This is a collection of really awesome people who have a real passion for God, for loving people and for living lives that both honor God and share tremendous love with people. You can find them on twitter, you can find them on Instagram and you can get to know them a little better in Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, a documentary (being released on blu-ray/dvd tomorrow) which chronicles their journey as a group, as well as their life journey’s individually, which led them to this place.
There are several members, so an hour and a half movie sort of only touches on bits and pieces of their stories. It is really lovely, and moving. (So not the point, but I had to say it because it’s true.)
As I mentioned yesterday, earlier this week I had the chance to sit down and talk with Taya Smith, of Hillsong United. While I could have taken a few minutes to share with her my own Hillsong journey/experience, I really wanted our time to be about what she felt led to share and say. I prayed so much about what to ask her and for our call.
(A little back story, if you haven’t seen the film. Taya left home and moved to Sydney on a total leap of faith. She went to church at Hillsong and knew that was where she needed to be.)
I considered weaving our call into an entire post all creatively, but in the end decided to share the interview, as is… (And also, to point out my flaw as an interviewer. I like to say “absolutely” way too much.)
So, if you haven’t already, meet Taya:
Hi Taya, thank you so much talking to me today. I am such a big fan and am grateful for this chance.
Oh, thank you so much. That’s very kind of you. I am so happy to get to talk with you.
Thank you! I would love to ask you a few questions.
Of course, go ahead!
Like my own, Hillsong experiences, so many fans have some really personal moments. I was wondering what have been some of your favorite fan stories or moments that people have shared?
It’s really special when someone shares that through what you’ve got to be a part of, like through the music that our church produces that it just draws people closer to Jesus and that they have even felt like they’ve been given words to sing in a really hard season when they haven’t known how to express things to God. They’re wanting to continue to believe him and believe that he has good things for them, but they might be in a really hard season. So getting a chance to, as in the latest United record Empires telling someone that sometimes things in life hurt actually so bad that it’s like hell, but yet we still get a chance to praise God and we still get to choose that He is good that He is faithful. It has been really encouraging to hear people’s personal stories about what it has meant for them, and maybe for them it’s a confession that they’ve needed to sing for the season that they’re in. That’s always so encouraging because you know, you’re obviously writing for everyone, but you’re also writing for the ones- for the people- that are actually facing real things. You don’t want to just write songs for people to just swath over and say ‘that’s a really pretty melody’, but you know, the real seasons that give people opportunity to say the things that they need to say to God, and to maybe remind themselves in that season.
Absolutely! In the movie, several different people (other United members) talked about their WORST days and how God really moved in them and met them in those places. Do you have a WORST day where God really held you together and moved you forward, when you didn’t think you could do it?
Yeah, I feel like you’ve just got to live life long enough for life to happen and for things out of your control to happen. You know, God is so kind in those moments because, I mean I can think, of the top of my head, it would have been when I was seventeen and we were coming into the final year of our high school. After that first week of our final week, five of my high school friends were in a car accident and four of them passed away. I had grown up in church and grown up knowing about Jesus and loving worship music and music in general, I kind of really saw the sovereignty of God and how he brought two friends from a different school. One who wasn’t really walking with God but had before but maybe kind of walked away, and then a friend who was super strong in what she believed and in her relationship with Jesus and I just saw how, at the time where it felt like nothing made sense and I didn’t understand it and I was completely broken because I had lost my best friend and other friends as well. I saw how God had, the year previous, brought along a friend and planted these two people in my life, to the point where when everything went to crap, I had someone further along in the journey who was encouraging me to keep pressing in to God and then I had the other friend who wasn’t really in a right relationship with God but I got to encourage and I guess, like, and ask the hard questions of ok, this is really showing me that I needed to have my relationship right with God because we’re not promised tomorrow. We’re given today and you just never know what’s going to happen.
There have been many times that really hard times have happened. Like, I had something that was very hard in my personal life two weeks before we were in studio to record Empires and when we’re in the studio two weeks later Joel (Houston) hands me these lyrics for this song called Even When It Hurts and I’m looking at him going ‘I feel like you’ve read my diary and you’ve written everything that I want to say to God. This is so hard right now, how do you expect me to sing this without crying?’ and he says ‘It’s okay, you can just cry.’ There’s something so nice in just being real with God, He is God and he knows all of the little thoughts that come into your mind anyway, so you may as well just be honest before Him. I feel like when you are honest with Him, and you’re honest with yourself, I feel like that gives Him room to then speak. You’re like ‘ok, this is real and this is crazy’, but again I wish to see the sovereignty and goodness of God in all of those moments, nothing is a surprise to Him. For me, He has always put people around me before anything has ever happened so that if something does go crazily wrong or completely out of my control, He’s been so kind and has put people around me that are going to speak into my life at that crazy time. They’re going to be a voice of reason or they’re going to be a voice that encourages me to press into God and encourage me to know that I can’t control this but what I can control is my attitude and response. Just bring and be people that speak life, no matter what else is going on. I just think if you look hard enough, you can see God in anything, even in the worst situations, He is still God.
Absolutely (ugh!), In the movie you talked about your leap of faith and how you came to be a part of Hillsong. I was curious, before you felt like you were being led there, where did you see (or plan for) your life heading?
Well, I was at a youth camp when I was younger, I went to them a lot because I grew up in a Christian home and it was awesome. I just remember calling out to God when I was like sixteen, and seventeen and eighteen and just going, ‘God, use me, use me, use me and I love to sing!’ and I’m pretty sure that’s all I said. I didn’t put anything on it. I didn’t say it had to be secular, or that it had to be ministry or anything like that, I just said ‘God, use me, use me, use me, and i love to sing!’ Yeah, and- I’m sorry, what was the question again? I feel so bad.
No, it’s fine.
I’ve only had one coffee, I probably should have another one.
That’s funny! No, I just wondered where you thought you would be before God intervened with Hillsong?
Right! Well, I always knew it was music. I always knew that my heart was in singing. And I’ve probably said it too many times, but it’s so important the people you have around you. I remember when I was younger, I had said to my parents- and I’m going to warn all of the children if they say it, and for parents just to hold lightly to it and not too tightly- I said I wanted to be a doctor, and my parents held on to that like nobody’s business. They were thinking ‘she is going to go to medical school and she is going to be the doctor of the family.’ I wasn’t like, well, I did pretty well in school through quite a few years, but I just, well we had that crazy car accident with some of my friends and that final year of high school I just really struggled to study and to keep my focus. It was just a horrible year, kind of. When it got to the end of the year, the fact that I even passed- you know, I did pretty well in some subjects, but not all subjects- the fact that I passed was amazing. I just didn’t want to apply to go into medicine or anything like that. One, i didn’t have the marks that I needed, but two, I didn’t want to get into debt when I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to do that. I had a friend, and that’s what I was saying about how it’s so important to have the people that speak into your life, and she just said to me ‘hey, if you don’t sing in some shape or form, something inside is going to die, you just need to do it!’ It was kind of hard-hitting at the time because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do you mean by that?’ but I realize that there is something about music and there is something about being able to sing and to express that, even if it’s just to God and I forget about any one else being in the room. There is just something so special about that, and I feel like it is how I was created and it’s how I am a creative. Having someone call that out in you, I just feel like it kind of gave me strength to be able to say to my parents ‘I’m not going to apply to go to University or College, I want to sing.’ It was hard for quite a couple of years because I was staying at home and I guess my parents were like ‘what are you doing with your life if you’re not going to uni? You should at least get a degree behind you.’ And I do see the reason for that and my parents are lovely and they never had some of the opportunities that I’ve been given, even to study, so I can see why and where they were coming from and everything. When I moved out of home, to move to Sydney, it was one to kind of look like I knew what I was doing and also to get out from under there and just kind of breathe and go ‘okay, so now how do we do this?’ but I always knew that I would sing, it has been in the kindness of God that it has been in the way that it has happened and the people I’ve had around me. Also, I feel like in an industry that can so easily pick up and chew, and spit out, even like young men and young women who are trying to figure out who they are, in an industry like the music industry in general, it can be pretty harsh, I feel like I’ve been a little bit protected in a really lovely way with the fact that now I’m in ministry in a way that I never imagined. It’s pretty special and I feel the kindness of God in that.
It was here that I said Absolutely a few more unnecessary times and we said our good byes. It is also, at this point, once the call had ended, that I exclaimed how adorable Taya is. Yes, this is on recording and my awkwardness is there forever to remember. Even as I have dissected our conversation, while typing it out for you to read, I am once again struck by the humility and the ordinary relevance in everything Taya said. There is not one aspect of her life, feelings or journey which she discussed that we can not nestle into and admit we know exactly what that feels like. (Can I get an Absolutely!?)
I am also struck, just now, with how my word for 2016 was CONNECT. All along this journey, this year, I have learned lessons on Connecting (and what it means) in ways that I could never have dreamed up. To be so near the end of the year, and for me to get the opportunity to personally connect with a voice and member behind music that has meant so much to me, is not lost on me. Taya is right, when we really look we can see God in everything. Even when…
(If you haven’t entered my awesome Christmas giveaway, I hope you’ll go do that right now because time is winding down, and if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I really encourage you to.)