Maura McIntosh Fields | Walking by Faith

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Walking by Faith… and Singing as I Go

By Marilyn Tinnin

Maura McIntosh Fields thought she had faced the hardest challenges of  her life a long time ago. She had dealt with the sudden death of her first true love; she had survived a divorce as the daughter of a high profile and much loved United Methodist minister; she had battled a tough period of severe depression and she had come out the other side with the resilience all believers hope would be theirs in the face of life’s challenges. Her life had finally settled into a predictable and safe routine. She adored her job as the public school music teacher at Pontotoc’s elementary school. It was pure delight and an opportunity to fill her days with two of her favorite priorities – music and children. She wrote many of the songs the students performed over the years, making them laugh as well as causing them to think deeply about values like love for country while mixing in a wealth of music appreciation. One of Maura’s favorite sayings had a prominent display in her classroom: “All Rock or all Bach makes Jack a dull boy.” Students emerged from Maura’s classes literate in music history – from Bach to Elvis, the Beatles and beyond. She was one of those teachers who touched lives and made a difference. The love of Christ kind of oozes forth from everything she does.

Then God began to stir the waters of her settled life. Was she hearing Him correctly? She was sure God was nudging her to step out of her comfort zone and launch herself fulltime into singing for Him. She had long done weekend concerts, retreats, and conferences. She had several recordings out there that had brought her some recognition and success. But still, there was no logic behind a decision to leave her steady job with a secure retirement and believe that she could financially make it. For every argument she had for God during His relentless pursuit, He seemed to remind her of a scripture or what she professed to believe about Him and the strangest affirming coincidences began to occur everywhere she turned. After months of wrestling with God and feeling very hounded, she uttered her final prayer of protest one night, spelled out her fears, and said, “Ok, God. I’ll do what you say and trust you to take care of me.” She slept better that night in the face of all the unknown than she had slept in all the previous months since God first introduced this preposterous idea.

The very next morning she began to mull over the challenges ahead and consider the timing and the way in which she would announce this radical career change. There was no turning back. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5,6). Maura clung to that scripture.. She was going to believe that the same God who had led the patriarchs of old to do bold things was the same God who was leading her in the here and now.

It was Thanksgiving, 2009 when the McIntosh clan gathered in Jackson. Maura told the family just before lunch that at the end of the school year, she would retire from teaching and begin to sing fulltime because God was calling her in a new direction and although she wasn’t sure how it was all going to work out, she had no doubt that she was acting in obedience to Him. She laughs that her family did not seem to have gotten the same memo from God. Nobody cheered. The silence and the blank looks said it all.

Her parents, David and Rosemary McIntosh admit that when their only daughter made her announcement, they had mixed emotions, ranging from “scared to death” to “It was a mistake,” to “What are you thinking?” In the end it was Maura’s statement that, “I am only doing what you taught me to do…”  that brought to mind all the times in their own journey God had called on them to do things that seemed so void of reason, total leaps of faith on their part, and how very blessed they had been for being willing to walk by faith and not by sight on more than one occasion.

Still, it was hard when it involved their daughter. Today, two years down the road, their faith has been encouraged by seeing how God has blessed Maura’s leap of faith. It is also encouraging as well as humbling to see that their faith was also deeply and personally Maura’s as well.

In the Beginning

Growing up as a “preacher’s kid” was never an albatross for Maura. This was a close-knit family who enjoyed life, shared a love for music, and a great sense of loyalty to each other. They also had a lot of fun together. As the middle child, Maura confesses to being somewhat a “tom-boy” but she was equally musical. Her dad had been an outstanding athlete, a member of the MS Sports Hall of Fame, a Millsaps stand out who had turned down a professional contract with the Los Angeles Rams in order to attend seminary. He also sings. Her mom, Rosemary plays piano and sings, as do her brothers, David and Mark. There was always music in the McIntosh household just as there was always interest in following sports.

The difficult thing about being a Methodist preacher’s kid is the Methodist Conference shuffles pastors around and a very settled happy child can find his world turned upside down unexpectedly as Dad gets called to a new pulpit. Such was the worst and the best thing that happened to young Maura during her high school career.

When her dad accepted a call to Central United Methodist Church in Meridian, Maura was entering tenth grade. This was a difficult time to leave behind friends to enter an unfamiliar environment. She was not happy and made it abundantly clear in a very “passive aggressive” sort of way. Her tactic was to go into her room, close the door, come out only to eat and to obediently attend church. The rest of the time she and her guitar were inseparable. This was the summer she taught herself to play the guitar. It was also the summer she poured her passion into writing songs and discovered she was rather good at it.

After a summer of mostly sulking alone in her room, Maura was confronted by her dad, who asked a typical “McIntosh question.” It was a family tradition for the McIntosh kids to be asked “What is the good that has come from this situation?” It was his way to teach them the concrete reality of  Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Their father was simply teaching them to view all things through the lens of God.

Maura did not hesitate. “I’ve learned to play this guitar,” she said. And oh how she had!

Being the “girl who wrote songs and played guitar” forged her identity in her new school. She found herself being invited to sing on such venues as the state Junior Miss pageant held in Meridian. That was huge in those days and was her first real adventure of putting herself completely outside her comfort zone. But she thrived and grew and learned to take greater risks! Her song-writing flourished and there was nothing in it in those days that had a thing to do with God’s words or sacred themes.

Detours and College Lessons

Without a lot of soul searching or deep thought, Maura enrolled at Millsaps and chose Vocal Music as her major. Being a “people” person, she quickly connected with every avenue of musical expression on campus. She joined the choir. She was selected as one of the very elite “Troubadours,” the small group who performed pop music and traveled abroad to perform. Maura poured herself into college life.

It was then she began to examine her faith. For the first time she was away from the daily influence of her parents and a slightly sheltered life. This was the era of Vietnam and protests and the bedrock of Christian faith was challenged on college campuses almost everywhere. She realized that although she knew a lot about Jesus –  he was more a “friend of the family” than her personal friend. Of course, she immediately wrote a song with that title!.

Her journals during that period recount her struggles although outwardly Maura appeared to be the happy-go-lucky girl who was everybody’s friend, who enjoyed the parties, the social life, and much that was not particularly serious. She realized she had to find a personal faith and she could not simply ride the coattails of her family anymore. But how would that happen?

Maura’s high school sweetheart planned to attend Millsaps also, but he took a year off after high school to serve as part of a mission team to? ?. That year, his letters revealed a gradual transformation in his faith. He seemed to be dealing with some of the same questions Maura had, but he was growing closer to Christ by leaps and bounds and there was nothing lukewarm in his new found personal faith. Part of Maura was devastated as he told her they both needed to get their relationship with Christ firmly rooted before they moved forward in their relationship with each other.

Maura knew he was right, but she was slightly floundering in her willingness to let go and commit her life completely to Christ. She continued to struggle. When the young man came back to Millsaps in her sophomore year, he joined the choir and they were thrown together a lot. It was not until the spring that they had a deep conversation and she thought she was ready to commit her entire being to whatever path the Lord would call her. It looked like they would be moving forward as a pair. He was killed in an automobile accident on the way back to Jackson following one of the choir’s last concerts of the year, and Maura’s total commitment to Christ was interrupted as she dealt with the grief.

Maura says, however, that “God used that time so deeply in my life – the questioning ‘why’ was a good thing.” There was never a moment that she could dismiss God or think, “I’ll think about that question tomorrow.” She was constantly seeking God because she was constantly trying to find comfort and something that made sense in all of this.

It is noteworthy that her dad asked her the “McIntosh question” almost immediately. He said, “It may be a long time before you can find anything good in this, but start looking because there will be something good that will come from this.”

Maybe it was that Maura kept seeking God, kept questioning and kept wanting to make that faith of her family’s her own. She was never bitter or blaming toward God. She knew with her head that everything her parents had taught her about God was true, but what she longed for was the relationship, the intimacy, that they seemed to have with Him that she did not.

A Brutal Conversion

There was a Millsaps student who seemed to cross Maura’s path often. Her name was Lucy. She was not part of the group Maura associated with but she was someone who caught Maura’s attention. Looking back she says, “It was as though the Holy Spirit kept telling me to pay attention” and she did. Lucy seemed to show up at the same social functions, in the same classes, in the dorm, on the weekend…everywhere. And Maura was drawn to her because she had a steadiness about herself, a constant something that was like joy…not fake but just deep. Since they didn’t travel in the same group, Maura did not really know her but there was a part of her that thought she would like to know her. She obviously had some component to her life that Maura wanted to have, too.

At the end of the 1975 school year, a big group decided to rent two cabins at the beach. Maura describes the group as “two small groups within a larger group.” Although they were all “friends,” there were the “Bible Study” girls and the “Hanging out fun girls.” Maura was part of the second group.

They arrived in Destin and headed down to the beach. The day was perfect…at first. But there was a sudden weather change and the undertows became severe. Maura was caught in one that took her out farther than she wanted to go and would not let her swim back in. She was dragged down, would come up for air and find herself carried farther and farther out. Fighting against the tide, she grew so tired and finally went under for what she was sure was the last time. She passed out, and her limp body washed up on the beach. When she came to, she opened her eyes to see Lucy standing over her.

The Lord had definitely gotten Maura’s attention.

When the group came back to Jackson a few days later, the Billy Graham Crusade was underway at Jackson Memorial Stadium. Lucy invited Maura to go with her on Saturday night.

Maura says, “I made a decision that night.” All the events of recent months and years had brought her to this point. She was ready to take hold of HER faith. It was now personal and not just something she took lightly because her parents had told her she “ought” to do this.

Happy Endings

The Sunday morning after the Billy Graham event, Maura sat in the choir at Christ United Methodist in Jackson. Her dad was preaching and every word seemed to be just for her. Principles she had heard her entire life made sense in a way they never had. And at the close of the service, as he issued the invitation for anyone who wanted to commit their lives to Christ – either for the first time or in rededication – Maura went forward.

A tremendous angst had been lifted. All of the searching and questioning was replaced by a new peace and a sense that she understood that illusive term she had heard all of her life – “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” And she knew it was for keeps.

Maura went back to campus that afternoon, sought out Lucy and told her that she had had a profound influence on her during the past year, that in all of her months of seeking she had been quite aware of Lucy’s consistent way of living the gospel right before her eyes. Lucy had absolutely no idea that God was using her in such a way to touch Maura. “It’s not always what we say,” Maura says, “but how we live it out that touches others.”

Maura had decided to go one extra year of school to get her teaching certificate, and so in that year, as she continued to be invited to sing here and there, she added something new to her concerts. She was singing for Jesus, not just herself. Her songwriting frequently incorporated some of the old hymns into new original works in the uniquely “Maura” style which is a mix of Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and James Taylor.

She was still performing her love songs, but as she tried out her new material as well, she found that she had the ear of many who had known her before she began to sing for the Lord, and she received many a note from those, who, like her, were seeking something authentic they had yet to discover. She still has a stack of notes from friends during that time who thanked her for causing them to think. It seemed she was now being used just as Lucy had been used in her life.

She is a veteran performer whose rich sound and poignant lyrics can move the listener to deep worship. She also has quite a sense of humor and can pull off one of her “silly” songs for kids that  leave the whole audience in laughter.

There is a sparkle in her blue eyes when she speaks about this new unsettled life where she is doing house concerts, church concerts, conferences and retreats. “Doors keep opening. It is fun to watch God work.” She admits it is kind of a “hand-to-mouth-day-by-day” existence, but God keeps coming through and Maura keeps singing. He opens the doors and she walks through them. And people’s hearts get changed.

Invite her your way. You will be so glad you did. Go visit MauraMcIntosh.com

Sidebar:
Maura’s recordings:
Live for You
When I Remember You
Because of the Walk
No More Couch Potatoes
“The songs you will hear are a big part of me – written from experiences of great joy and deep pain. They tell of answered prayers – some in the ways I’d hoped for and some in ways I didn’t understand at that time. There are songs about the love of friends, shaing life, holding each other up when needed and ‘being Christ’ to each other. You’ll hear my questions of ‘why?’ and my discovery of the peace of just trusting God’s plan.”