When Stephanie Smith got her first glimpse of the father sheíd desperately missed all of her 14 years, her heart was in her throat. She waited breathlessly as he greeted her mother and her brother, and then finally turned to Stephanie. But his words were anything but the healing sheíd dreamed of for so long. He said, "And this must be Priscilla?"
In the aftermath of that meeting, Stephanie processed a great many life lessons. Following a spiritual reality check she experienced while singing with a rock band she joined during college, a fateful door was opened for Stephanie to travel overseas. "I ended up going on a missions trip to Guatemala. If anyone is struggling with pride or self-righteousness," she laughs, "you need to go haul cinder blocks up a mountain. The hard work will cure you!"
Her compelling redemption story drives the hope-drenched lyrics and gutsy honesty of Not Afraid, a debut album overflowing with solid pop rock anthems, all written or co-written by Stephanie.
NRTís new contributor, Andrew Funderburks, recently had the opportunity to talk to Stephanie about being transparent on her debut album and how her faith with God is stronger than it has ever been.
Hi, Stephanie! Welcome to NewReleaseTuesday.com. Thank you for doing this interview with us!
Hi! Thanks for having me!
Iíve recently read about many of the hardships in your life. Can you talk about how your music has reflected these hardships?
It took me about a year to write and record this record, and I feel like we captured the entire journey from having to wait on the Lordís timing, to broken hearts and restoration. It resulted in many anthems for girls and beauty. The entire album is really just an autobiography of the past year of my life, but Iím also pulling from life experiences over the last 25 years. It is my hope that the kaleidoscope of my music is made up of hardships, victories and even failures that Iíve personally experienced.
Have you come out of the past year with a stronger faith in God than when you started writing this record?
Yeah, I have. I really believe that our God doesnít make us go through things just because He feels like it. He has a plan and a reason, and we may not understand that reason in this lifetime. I trust Him because I know that He is good. Although Iíve walked through some stormy seasons, I can always look back and see His hand in that time. I can see His provision and grace, and I come out the other side a stronger person.
What Bible verse has helped you to pull through these painful circumstances that you have been through?
Well, there are several. In Psalm 68, God says that He will be a father to the fatherless. I believe that Godís Word is 100 percent true. His heart breaks when ours does. If we take Him at His Word, then even when there is an earthly father absent, there is a heavenly Father present.
As a new artist, how are you preparing your relationship with Christ to keep up with the hectic schedule of constantly being put in the spotlight and being on the road so much?
Iíve lived and learned that I donít do well without Him. I need Him. I donít want to be going on stage and ministering to whomever comes to my shows if Iím not immersed in His Spirit and His Word.
One of the ways I hold myself accountable is to invite my best friend to come on the road with me. She is the voice of reason, my accountability and my prayer warrior. As my road manager and jack-of-all-trades, she assists me, serves me and loves me. I really desire that comradery and accountability that she brings. We pray together and if Iím struggling, I can pull her aside and she just prays over me. We are blessed that we can really be there for each other during this season.
Itís good to have people to connect with that can keep us grounded and honest.
Yes, it is.
Letís talk about how you got started in music.
I was doing praise and worship in youth group and that evolved into a search for a college where I could study music. I really feel like God instilled this passion for music in me, and I knew this was something I could do for His glory. So I went to Greenville College to attend their CCM program and while I was there, I met tobyMac, [who started Gotee Records]. I won a Battle of the Bands competition and got to play at this festival that he was playing at. The entire process was really just the Lord and His ordaining.
The title of your debut project, along with the first single, is Not Afraid. Where did the inspiration of that title come from?
"Not Afraid" came to be at the same time that I was entering into this new season with the Lord. God had identified some areas in my life that were a little distracting. Heíd been challenging me to spend a couple of months just loving on Him and focusing on some of the things that Heíd laid before me. For example, I was writing a book and I was finishing a record. I knew I would never have a second first record. Thereís just your first record and just your first book. I felt like I needed the time to just give Him all of me and that meant walking away from a few things, one of which was a relationship. I felt like God said, "Itís hard to move in and out of seasons of life. You are not alone." Weíre constantly moving on, and moving into different places. Different people are continuously crossing our paths. But we are not alone in that journey. I think thatís a pretty universal comfort to a lot of people no matter what situation they are facing.
"Superstar" is another single off Not Afraid. Tell us a little bit about this song, what it means and what place it holds in your heart.
"Superstar" is special to me. I sort of claim it as an anthem to my girls. I was speaking at a conference with about four to five hundred teenage girls, getting some quality one on one time with them throughout the weekend, and a re-occurring theme I was hearing from them was "Iím not worth it." That just lit a holy rage in my heart because we are children of the living God and weíre not perfect, but we wear His redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ. So I wrote this song, basically saying, "Your identity as a child of God is a superstar." Whether youíre a dentist or a rock star, you know that God doesnít care, weíve all been thought out by God Almighty! Itís special to me to be able to sing in these arenas and really believe that every person that sets foot in that place, everyone that my crosses my path, had a story that God knows intimately. Heís thought it out and Heís involved in it!
What a powerful reminder of Godís constant presence in our lives. I also want to talk about your song, "You Alone." It has such a beautiful lyric and melody and presents a wonderful worship experience. Tell us what inspired the writing of this song.
This was the last song we wrote for the record. The one thing this project was missing was just a vertical love song to God. We had a pretty rocking set of songs but there was only one ballad out of ten, so we were thinking we needed to just slow it down a bit. I sat down with my producer, who co-wrote this song with me, and we had an entire discussion about singing ďI love You, LordĒ during praise and worship on Sunday mornings. Do we love Him because He blesses us? Do we love Him because weíre supposed to? During the conversation, we resolved that we love Him, because He is who He is. Heís good and so He does give us things, but thatís not why we love Him. We love Him, because He is love. Thatís where "I love You/For You/And You alone," came from. Itís not for what He gives me.
In your song "First Words," you portrayed the painful relationship you had with your father. Did the forgiveness that you refer to in this song come easily for you?
Well, the situation wasnít easy, but it was sort of a "do or die." When I was 14, forgiveness didnít come as easy because I didnít fully understand what I was going through or dealing with. I had a lot of depression, and it was certainly affecting me. When I was 19, I met my father for just the second time, and I felt like God was clearly telling me that I had a choice to make: I could strap on the wounds, carry the bitterness and anger and justify my right to be miserable. But I knew I would carry it into my marriage someday, or into my relationships and dreams. My other option was to lay this depression at the foot of the cross and say "I forgive, and Iím going to walk in the freedom of that forgiveness." It sounds like an easy choice. It wasnít. But was it worth it? Absolutely.
Youíve had to have some strong influences in your life for you to be able to make that choice of forgiveness. Who has been an inspiration to you?
My mom. Sheís one of my best friends. I got to grow up watching her love the Lord. I got to watch her desperation for His provision, and He always came through. So sheís just one of my heroes.
If someone is reading this interview right now and is facing a difficult situation in their life, what single message would what them to read?
A single word that God has been laying on my heart is hope. I think itís really important to always hope. Hebrews talks about faith as being sure of what we hope for. I think itís always good to have something that weíre hoping for because without hope, something dies. If youíre in a hardship, or if life is not that great for you right now, just know that it will not be like this forever. Root your identity in your hope in Christ because everything else will let you down.
Stephanie, thank you so much for doing this interview with NRT! May God bless you and your music ministry!
Andrew Funderburks is a fan of a wide range of Christian music including punk, pop and black gospel. His interests include missions, writing songs and drama. He currently lives in Houston, MS.