime Dudney worked at that same store. She had been an actor on As The World Turns, but left the show after a couple of years. We became fast friends. She started telling me about her brother, Matt. Id known him in college, and I remembered him. On June 12, 2005, he came into the store. I had told Matraca, God is bringing me my husband this year. She said, Are you serious? I said, Yeah, you watch. But what I didnt know was that he was coming into the department store where I was selling lipstick. He asked me out. By our second phone call, we knew we were going to be married. Christy Sutherland and Matt Dudney were wed on July 14, 2006. Matt and Jaime are the children of Ken Dudney and Barbara Mandrell. Country superstar Barbara won a Grammy for best inspirational performance and a Grammy for best soul gospel performance. She is a huge fan of Christys performing and writing, as well as a mentor. In Barbaras words, Christy Sutherland not only has a strong, incredible voice and is an anointed songwriter, but she also has very polished stage presence. To me, thats what it takes to capture and keep the attention of the people. Matt, who is a professional chef, does his part, too. Matt has Scriptures taped up all over our kitchen. Anytime I say anything negative, he comes back with the Word of God, like, If God is for you, who can be against you? Its just exactly what I need, encouragement. Christy was a miracle baby who survived, despite weighing just two pounds at birth. She was raised in little Port Lavaca, Texas, on the Gulf Coast about midway between Houston and Corpus Christi. She was only five when she first took the stage as a singer. I was the only kid who knew the second verse of Away in a Manger, so they let me sing it in the church Christmas pageant. I dont remember it, but my mother says I lifted up my little hands at the end of the song. When she was 12, Christys church youth leader taught her a few chords on the guitar. She learned to finger pick by listening to albums by the country-gospel family group The Whites. She was fascinated by the country records of Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline, but was also influenced by such contemporary Christian stars as Janet Paschal and John Starnes. I remember coming home from a voice lesson, and my momma put in a Dottie Rambo cassette to play in the car. Tears poured down my face. I learned a ton of stuff from her. They were straight-from-the-heart songs. Growing up, I played as many churches as @#$@-tonks and country opry shows. I was in a country band, and wed play Saturday nights. I was 17, and I can still hear Momma. She said, The only way Im going to let you stay out all hours is if you are in church and in that choir every Sunday morning. Christy formed a duo with her mother. Throughout her teen years, they performed in churches throughout Southeast Texas. Even after enrolling at Nashvilles Belmont University aiming for a country career, Christy repeatedly returned to her gospel roots. In Music City, she sang on the Grand Old Gospel radio show and performed in churches with classmate Allan Hall, who went on to form the acclaimed group Selah. In the summers of 1992 and 1993, Christy became a regular on the Victoria, Texas TV show Crossroads Alive. At age 19 she sang at Lakewood Church, the Houston mega-congregation that is the largest church in America. In 1993, she won the Female Vocalist prize on the 700 Clubs National New Artist Search. She also found time to do mission work as an English tutor in Poland and Morocco. An accomplished voice coach, Christy gives private instruction to a number of recording artists as well as conducts vocal seminars tailored to worship leaders. In Nashville, Christ Church has been my spiritual home and my rock for over six years. I thank God for the journey. His dreams are so much bigger than our own. There are no words to describe the joy it brings me, having the honor of taking His gift of music all over our great country.