Gretchen Keskeys has always poured her entire essence into every song and subject, tackling everything from conquering crippling anxiety and fear, to being a beacon of light for those trapped in the darkest of places. But her new album, Her Faith (Creative Soul Records), is significantly more introspective as Keskeys pays tribute to her late mother, who passed away last year at the age of 92.
Her Faith reflects not only the life that her mother lived, but Keskeys' life so far as well. Each album before has displayed a remarkable understanding of faith backed by scripture, but the songs on the new album clearly come from an even deeper place of faith and surrender.
Q: Gretchen, thanks for doing this interview with us. Why did you decide to pay tribute to your mother with your new album?
Thank you! The title song of the album "Her Faith" is written about the faith of my dear late mother who passed away last year. I dedicated the album to her because I love her and I'm grateful to her because her Christian faith became my faith. My grandmother knew, my mother knew, I know and now my children know that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, the life. I loved the title "Her Faith" for the album, so I named it that. And there are also 10 other songs that speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope He brings to our lives. As a Christian artist, Jesus Christ is always the focus, inspiration and at the center of all I create.
Q: Can you give us a brief sketch of your relationship with your mother?
It was one of great love, tenderness, even silliness and laughter. She had a huge grace filled heart which certainly was a reflection of her faith. She was always so sensitive to others. Always had a kind uplifting word. She made many friends. We had a gentle, sweet, trusting relationship. Just thinking of her brings tears. She was very special and I am thankful she was my mom.
Q: Your mother was a press secretary, an editor and an author. How did she influence you as a songwriter?
Yes, although down to earth and fun, she was a seriously accomplished woman. I admired my mother and her career influenced my decision to graduate college with a BA in Journalism. I then worked in TV news, entertainment, and talk radio. She always instilled in me very high standards with my writing and I think it has served me well through all my roles, including that of songwriter. And really above all that, she was an amazing pianist who played by ear. She literally could play anything so beautifully. And that truly influenced me as a songwriter and Christian artist.
I grew up singing and playing the piano. She always encouraged my creativity. Her hard work and attention to details also made an impression. In so many of the things I've done in my life, from preparing for a role for live theater to learning songs for leading worship, I've learned preparation and work will lead to a successful experience. When we thoroughly prepare, we are ready for anything. I do the same with recording my music. If I don't feel it's there yet, I'll do it again until I know it's my best. That is what the Bible teaches too, to do our best unto the Lord. Colossians 3:23.
Q: In the title track of the new album, you talked about your mother's faith. What was one or two aspects of her faith that greatly shaped yours today?
The song "Her Faith" is very much a generational song. Her mother (my grandmother) was a young woman of deep faith who traveled on her own to America from Sweden, leaving everything she knew behind. That faith gave her courage and strength to follow God's will for her life. That same faith she instilled in her daughter (my mother) whose faith touched every aspect of my life growing up.
When my life was at a very low point in my young adulthood, my mother knew I needed more than any person could help me with. She shared Matthew 11:28-29 with me where Jesus says: "Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened 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." That deeply spoke to me at exactly the right time and place and it changed my life as after hearing that I wanted only to follow Jesus. I couldn't get enough of the Bible. And today, here I am years later sharing that faith passed down. And now I see that faith in my own children. It is a blessing from God. I am so thankful for my grandmother and mother's faith. Their faith (and everything we do in this life for God's Kingdom) has lasting eternal value. 2 Corinthians 4:18.
Q: Since the subject is so dear and personal to you, was the writing of these new songs difficult for you?
Actually, writing "Her Faith" was quite cathartic! I gave the eulogy at my mom's funeral and I shared so much about her but I forgot to say one thing that was important to me. I got sidetracked and sadly left it out. That night after the funeral I felt real bad about it. I had wanted to say that the reason she was able to accomplish so much coming from such humble beginnings was that she had a deep belief that God was for her and God was with her. I wanted to share that about her life, and also as a testimony to those attending who may not be believers.
As I regretfully thought about leaving that out, I wanted to make good of my mistake, so I decided to ask for God's help to turn it into a song. And that is how "Her Faith" was born. "She knew God was for her and God was with her. Because of these two things nothing could stop her. She climbed the mountains, the highest heights. But there was one thing she never left behind. It was the faith that carried her through life." It was a satisfying song to write because it is true and biographical and it gives a lasting legacy of her life and faith. I also made a video, which tugged at my emotions for sure, which has been quite loved. So it all fills my heart. I wish my mom was here to hear it. I know she'd love it.
Q: I have been listening to the album and I must admit I love the song "Jesus Loves Me." There is something profound and yet so simple about the song. Tell us more about this song.
I'm glad you love it! And it really is a wonderful song to tell the story of how this album all started! 2020 started out to be a very promising year. I had appearances around the country booked and I was getting ready to travel. Then..Covid hit. Everything shut down. The churches, the prison ministry I loved, everything. And here in California it really was locked down. At first I thought..well ok, we'll just enjoy this together time. My daughter was sent home from college and we (my husband, three kids and I) began our time here at home together.
Both my husband and I have a close and sweet relationship with our kids, who are now all independent young adults. My one daughter home from college wasn't too happy with the situation and we started to bicker a bit. She hit some sensitive buttons in me and I kind of started down a very negative path of thinking. Focusing on the past and perceived mistakes. Wishing I could do things over and better. Missing the sweet days when the kids were all giggles and fun. I just got depressed! And we were locked in the home. Our church life was online. I love Romans 8:6: "The mind governed by the flesh is death. The mind governed by the spirit is life and peace." Let's just say, I wasn't quite living the life and peace.
One day I realized I hadn't been spending time with Jesus. I really missed worshipping God in song. I think because we were all locked in I kept my ""raise the roof" style of singing quiet. But one day, I just decided to go in my den and sing worship to God. No particular song but just words that came to me as I played the piano. And I was thinking about how down I had been and I said: "Jesus you love me, thank you for loving me. As long as You love me I'll be ok." And that's how the idea for the song started. And the truth is, as soon as I started turning my heart to God, worshipping Him, the songs started pouring out and before long, I had a whole album written! (I will say my mom died in 2021, so "Her Faith" was one of the later songs written.)
Also, "Jesus loves me" is such a simple truth. And the truth is when we really embrace His love and the grace He has for our life, it is the greatest medicine we can take. It lifts us up and allows us to go on and love even in circumstances that might seem difficult. He has that love for everyone and it is not dependent on our performance. It is such a beautiful and affirming truth. Jesus loves you and me!
Q: Many of the songs on the record deal with trusting Jesus and not to give in to fear. "Carry Me" is a great example; talk to us about how this song came about.
This song is a cry or prayer for anyone who is dealing with a lot but is unable to take time off from the demands of life. Sometimes the weight we are carrying is so heavy, but we don't have an escape from the life we're in. We have responsibilities. Whether you're a parent, spouse, student, caretaker or an employee, there are times when you wonder, how am I going to do this? But you know people are depending on you. I've been there and wished I could just step back and breathe until I'm stronger and back on my feet, but you can't. So you're completely relying on Jesus to get you through. You know you'll find rest and healing in Jesus, but you just need Him to carry you until you're strong again.
Time spent with Jesus is always so refreshing because you know He understands it all. The problems and the burdens can be very complex. They can be caused by pains that happened a long time ago that maybe over time have had added circumstances. With Jesus you don't have to explain complicated emotions. He knows every aspect and history of our lives and is there to free us and to forgive us and lift those burdens. He gives us peace and health so we can love and serve others. "Carry me til I'm back on my feet, so I can be the person that they're needin. A time to breathe spent closer with Thee in Your loving arms, I'm finding healing. Oh Lord, please carry me." I pray it brings comfort to those who are in that place.
Q: How do you hope these songs will impact the lives of other families and individuals?
All of these songs that I write, they may stem from a personal place, but I write them thinking of other people and how this could touch and encourage their life through Christ. For instance on the "Her Faith" song, I feel like it could be an encouraging song to a young person starting out. We see so many young people today searching for that identity or that certain something that allows them to have a fulfilling life. My mother, just by making that one decision for Christ and believing those two things that are stemmed in scripture:
Romans 8:31 "If God is for us, who can be against us?" and Deuteronomy 31:8 "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" laid a foundation for a meaningful well rounded life. That is how it is with Jesus Christ. You make that one decision and then it branches out into so many areas of our life.
My greatest hope is that these songs will touch hearts with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That that truth will bring hope into lives. That truth that Jesus is really who we all are looking for. Who really has all the answers in this life. Who understands every aspect of our humanity. But who has the power, love and healing we so are needing. That His love brings us the most precious gift, His perfect peace. Jesus saved my life which had no peace before Him. I always want to thank Him and always I want to glorify Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.