"This Article was taken from the "Go Traid"
written by Rebecca Warren
This is a story of love and faith, of seasons of sorrow and rejoicing.
It’s the story of Triad couple Jonathan and Melissa Helser’s passionate pursuit of a life lived fully from the heart and the songs that have been born along the way.
And, mostly, it’s an invitation to join them on the journey.
Seasons of change
“The wealth and value of our life could be easily measured not in what we produce but in the relationships we have built.”
Those are the words penned by Jonathan, 33, and Melissa, 32, that are featured inside the CD jacket of their new album, “On the Shores.”
This is the couple’s first collaborative project, with Melissa writing four of the songs, sharing lead vocals and playing acoustic guitar.
“I really believe her songs are some of the best on the album,” Jonathan said, “and I’m so honored to share this with her.
They spent the past year writing and recording the album, capturing the rhythms and changing seasons of their life. The songs are what have risen from the ashes of tested faith and their trust in God, “giving honor to the desert seasons” though which Melissa said they have walked.
More than a song
Jonathan met Melissa at ministry school in Charlotte in 1998. They married in the spring of 2000. She was 20, and he was 21.
“We met and fell in love really fast,” Jonathan said. “When we met, if you would have told me we would record an album together, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Jonathan picked up a guitar and started writing songs in his late teens. Melissa also played guitar and sang a little, but a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis at the age of 17 made playing the guitar difficult, if not impossible.
“When I was diagnosed, the doctor said I would never play the guitar,” she said. “Fast-forwarding to now, it’s a miracle I even play and write music and that I can even hold the strings down.”
In 2008, nearly a year after starting on a breakthrough medication that Melissa said has transformed her life, she began gradually to regain strength in her hands. To mark the occasion, Jonathan bought her a 1979 Guild guitar as a gift for their ninth wedding anniversary in 2009.
The first night that she had the guitar, Melissa wrote “Explode My Soul,” one of the songs featured on “On the Shores.”
“It would be hard to separate our journey with my sickness,” she said. “It’s been the most beautiful and most terrible part. A lot of my songs have been written as I’ve walked out of a desert.
“I wrote them to be able to process seven years of a lot of intensity and really wrote these songs to say to the Lord what maybe I couldn’t say and to communicate something that maybe I couldn’t just talk about. Those songs have been my anthem — they’ve become part of me waking up.”
Jonathan said that through those difficult seasons, he and Melissa were often singing themselves into believing.
“Without tension, there is no music,” he said. “Without guitar strings having tension, they can’t sing. There’s tension in circumstances. But in it, he (God) is good, and he will be better than we can imagine.”
Full of rich layers, including piano, hammer dulcimer and multipart vocal harmonies, the songs of “On the Shores” often stray from predictable chord progressions, taking on melodies and moment that feel like an anthem and a prayer.
“I love the artistic side of writing and crafting a song,” Jonathan said, “but I also love the experiential side of stepping into a moment and experiencing the moment in the music.”
Their band, which Jonathan said is not just a band but some of their “best friends in the world,” includes musicians who are living life with the Helsers in Sophia and on the road.
The result is an album that carries the sound of what Jonathan and Melissa call “a family traveling and living together.”
Living from the heart
The threads of family and friends are woven throughout the Helsers’ story, creating a tapestry that reflects years invested in strengthening existing relationships and forming new ones.
Some of those relationships come through traveling around the world to lead worship at camps, church events and ministry schools, but most of them have been built here in the Triad.
On 52 acres set among rolling hills and farmland in Sophia, is A Place for the Heart. Property that was once woods is now dotted with 10 buildings, including a darkroom and art studio. It has been called a farm, a retreat center and a school. But to the Helser family and a handful of full-time staff and interns, it’s home.
It’s where Jonathan grew up, where he and Melissa were married 12 years ago and where they’re raising their 9-year old son, Cadence, and 6-year-old daughter, Haven. Oak from the property is incorporated throughout the house they built five years ago next to Jonathan’s parents’ house.
Each summer, it’s where 24 college students from around the world come to participate in the 18 Inch Journey, a creative worship school founded and led by Jonathan and Melissa. Named for the 18-inch span between the head and the heart, the school is a place where the difference of a life lived from the heart rather than the head is experienced rather than taught and where the difference between knowing facts about God and truly knowing him is explored.
Melissa said that many people ask what exactly it is — if it’s an art or music school. Although it offers classes in music, art and photography, the school is described by Melissa as “a school of the heart.” Classes taught by the Helsers and guest lecturers provide students with opportunities to learn more about who they are and, in the process, awaken their creativity.
“More than anything, we invite them into community” she said. “We really want them to have a heart transformation. We’re inviting them into a safe place to let all the walls of insecurity come down so they can discover who they are without the craziness and chaos.
“Our dream is that a generation will find out who they are.”
Where creativity and hearts intersect
In the course of living life at A Place for the Heart, creativity and hearts often intersect. It’s in those moments, Jonathan said, that the greatest works have been created by poets and artists — creating things beyond what they could ever imagine.
Sharing those moments with students and staff is a gift that the Helsers don’t take for granted. Jonathan describes it as the roots of what they do, with their music being the branches.
“I don’t think we could do what we do in music if we weren’t pouring into the students who come here,” Melissa said.
All of the proceeds from their music go to A Place for the Heart, and they hope eventually to build some new spaces while continuing to use every existing space to the fullest.
In the midst of the ministry and music, family is always first for the Helsers, who are living and loving without reservation.
“Our kids have been a significant part of everything we’ve done,” Melissa said. “Our children are the center of our world. I want my kids to live an extraordinary life. If I can teach them to love people, we’ve done it all.
“It wouldn’t be enough to just stand on a stage. We’re sustained in community and in our family rhythms. To be able to be married and raise kids in the middle of it is awesome. To travel with our kids and for them be able to take part in changing lives is a beautiful gift from the Lord.”