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Perseverance, creativity and a strong will are qualities that have served Mark Schultz well throughout his career. A native of Colby, Kansas, Schultz moved to Nashville to pursue his musical ambitions and found inspiration and encouragement while working as a youth pastor. With the support of the congregation, he booked a show at Nashville's famed Ryman Auditorium. The show was a sell out, an unheard of feat for a fledgling artist that earned him a deal with Word Records.
Since then the Dove Award winning artist has become one of Christian music's most acclaimed singer/songwriters. Schultz, now a resident of North Carolina, has also tasted success on the mainstream adult contemporary charts with such hits as "He's My Son," "Letters from War" and "Walking Her Home." "Back in His Arms Again" was named BMI's Christian Song of the Year in 2003, "Letters from War" was the centerpiece of the Army's "Be Safe-Make It Home" campaign and Schultz has flooded radio with nine No. 1 songs, such as "Remember Me" and "I Am the Way." He's also earned the top spot on Billboard magazine's Christian Adult Contemporary Songwriter list and has been featured on the national TV programs, 48 Hours, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, CNN and more. His 2005 release, Mark Schultz Live…A Night of Stories & Songs, sold RIAA certified Platinum and garnered Schultz his first GMA Dove Award.
In crafting songs for the new record, Schultz co-wrote with some very accomplished friends, among them Matthew West, Mercy Me's Bart Millard and Barry Graul, Joy Williams and Bernie Herms, who is one of the producers on the album. "I've always done a record with one, maybe two producers and this one has four on it," says Schultz, who worked with Herms, Shaun Shankel, Paul Mills and Brown Bannister. "It's my 10th year to have done this and it feels like I've just started. I thought â what a great way to say it's been a great 10 years.' Let's open it up to a few different producers who I've worked with and a few new ones, just to create a very diverse record."
As he always does, Schultz pulled from real life experiences to create the songs on the new record. "He Is" was inspired by two different stories. "Payton Cram was a girl who came to one of my concerts in Michigan with her dad," recalls Schultz. "She had cancer and I was really amazed at her maturity for her young age. When it started to get bad, I flew up and spent a day with her and prayed with her and her family. She was a beautiful girl. She was never going to blame God for it. She never asked â Why me?' She just always knew there was a bigger purpose in it."
During the same time Payton was battling cancer, Mark's wife came home and told him about a missionary family whose fourth child was born on a Friday and on Sunday they found out the mother had terminal cancer. "The father of the family said, â well we can't praise God on Friday and curse him on Sunday. He's the same God on Friday as he is on Sunday. We have to trust that He knows what's going on,' and that's when the idea of â He Is' was born," says Schultz. "It really encapsulated Payton's story and that family's story too. He is, he was and always will be. It's been a special, special song for me and I hope people really enjoy it. It's a pretty important messageâ ”no matter what kind of rough road you are riding through to be able to say â the same God who has given me so much is the same one that's in control today through this rough stuff.' It's a pretty strong thought."
Another poignant song on the album, "What It Means to Be Loved," is "the only song I've ever played in concert that received a standing ovation before the end of the first chorus was over," recalls Schultz. Kate was again a source of inspiration for the song: "My wife said to me, â Since you are adopted, I think we should adopt kids too. I think we should adopt kids with special needs…maybe someday we adopt kids with special needs that doctors know are only going to live for a year or two,'" recalls Schultz. "I replied, â Honey, why would we do that?' She answers, â Because, before they go to heaven, I want them to know what a great Christmas is like and what a great birthday is like and let them know they were loved well before they get to heaven.' That's the kind of wife I'm married to."
This conversation was sparked by the story his wife told him about a family who was expecting a child and were told that tests revealed health issues that meant the baby probably wouldn't live long. Although the doctors suggested terminating the pregnancy, the mother decided she would love the child as long as she could. Schultz channeled those emotions into the "What It Means to Be Loved" lyrics: I want to give her the world / I want to hold her hand/ I want to be her mom just as long as I can and live every moment until that day comes/ I want to show her what it means to be loved.
"As Christians, we are called to be love," says Schultz. "If that means loving a baby that will be here seven minutes or 70 years, it doesn't make any difference."
The song is a powerful work of art, teeming with emotion. Schultz's clear, compelling voice conveys the sense of sadness, yet shares the spirit of hope and abundant love that lie at the heart of the song. It's his ability to capture life's most fragile moments in song, and lead people closer to God by revealing His glory in every situation, that make Mark Schultz such a gifted artist.
It has been 10 years since Schultz sold out the Ryman Auditorium and embarked on this creative journey. It's not always an easy road, but he has no doubt he's exactly where God wants him to be. "I think the surest that I've been in the last 10 years is when I rode my bike across the country," says Schultz. Learning to lean ever more closely on his heavenly Father, many of the songs on Come Alive were inspired during that bicycle trip that raised over $250,000 to benefit the James Fund, which provides assistance for widows and orphans. Along the way he learned much about himself, the human condition and God's sovereignty. Those revelations reverberate throughout his new album.
"I would hope that when people listen to this CD they can identify with the struggles within the songs, but at the same time know that God is the same God through the struggles as he is during the triumphant moments. Christ, who began a good work, will finish a good work. It may not be on your own timeline or not even the way you imagined it, but he promises he will. There's a bigger picture out of our control, but God has made these promises and I want to hold onto that."