Just one year after the release of her debut album, singer-songwriter Gretchen Keskeys is back with her sophomore release, "Pure Hope" (Creative Soul Records). Christian music fans quickly embraced Keskeys, who CCM Magazine Contributing Editor Andy Argyrakis said "may very well possess the most magnificent voice since Sandi Patty." Keskeys spent the last year performing at events and women's conferences nationwide, openly sharing her songs alongside an inspirational testimony detailing her miraculous deliverance from anxiety and depression.
From the outside, Keskeys would not appear to be the ideal candidate for crippling anxiety and depression. Her parents were the authors of the best-selling self-help book "I'm OK - You're OK," while her father was named by LIFE Magazine as "the father of pop psychology." But it was her faith that proved to be the ultimate answer to paralyzing fear and insecurity.
Since the release of her debut album, Keskeys has connected with listeners from literally every walk of life, from fellow Christians at various stages in their faith, to those of any belief background struggling with addictions, some recovering from suffering abuse and others trying to get back on their feet following a season of homelessness.
Keskeys' own personal struggles have provided her with the unique ability to resonate with a vast audience facing unlimited circumstances. But she's also quick to credit some of her previous experiences in the media and entertainment industries as giving her the proper tools to communicate to such a wide variety of people. Whether it was her earliest opportunities as a page at NBC, landing roles on a primetime special, several soap operas, writing for the nightly news, studying at the Beverly Hills Playhouse or receiving her Screen Actors Guild card, the multitude of experiences forged a lifelong commitment to preparation and professionalism, and later provided inspiration for her as an artist.
Q: Gretchen, thank you for doing this interview with us. Congratulations on the release of "Pure Hope," why did you call the album "Pure Hope"? What does hope mean for you?
Thank you! I appreciate this opportunity to talk about the new album! Before I get to the title Pure Hope, I'll just say that for a good few months, the name of the album in my mind was This Time, which was one of the first songs I wrote. Its chorus: "This Time I will trust you God, this time, there is nowhere else I'll seek. This time I'll remember that it's only You I need." I wrote that after a real down time where I once again let old patterns of fear and insecurity come into my life and steal my joy and peace. Much of this album was inspired from my journey of going deeper into trust, really seeing that it is in all things good and bad Christ is using to mold me, uses to mold others.
So, This Time it was going to be... until my dear husband, who is my closest friend and spiritual adviser, fell in love with another song (he only listens to my music after it is completely done, he rarely gives me input in the process) Running On Pure Hope. He thought it was so upbeat, so encouraging and hopeful. And that because it put the focus on who Christ is in our lives that that needed to be the title. I listened to him and ended up agreeing.
I liked the idea that the title focused more on who Christ is and what He does in our lives rather than what I decided to do. But, there was one problem in my mind. My last album was titled: Walking in the Spirit. Having my second album titled Running On Pure Hope was too many action verbs for me! When I said that to my husband, he said: "How about just Pure Hope?" And I loved that. It felt right. Yes, Pure Hope it was and is! And I do feel it really explains what this album is all about. It is all about the hope found in Christ. As to what hope means to me: It means the door has not shut. A new chance is there. A new beginning for all the things my heart longs for. And that is all found in Christ. We have this hope for an eternity!
Q: I read on your website where you said "songwriting is a spiritual experience." And you can't write in the flesh. What does this mean? How do you prepare yourself to write spiritually?
When I say "I can't write in the flesh" what I mean is this: If I sit down and think: "I want to write a really great song" but I am not inspired by the Lord, haven't spent time in the Word or in prayer and I'm just going from my own natural state, I might be able to write some things, but they don't touch me and probably won't touch others. I know I've written a good song when something wells up in me when I'm writing it and sometimes the tears flow.
For instance my song, God Loves You from my first album, literally came to me in the middle of a prayer. I was praying about a situation where I couldn't find peace. I was trying to be a "good Christian" and the other person took it the wrong way. I kept defending myself in my prayer and the Lord spoke to me. "Just love people. I will take care of the rest." And the whole song came to me in that moment.
One of the songs on the new album You're Already There, came to me after spending time in a study on 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." I had been praying about the future. And through this scripture I realized that He is already at this place of uncertainty. The place may be uncertain, but He is certain. I can look to Him. And the rest of the song just came. The Holy Spirit helps us in everything. He helps me when I write or speak to crowds or sing live or when recording. Jesus is the Master Creator and when He is flowing through us the things that are produced are beautiful.
Q: Many of your songs come out of pain and sufferings, what were some of the sufferings you experienced?
If I am really honest, I have to say a good many of these sufferings I have created myself in my own mind. I touch on this in my song Child of the King. The first verse: "The stories of my mind were written long ago, created over time, I never let them go. The enemy he knew me well he studied every page, he knew which chapter verse and line would destroy me every time. But, that book I've thrown away it's not even on the shelf, it's replaced with one so glorious, it is God Himself! Now I know who I am, I'm a Child of the King!"
These negative and self destructive patterns (which I do believe satan can use) were formed early on through some difficult times in my childhood. As any child of an alcoholic knows, it created a lot of insecurity, a lot of uncertainty with how people are going to react. To this day, I really dislike being around people whose personality changes drastically. Probably why I love my husband so. He's as solid as a rock.
Also in my childhood, I lost my innocence at an early preteen age. My parents traveled for work and we showed horses and were left in some situations that probably weren't the best for a young vulnerable girl. By the time I was a teenager, I was lost, extremely insecure, had little value in who I was, and looked for my value in all the wrong places. It was a dark time in my life. From the outside, people may not have known this, I hid it very well. But, I was quite troubled and afraid with literally no peace. I write about this in my song Then I Met Jesus.
After becoming a born again Christian, the healing really took place. But, it has taken many years and even to this day, for the Lord to strip away these negative thought patterns I have had. But, I believe and know that it isn't in therapy where our answers are found. It isn't in other people. In is in Jesus Christ alone. His Word has transformed my mind. We don't have to live in pain in Christ. "We are not given a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind!" 2 Timothy 1:7
Q: Your parents are also notable writers of self-help books. So, how did they factor in in terms of helping you with your healing?
It is complicated, because as you see from my previous answer, my father was an alcoholic. But a wonderful, loving, amazingly talented kind man. Not only was he the Chief Psychiatrist of the US Navy and Head of Institutions in Washington State and a Pearl Harbor Veteran, he also was an accomplished pianist and portrait painter. The Navy actually ordered him into psychiatry (he originally wanted to be a surgeon) because of his kind way with people.
My dad had a troubled childhood and he had his own demons that drove him to drink. His drinking really increased after the success of their book "I'm Ok You're Ok." So, to be honest, I'm not a fan of self help books. I'm proud of my parents and I think they actually have some really great stuff in that book. But, everything in our family became great when my dad and mom put Christ first in their lives. We had grown up in the church, but it was a social thing. Christ was not often talked about and I think we prayed at Thanksgiving. But, in his later years, my father's favorite thing was going to church. He stopped drinking and we had a really beautiful relationship the last years of his life. I think this whole experience really cemented in me this desire to share the truth of Jesus Christ.
My whole ministry began with a prayer. When our kids were little, I would watch the show "Intervention." I started to see a thread through every story. A wrecked childhood usually do to parental addiction, abandonment or sexual abuse. Innocence lost. I would just cry watching these stories because I could relate. And I would pray: "Oh Lord, that they would know you."
No therapy, no person, no program can ever give them what they are looking for. They need to be washed clean. They need to start new. Only You Jesus can do this. Oh Lord, that I could share my experience with them. And not long after this, He gave me my song, Then I Met Jesus and my first album was made, now my second. And He has opened doors for me to speak to these very hurting people. I was invited to share my message of hope (which includes my testimony) and music in Seattle at an event called "Queen It's a New Day."
It's a day where the gospel of Christ is shared with women coming out of prison, addiction, very difficult lives. The very lives I had seen on Intervention. Praise God, He answers prayer. And in such a beautiful way. I am so thankful to Jesus Christ. I've had many other amazing experiences sharing my music and message (just recently at Compassion International's "Walk With Compassion") and look forward to any and all of the doors He opens. And I love leading worship which I do on a regular basis.
Q: You also mention that both pain and healing come from the same source, that is Jesus. Not everyone may see pain coming from Jesus, so what do you mean?
No, I would never mean that Jesus causes pain (I will have to revise my website notes if that's how it came across!) It's actually quite the opposite! But, I do believe He allows difficult situations in our lives to occur. Situations where He molds us and gives us the opportunity to look to Him. I have seen this again and again.
And one of my songs on the new album Adversity really speaks to this. "Adversity you are a friend to me, you are where the Lord does His best work in me!" Again, Jesus has never caused pain in my life. Most all the pain I have experienced has been a result of not trusting God. I can think of so many situations and painful mistakes I have made because I haven't believed Him, I haven't trusted Him, I haven't waited on Him, I haven't looked to Him alone. And there is no doubt, Jesus heals and brings us back to life!
One of my favorite songs on the new album is Forgiven Once Again. I wrote it after an experience where I was just feeling not very well and lethargic. I didn't know what was going on until I prayed. I realized that I had been carrying around a burden of unconfessed sin. Sin such as not making Jesus the Lord of my life and looking to other things for my hope. Just feeling I missed the mark in my walk with God.
So I decided I needed to go to the "confessional," (next to my couch on my knees!) go to God in prayer and confess my sins. I knew Jesus forgave me because He promises to and wow - I literally came back to life again! My energy and vitality were there again. And thus this song was born. Even when we've been Christians for a long time, we still need to confess our sin. I am so thankful our Lord is always there with open arms to love and forgive us.
Q: "Pure Hope" was released within a year of your previous album. Did you approach the making of "Pure Hope" any differently relative to your previous releases?
Well, I will say, the process of making Pure Hope was a bit less stressful! I had already been to Nashville for the first album and I knew this time what to expect. Working with Ronnie Brookshire was such a delight. I was excited to go back there and record with him. He is great and so kind and the whole experience was just plain fun! He really creates an atmosphere where I feel I am just singing to Jesus. I really poured my heart out. All of the songs on this album, as well as the first are quite personal. I love sharing everything about Jesus. It never gets old. The passion just grows. I think with each experience I learn that Jesus really does supply everything I need for it to work out great.
On the first album, I remember nervously doing so many vocal warm-ups before we recorded that I actually wore out my voice and I had to deal with a lot of hoarseness. This album, I did no warming up at all. I just started singing and after a take or two, things were just right. My voice definitely held up a lot better this time! Plus, less stress always creates the best outcome! I would say too that this album has some fun country/blues vibe on a song or two which I enjoyed. I grew up listening to a lot of classic country and I love that as well as pop/rock and inspirational music. I am grateful that both albums are receiving radio play. You Are God from the new album was just recently #1 on the CRC. And the plan is to next release my cover of the beloved hymn I Surrender All.
Q: What are you most grateful about with regards to this new album?
I've been given another opportunity to share the gospel. And there's one song Grace Is The Final Word that I really wrote for our growing children and I am so glad it is forever there for them. One verse goes: "There can be people who want to change this truth that we are saved by faith and not by any works. His grace is a gift from God." And: "If you should roam, remember His grace is there to bring you home."
The grace of Jesus Christ is not only the last word of our faith, but it is the last word of the bible! Revelation 22:21 "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." I want them (and all people) to understand that God is a loving God and that there is nothing they can do to make Him love them more. I want them to have a restful, grace filled relationship with Jesus and not let anyone they encounter tell them differently.
Man's religion wants to say: "you have to work to win God's love." Jesus says: "I already did it all for you." His love and grace is our gift to enjoy. To live the abundant life that is not full of heavy burden. I want them to know God only brings good things. The things He forbids are for our own good. My prayer is that they will always stay close to their loving Father and never feel a need to run away. And if they do, He will always welcome them with open arms. From the chorus: "There is no mistake or sin, or wrong He cannot forgive. God loves you and His grace is the final word."
Q: How do you think this record can help our readers out there who may be battling depression and other illnesses?
By pointing them to Jesus Christ. I once asked my husband a question after my first album came out. I literally had been receiving dozens if not hundreds of messages from hurting people sharing their stories. The songs touched their heart and they reached out to me. I said to my husband: "I want to minister to people, but I am getting overwhelmed." They were sharing such precious details of their lives, I didn't want to ignore one or give them an answer that wasn't as heartfelt as what they shared." He said: "Point them to Jesus. That's the most loving thing you can do. The answer is not in you or people. The answer is in Jesus Christ." Yes, He is the one who will comfort and heal. He is the one who will do the work in their lives. He is the One who provides the truth of the gospel which will heal and transform lives.
A powerful verse I believe is so true is Romans 8:6 - "The mind governed by the flesh is death. The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." Yes, I have lived in that death and darkness. And in Jesus, I have life and light. When our mind goes to a dark place, the darkness takes over, which spirals into depression, which I really believe is a loss of hope.
I would never say to a person: "Don't seek therapy or medication." That is personal and between that person, their doctor and God. But, for me, I have learned and experienced again and again and again.... The answers, the healing, the hope , the life are ALL found in Jesus Christ alone. I have heard from so many enthusiastic listeners and they are telling me that this is the message they are hearing from Pure Hope. That makes me so very glad.