That Dear Ol' Guitar o' Mine

By Bob Kilpatrick, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

Redding, California in 1974 was a city of about 30,000 people. The population was sprinkled out over the rolling foothills that surrounded the city. The city sits at the point where the Sacramento Valley runs headlong into the formidable mountains of the Sierra Nevada range. Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen both stand majestically off in the distance. Lake Shasta chases through the mountains in a hundred different directions, and the inlets are constantly full of happy houseboaters and families on weekend outings. To even the most urbane person, Redding seems like a natural paradise.

We lived in a small house next to the freeway. Our church was down the road less than half a mile. It was our first home, and we were proud of it. Cindy and I had our own room, Joel had his own room, and we even had a guest bedroom. There was a fireplace in the living room, and a backyard for Joel to play in. The floors were made of hard wood, and the kitchen was spacious compared to any of our previous residences. For a young couple, it was a dream come true.

But in the months after we settled there, I slipped into something of a depression - unusual for me. Furthermore, there was very little outward reason for such a mood. After all, I had found a job doing music and even though the daily responsibilities of leading a choir crowded out ideas of performing my own songs for different churches in the area, I figured that I had gotten what I wanted: employment in a job that involved music. I told myself that I ought to be happy. "Isn't God providing for Cindy and me in the way that He sees fit?" I asked myself.

But it didn't go away. In fact, it began to encompass every waking hour of my life. It was rooted in the simple fact that my music had no outlet at all and I wasn't performing for people. My primary position to the Sunday morning church congregation was with my back to them as I directed the church choir. I wanted to turn around, face the audience and sing!

Cindy noticed the difference in my demeanor. There was very little zest for life in my embrace when I came home from work. More often than not she would catch me laying prostrate on the floor, deep in my troubled thoughts. I had been talking with her less and less as I tried to sort out what felt wrong in my life; whether what I was feeling was God's will or my own selfishness. I didn't want my own desires to perform to eclipse his desires for me.

I knew what I wanted: to sing for people on my own. Somehow, the dream had been frustrated. I yearned to write songs and perform my own concerts, but there was no place for my music. In an effort to move in that direction, Cindy and I decided to start a music group to play concerts on the side without my having to give up the choir job. With another couple and Cindy's brother we formed a band and began traveling to locations in Northern California. We played in many, many places: county fairs, festivals, youth groups, church services - anywhere we could set up and sing about Jesus. It was far from a moneymaking operation. And though Cindy and I were having ourselves a great time, we still didn't know if this was the Lord's will for us. We felt that it might, but it took more confirmation from the Lord to let us know, beyond any doubt, that I was meant to be a musician.

It was after a concert in Yreka, a small town on the Oregon border, that we were loading all of our equipment into the van that we used to travel. My guitar, the most fragile instrument in the group, always went in last, on top of the keyboards, microphones and sound equipment. But this time, in the routine of loading, my guitar was left leaning against the back of the building. We drove happily southward to Redding, and it was only as I pulled the van into the driveway and put it into park that I suddenly realized, "Oh no, my guitar!"

We immediately called our friends in Yreka who went to see if it was still there. It wasn't. The police put out an all-points bulletin for the guitar, but it was nowhere to be found. I was crestfallen. The guitar, an Ovation, had been the center of my new career. We were too poor to buy another guitar of that quality, even collectively as a group. I went down to the local music shops and checked out some others, but none of them seemed right and I couldn't justify spending hundreds of dollars on any one of them. I was reduced to borrowing guitars from people I knew whenever we had a concert. Of course this was an uncomfortable and awkward arrangement, especially for someone who was trying to be a professional! What kind of musician had to call up friends and bum their instruments before each gig? The situation made me feel low, nanve, unneeded.

It also brought back the serious doubts I had. Was God speaking to me? Was he taking away distractions in order to prod me in a different direction? I didn't know. I went to the Lord in prayer and said, "Lord, if it is your will that I not play the guitar, I submit to that. I'll limit myself to singing, just guide me in the right direction." I continued to borrow and play with our band but the questions lingered in my mind.

Then one day we got a call from good friends of ours, Jim and Carla Miller. Jim was a full-time Christian musician, with albums and a full itinerary. He even flew his own small airplane around to his gigs. Cindy and I looked up to him for his accomplishments; his position was one I aspired to. I was very happy to hear him on the other end of the telephone line.

"Bobby, do you mind if we come up and spend a few days with y'all?" he asked.

"That would be great!" I said.

They drove up to our small house, and when they arrived I was in the back of the house. As I came into the living room, Jim was opening up a sturdy black instrument case to reveal a beautiful six-string Martin hollow-body guitar. Jim already owned a twelve-string Martin and he had apparently gone ahead and bought the six-string as well.

"Look what the Lord did," he said.

"Jim, it's beautiful," I said admiringly.

"Go ahead and play it," he offered.

I pulled it from the case and started strumming and noodling around. The neck was wonderful, the action was great and it projected with fullness and power.

"This is one of the nicest guitars I've ever played," I said.

And it was.

"It's yours," Jim said smiling.

I could hardly believe my ears, so I stopped playing.

"It's yours," he said again, relishing this moment. "The Lord told me to buy it for you, so I did, and Carla and I flew down here so I could give it to you."

It was the first time anyone had ever given me anything so nice as an act of kindness, and I was touched deeply in addition to being extremely thankful, both to Jim and to God. In that gift, God provided not only confirmation for my early ministry, but the actual means with which to carry out his work. From that point on Cindy and I knew that there was no turning back. Our confirmation had come. I left my position at the church and started what has become a twenty-three year music career.

I still use the Martin guitar Jim Miller gave to me, both in concert and on recordings. It reminds me of how the Lord spoke to me at a crucial time in my life. It reminds me of his faithfulness to me. It is perhaps the most precious physical possession I have ever owned. And it is the guitar I was playing when I composed "In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified."

You can reach Bob at 916.961.1022 or PO Box 2383 Fair Oaks, CA 95628;