Journal entry 100810: The strength in my legs

For the first two hours of the Crossroads Marathon I listened to Rich Mullins on my iPod Nano. I had it on shuffle-play, meaning I let the iPod pick the order of songs.

As the morning began, as we gathered near the starting line waiting for the race to start, I heard, “Let mercy lead, let love be the strength in your legs; and in every footprint that you leave there’ll be a drop of grace.”[i] That was a cool prayer for the morning, I thought. I needed love to be the strength in my legs since I had a long way to go, and as usual, didn’t have enough training miles behind me to justify today’s attempt.

The race started at 7:00 AM, when it was still dark, meaning the sun came up while we were running. I watched the sunrise to these words, “There’s more that rises in the morning than the sun, and more that shines in the night than just the moon. It’s more than just the fire here that keeps me warm, in a shelter that is larger than this room.”[ii] My shuffling iPod picked the perfect song for sunrise.

Rich Mullins always reminds me that there is more to this life than I imagined.

Few people have affected me more than Rich Mullins. His lyrics have shaped my theology as much as any preacher or teacher has, and his ability to see the majesty of God in the expanse of nature has impacted my writing as much as any other author. Through the 1990s, Mullins became one of the loudest and clearest voices in my life, shaping my theology and my daily walk through life as a believer.

Cyndi had to drag me to my first Rich Mullins concert, at Christian Church of Midland, on Neely Street. I wasn’t interested in going. I might’ve been the only person alive who didn’t like Mullins’ song “Awesome God.” I thought he was taking advantage of pop slang to get a huge hit. To me, saying “God is awesome” was like saying “God is groovy” or “God is the bomb” or “God is rad” (pick a decade). All true, but trite and childish, I thought.

I was wrong. He was amazing in concert. His "band" used more instruments than anybody, and it seemed each band member could play them all; they were constantly moving around to play something else. They used guitars (many different types), mandolins, bass (electric bass guitar, stand-up acoustic bass, electric stand-up bass), dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, xylophone, drum set (and congas, bongos, Celtic, and a huge assortment of percussion toys), flute, electronic keyboard, cello, etc.

His performance was more rhythmic than melodic, a sort of Celtic-Appalachian-Rock-on-the-Prairie, and it was amazing to hear and watch it live. He captured the open feeling of the prairie and linked it with the wideness of God's grace.

He sang the song I think of every time I’m on Hunter Peak, “Well the moon moved past Nebraska and spilled laughter on the cold Dakota Hills … I feel thunder in the sky, I see the sky about to rain, and I hear the prairies calling out your name.”[iii]

Rich Mullins made me want to get in my car and drive to the horizon. I wanted to experience the sky the way he did. His songs made me feel like I'd underestimated God’s presence in the southwest desert where I'd spent my entire life. His songs made me want to run outside and look at the sky and think about the love of God.

And another thing: after most concerts I left wishing I could sing. I’d watch the performer sing his heart to God and wish for a genie-in-the-bottle experience so I could choose "singing" as my wish. I never imagined stardom or riches, but I imagined singing with abandon. I was always inspired by a singer who could stand and deliver, and I wanted to do it myself.

However, when I heard Rich Mullins, I was jealous as a writer. His songs made me feel I was wasting my time doing anything but writing. Instead of making me think "Wow, what a great song," Rich made me think "I wish I'd said that."

He made me hope I was doing something with my life that inspired people; that made them want to see God in the sky, or sing along with all their heart. I hoped I was not wasting my influence.

One night in July 1997 a bunch of us went to Odessa to hear Rich Mullins in concert in a small Disciples of Christ church. As usual it was phenomenal. Mullins loved the close intimate setting and performed full-out as if for thousands of people instead of hundreds. The audience called him and his band out for several encores, and for the last one they came out without instruments, grabbed hymnals from the pews, and led us all in congregational hymn singing. It was wonderful.


Three short months after that concert, on September 19, 1997, Rich Mullins and his friend Mitch McVicker were traveling on I-39 north of Bloomington, Illinois to a benefit concert in Wichita, Kansas when his Jeep flipped over. Mullins was killed; McVicker was badly injured but survived. After all these years, I haven’t stopped grieving the loss of Mullins in my life, and I feel it every time I hear one of his songs.

What I learned from Rich Mullins was this – there is more, it’s bigger, and it’s deeper. Rich pulled back the curtain to show me a wider view of God’s love and grace than I’d imagined possible. Listening to him sing into my ears for two hours last Saturday while running the marathon reminded me of how important he was to me. Like Rich Mullins, I want to be a curtain-puller, an inspirer, a heart-giver. I want to be someone who lives the bigger picture of God. I want to be like Rich.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


[i] “Let Mercy Lead,” Brother’s Keeper, 1995.

[ii] “If I Stand,” Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, 1989.

[iii] “Calling Out Your Name,” The World as I Remember It, Volume One, 1991


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