She’s won 39 Dove Awards, five Grammy Awards, four Billboard Music Awards and became a Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee in 2004. Her albums have sold more than eleven million units, garnering her three platinum and five gold recordings. As the most-awarded female vocalist in contemporary Christian music history, her voice is still the gold standard by which all who follow are measured.
So what could Sandi Patty possibly know about disappointment and unrealized dreams? Plenty.
The idea for her new book and CD projects, The Edge of the Divine (2010), was initially sparked by a drive past the Magic Kingdom. Patty was in Anaheim for a Women of Faith weekend, but she was surprised by the memories brought up as she saw Disneyland again.
It had been the focus of her first big dream. As a teenager, she had auditioned to become a performer at the popular theme park. “It was what I wanted to do and be more than anything else in the entire world,” Patty recalls.
But three weeks after her audition, she still hadn’t heard anything so she called to find out if her notification letter had possibly been lost in the mail. Instead, she was told they had loved her singing, but she didn’t dance quite as well as they hoped. Then, in the most devastating critique of all, they added, “and you’re carrying a little too much weight.”
Patty somehow managed to pick up the pieces of her broken dream and left for Anderson, Indiana, to study voice and music at Anderson University, then Anderson College.
“I can look back now, 30 years later, and know that I wasn’t on the edge of disaster, as I first thought,” Patty says. Now she can see God’s divine hand. “He had just said ‘yes’ to a dream for me that I hadn’t seen yet.”
That very different dream involved Bill and Gloria Gaither, who lived near where Patty was studying. Soon, she began to travel with them. This eventually led to a thriving career in the Christian music industry and a ministry with a much broader impact than that teenager could have ever dreamed.
Through those years, Patty faced disappointments, too, and learned some hard lessons. She’s made mistakes and is very honest in sharing her experiences with others. It is those experiences that make up her current message, one that could only come from someone who has lived, loved, lost and has a better appreciation of God’s grace after coming out on the other side.
Finding something to say was the easy part. The bigger challenge for Patty, after spending 30 years in the music industry, was to deliver a product that contains all the best elements of a Sandi Patty record while also sounding new and fresh. Fortunately, Patty is a consummate pro and producer Chance Scoggins was on hand to help her deliver an album that is timeless.
The title track is a mid-tempo tune that was written to Patty’s exact specifications and immediately felt right. Others, like “Faith Dancing” resonate because they represent the joy of Patty’s current situation. Then there’s “My Prayer for You,” which has the feel of a pastoral blessing, and “All to Bring You Glory,” a track that is destined to be sung by choirs around the world.
Then there are the songs that may raise an eyebrow or two. After all, who ever thought they’d see Patty cover a Christina Aguilera song? But it was the original black gospel arrangement that appealed to Patty and made “Makes Me Wanna Pray” a perfect fit for her soaring voice.
“Worthy,” on the other hand, is a song Patty fought not to sing. “It’s probably the biggest discussion I had with my producer, about why I couldn’t put this song on the record,” she says. So what was the issue? “We’re not supposed to say we’re worthy!” Patty explains. But Scoggins fought back. “All those reasons you say you can’t do it are all the reasons you need to. Women need to hear that they’re worthy and valued and revered,” he told her. When he put it that way, Patty couldn’t help but agree.
“When Life Gets Broken,” a duet featuring Heather Payne, founding member of Point of Grace, was a much easier sell for Patty, who says, “I guess I just really loved that because, in one way or another, all of our lives have been broken or they will be one day, and how do you handle that and get up the next morning and put one foot in front of the other?” The tenderness of the tune was a perfect fit with where Patty’s at now in her life.
Classics like “We Shall Behold Him” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” round out this new collection, and they’re important inclusions not only because the style is classic “Sandi Patty,” but because they remain part of her current story.
The book version of The Edge of the Divine continues that same message of possibility found at the intersection where our faithfulness and our human failings meet. Sandi Patty takes readers to the heart of the crucial choice to cling to the hope God gives. Women discover that they can leave a life of wondering for a life of wonder. Wonder at the infinite love of God, at His inexhaustible mercy, and His refusal to let us wallow far from His blessings, hope, and grace. But first, as Sandi shows, women must walk to the edge of the divine and decide to jump.
Despite the devastating loss of that early dream, many others have come true for Patty. She always wanted to perform on Broadway, but by the time that dream might have been within reach, she wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices within her family that would be necessary. Her friends at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra weren’t willing to give up on this lifelong dream. They put together “Sandi Patty’s Broadway,” a show complete with all the songs she’d ever want to perform on the Great White Way, letting her live the dream without the sacrifice. The show was so popular that Patty continues to perform it with symphonies across the country.
Another dream come true is the “Sandi and Friends” tour. An ‘80s reunion featuring old friends like Wayne Watson, Larnelle Harris, Heather Payne and other special guests that is an opportunity for Patty that brings her pure joy.
While so much in Patty’s life is settled these days, there have been changes lately, too. She and her family recently moved from their long-time home in Indiana to Oklahoma City. And this fall, all but one child will have left the nest. She has also faced her longtime battle with weight head on. After a doctor’s warning and dangerously high blood pressure and cholesterol, she was at the edge of a decision she had to make a choice between life and death. Choosing life, Patty underwent lap band surgery this past year and has “released” 80 pounds so far (she doesn’t say “lost” because they’re not anything she ever wants to find again).
“I have dealt with it forever. I’m 54 and for 48 years of my life I’ve struggled with my weight. It’s been a safety net for me, a constant companion, always there when I needed it. It’s been a process to get to a point where I feel beautiful on the inside and can realize I am a treasure to God. It’s so easy to pick up the messages that we’re not worth it. We even have hymns that say ‘such a worm am I’ and ‘that saved a wretch like me.’ We have to look at what God says about us.
“As God has been able to heal some of that woundedness in my life and peel away those inside layers, it’s been a little bit easier to address that outside layer. My blood pressure was off the charts and I had high cholesterol when my doctor suggested the lap band. My response was, ‘isn’t that like cheating God?’ My doctor replied, ‘You’re cheating your family if you leave too soon.’”
It’s a new season for Sandi Patty - a season of gratitude and grace that finds her finally being more accepting of herself. And as someone who’s been on the journey a little longer, Patty is happy to share what she’s learned and is sharing her testimony with Women of Faith audiences across the country, the largest women’s conference of any kind in the world.
“The more we are willing to share our journey and our story, it will help those who come after us,” she insists. “We all need to be real with each other and stop pretending that we are all perfect and have it all together and there’s no growing left to do,” she insists. “I’m encouraged by all the stories I’ve heard, but what I remember are the things they’ve gotten wrong and let God walk them through. I can’t relate to someone who has it all together, but I can relate to someone who is living a victorious life.”
So can we. That’s why Patty’s honest message continues to strike a chord in all who hear it.