Singer-songwriter Gretchen Keskeys has released her debut album, "Walking in the Spirit," via Nashville-based Creative Soul Records. Gretchen wrote each of the ten songs on the album, and each of them tell a piece of her story - a story that she hopes will encourage and inspire Christian music fans around the world.
Q: Gretchen, thanks for your time. You have had quite a bout with depression and anxiety in the past. Tell us what happened.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my journey. The anxiety and depression started in my teenage years. I spent many years trying to figure out the "why" but it really did nothing but create more anxiety! Looking back now, I think it had much to do with some insecure times in my childhood when I was away from my parents while they traveled the world on business. I was vulnerable and taken advantage of in adolescence. It left me feeling shameful and dirty. I think in many ways the anxiety and the behaviors that developed were an attempt to make everything right. But, that work would only come through Jesus Christ. But, I was very anxious. I would grind my teeth at night. I went away to college after high school, but my anxiety made it nearly impossible to enjoy that experience. There was a lot of drinking that went on and that only made things worse. Yes, the anxiety goes away when you drink, but it returned tenfold after. After my time away at school, I moved back to my hometown and went to the California State University and lived at home with my parents. My anxiety attacks made me want to sometimes not leave the house. Several times I would have to get up in the middle of a college lecture because of my anxiety. I started to do ritualistic behavior (checking the stove and light switches and counting.) This became a way to try and control my anxiety, but it just made it worse. I wanted desperately to feel normal but my mind was completely focused on my fear, on what people thought of me, of what could happen and all this led to depression. I just had lost hope for my life.
Q: How did getting to know Christ helped you in your depression?
In every way possible. At a very low point, I had been crying in my room for days. I had all the knowledge in the world, had read every book and my father was even a psychiatrist. But, I had no peace. No joy. No hope. My mother was raised in the church. She knew the bible well, but our home was one where Jesus Christ was rarely mentioned. I am thankful in that moment she saw I needed more help than any person could give me. She came into my room and read to me Matthew 11:28- 29 where Jesus said: "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls." This spoke deep into my heart. For so long I felt no one would understand the torment I was in. I was afraid to tell anyone. But, I knew after hearing what Jesus had to say to me, that He truly did understand. He understood the exhausting place I was in. He understood the rest I desperately needed.
At that moment, I wanted to know Jesus more than anything else in the world. I now had hope. I started to read His Word (the Bible,) and several passages spoke profoundly to me. 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear." 2 Timothy 1:7: "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of sound mind." As I started to meditate on these verses and look to Jesus, the tangled web of fear I was in literally began to come free. I want to say that this is in no way about "religion." Religion is full of rituals. The exact same prison I was in. This is about a true relationship. If I started to focus on fear again, I would set my heart on Jesus. Rest in His love. And as this new hope was in my life, my depression lifted as well. I truly believe depression is really just hope deferred. And Christ promises us a hope and a future. As my mind began focusing on the hope and the love of Christ, my peace returned. I never took any medication. I can truly say Jesus Christ completely healed me and transformed my mind. He gave me a peace that passes understanding as He promises in John 14:27: "My peace I give to you, My peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives, I give to you. Be not afraid." If you have ever been without peace, having this peace again is the most marvelous thing you will ever know. I wrote a song about it on the album called: "Prince of Peace." It is my thank you song to Jesus for giving me the peace He has. And truthfully, I am thankful for my anxiety and depression because it brought me to Jesus. I can't imagine living this life without Him. I am so thankful for His mercies each day and for the promise of an eternity in heaven with Him. He is such a loving and kind God with such good plans for each of us.
Q: What then led you to record your new album "Walking in the Spirit."
For years I had been writing my testimony in various ways. I would start journaling, or try and write a book or blog. But, I usually gave up after a few days. I had always loved singing, but had been afraid to sing in public. My husband heard me one day and said: "you should use your gifts for the Lord." I loved that thought, but I was afraid and uncertain. I prayed to God: "Lord you have given me these abilities. If it is your will I use them for your glory, I need your help!" And help me He did! Just as He promises in Philippians 4:19: "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." I started singing in church and my husband and ensemble leader suggested I learn to play the piano. I picked it up pretty quickly and all of a sudden the music and words came together. But, I still got discouraged and uncertain of what to do with it all. One day in this discouragement, I decided to look to the Word of God. I happened to go to the website of a pastor I often listen to, and his study for the day was titled: "Put Out The Mockers By Standing On The Word Of God." The "mockers" being the ones in your own mind that keep you from stepping out in faith!
Well, this spoke deep to my heart and I was so encouraged that I sat down at the piano and the song: "Standing on the Word of God" just came in a minute! I shared it on social media and it got a huge and overwhelmingly positive response. This set in motion the rest of my album. And about this same time I wrote the song, "Then I Met Jesus" which really is my testimony song of healing and a new life in Christ. I shared that too and it also received a heartfelt passionate response. I continued to look to God for my inspiration through His Word and through prayer. And one by one, I wrote ten songs. Unsure of how to proceed from there, my husband and I prayed about it, and the next day, I discovered Eric Copeland of Creative Soul Records in Nashville. Through his ministry, I would have access to all the top people in Nashville. So, a few months later, I flew back there and recorded with Grammy Award winning engineer Ronnie Brookshire. Eric arranged the songs beautifully and they had been tracked with all of the top Nashville musicians. And before long, my album was completed! I am in awe of all God has done. I know for a fact, without a doubt, there is no way this ever would have been created and completed without the direct hand of Jesus Christ. I give all praise, glory and honor to Him!
Q: Why did you name the album "Walking in the Spirit"?
Well, first off, it is the name of one of my songs on the album! And definitely a song that is full of the joy of the Lord! The bible says in Romans 8:6: "The mind governed by the flesh is death. But the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." I have found this to be so true in my life. When I look to myself, my circumstances, to people for my peace and answers, I get down. My health declines. I lose hope. The bible says that "The fear of other's opinions will disable you, but God protects you from that." Yes!! When I'm "looking up" I am at peace and full of life. The song also speaks of all the things we look to to fill up our "God shaped hole." I have been down that path and it truly is only God who can meet that deep need. I just thought "Walking in the Spirit" was the perfect title of hope for all God has for our lives!
Q: Tell us about the process of making this album, what were a couple of highlights for you?
First, I had a memorable experience singing a couple of my finished songs at our church for our women's fellowship. The songs were received enthusiastically and getting a standing ovation for my song, "The Battle" didn't hurt my confidence! It was an awesome night on the eve of recording the album. Flying back to Nashville was very exciting. I did not know what to expect, what the producer would be like. I went by myself, so I really stepped out in faith and just asked the Lord to help me. The producer and engineer were so friendly, helpful and professional. It really was an exceptional experience. I loved the beautiful Tennessee countryside and the friendly people there. And in many ways, this has been an awesome spiritual journey for me. A time of great growth. I truly have learned that when I rest in God's will, His timing, His provision, everything is taken care of. He has never failed me. Never. I am so grateful to Jesus Christ. He is an awesome God!
Q: How do you wish this new record could help someone suffering from fear and depression?
Before I wrote any of these songs, I had a prayer. I would often watch the show,"Intervention." My heart would hurt for these people because so many of them had their life wrecked in childhood. Either by sexual abuse or parental substance abuse and abandonment. I knew their brokenness, but I also know the only one who not only heals and transforms but gives us a brand new life. I wanted them to know what I have found in Jesus Christ.
Recently, a woman named Judy Hoff, heard my song, "Then I Met Jesus," and contacted me. She runs a ministry in Seattle to help women from very difficult backgrounds of prostitution, drug abuse and prison. She invited me to an event for them where I shared my songs and story for an hour. After the event, Judy said: "Your story in song was life changing." Wow, what an answer to prayer. That the very hurting people I prayed about early on were listening to what I found in Christ. That they could be lifted into the knowledge of Jesus Christ! That by turning to Him, and accepting His gift of grace and forgiveness, they can be saved and given a brand new life. No looking back. No shame. It is the best life imaginable. I want this for everyone. And it isn't me who is doing the changing, it is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit touches lives and turns hearts to Christ. Seek Jesus, learn His Word, trust Him, lean on Him. You will be changed. You will be free.
Q: One of the songs I dearly love is "At Night in the Garden." What's the story behind this song?
Thank you! I love that song too and was deeply moved to tears while writing it. It was "Holy Week," (the week before Easter,) and my mind went back to a trip to Israel I took with my parents. I thought back to our visit to the Garden of Gethsemane and what it must have been like for Jesus. I decided to go to the bible and read the accounting of that night in the Garden. As I read what Christ endured, all for us, the words to this song came to me. The agony He went through. The moment of temptation when He asked if there was another way and the ultimate surrender to His Father's will. And because of that surrender, because He said, "not my will, but Thy will be done," we all can be saved. I read further and learned that the word "Gethsemane" means oil press. And it is significant symbolism because as there must be a crushing, a grinding, a breaking of the olives to make oil, before the Holy Spirit could be given, someone had to be crushed and broken. And that someone was Jesus Christ. The song ends with the great hope of the resurrection and the wonderful truth that He is now with us! I was so pleased with the beautiful orchestration of the song by Brian Green. It really captured the emotion of that night. A night that changed everything. I'm so thankful for our Lord's sacrifice and resurrection. It is our one true hope.
Q: For our readers who would lie to find out more about you and your music, where can they go?
I have a website, gretchenkeskeys.com where I share blogs, my bio, a music store and schedule of upcoming events. I also have a "Gretchen Keskeys Music" Facebook page. And in a few weeks, I am traveling to Nashville where I will begin work on my second album! "Walking in the Spirit" will always be special to me. It has been an amazing journey. And now doors are opening to travel and share that music along with my story. I am so excited for what the Lord is doing and what is to come! It is my true joy to share the great hope of the gospel and to glorify His name!