There are a few significant people in my life who made such an impression on me that I remember the exact moment I first laid eyes on them. Jim Salinas was not one of them. It wasn’t that he was bland; he was a springy, jaunty, compact blonde guy with a lot of energy. He played guitar on the Calvary Chapel worship team in Clearlake, California. Most likely that’s when I first saw him twenty years ago.
I’m sure Jim introduced himself. They had a time for that in the service, but the first memories I have of our friendship are a jumble of rehearsals after I joined the music team. He was thrilled to have me there because everyone played guitar and I had a keyboard. The leader at the time was demanding and difficult. I’d led song services for twelve years at different churches. It was hard for me to follow a man whose methods I found bombastic and insensitive to both the team and the congregation. Jim helped me survive. In a soothing, raspy voice, he’d put things into perspective. A couple of months later, the pastor appointed Jim the leader of the band.
Jim was a master of harmonies. He could weave intricate and unusual lines against the melody. Though I found them difficult to learn, they were so gorgeous that I was happy to stretch my folk-default brain to embrace something other than thirds and fifths. When I struggled, Jim just flashed a bright, reassuring smile under his nice little mustache. When I was worried and insecure, he gave me confidence. You can do it!
There were lots of musically-inclined folks at Calvary Chapel, Clearlake. Pastor Jim Lujan encouraged them all, often scheduling time for them to give a concert of their music on a Saturday night. Now, THIS moment I remember. I was sitting in the front row listening to Jim sing his original songs when he swung into a riff that grabbed my attention. Then, in that glorious, scratchy baritone, he sang, “I’ve seen hard times. It’s been raining. I’ve felt heartache but I’m not complaining. I get lifted up by the love of my Lord.” Right then I felt the Lord nudge me. I thought, He needs to record an album.
Enthusiastically Jim accepted my offer. My studio was small and Steve, my recording engineer, had just quit, saying, “God will send you a better engineer.” I thought grimly, Yeah, right. Where am I going to find a better recording engineer in Lake County? Especially one who’ll be delighted to work in this podunk studio.
I had a single piece of recording equipment—a Tascam 12-track recorder my dad had purchased for me. I barely knew how to use it. Jim didn’t either, but he said we’d figure it out. He was dauntless. So we began recording his songs. All I remembered was something about the strength of the signal that was optimum for each track. I couldn’t remember whether Steve said it should be mostly under the red or into the red. I DID remember his saying that if you didn’t have enough signal the recording would be lousy. I decided it was into the red.
I knew how to push On and Off. I knew how to assign tracks. I watched the displays, making sure the signal light went consistently into the red, but not too much—just a bit, like the tip of a cigarette. Jim did all the rest.
When Jim played the concert, it was just him and guitar. Now he had twelve tracks to play with. He began to layer parts. He was a drummer, too, and he had infinite imagination for strings and horns and percussion. He even played a little piano. And, of course, there were those harmonies… I was amazed at how each song began to emerge as its own entity. The arrangements made them sound so different. One even reminded me of an Old English ballad. The subject matter was varied too. He was a romantic. His beautiful, long-haired, dark-eyed wife Sophie was always in his mind and obvious in his songs. And his sons. I knew they were there because he talked about them so often. He told me what was behind every lyric, every setting. I wish I could remember.
My favorite song on the album was still “I Get Lifted Up.” When we designed the “J” card for the cassette, I asked Jim to make it the album’s title song. He agreed.
Jim wanted to give his album for Christmas presents, so we rushed the mixing, duplicated them, and just before Christmas Jim left the studio with a bunch of cassettes. “I Get Lifted Up” was going public—or, at least, to family and friends. He was especially excited about giving one to his boyhood buddy Danny. They grew up making music together—singing, playing guitar, writing songs. Danny was his best friend. Jim said he hoped I’d meet Danny someday.
In January, we reconvened to remix the album. In Jim’s opinion the hasty job we’d done for Christmas was not good enough for the public ear. He was disappointed, too, because of the twenty-some cassettes he’d delivered, only Danny had responded. Jim told me Danny was wonderfully enthusiastic, but he heard not a word from anyone else. We plunged back into mixing.
I wasn’t good at mixing. I couldn’t really hear the changes and they all sounded the same to me. I knew nothing of EQ or reverb, panning, dynamics. Jim would work and work and play it for me saying, “What do you think?” I’d listen carefully, then reply, “Sounds good to me.” I was no help at all.
One hot day in June I unlocked the studio and was shocked to hear voices. Who was there? Jim had a key, but no one else. “Oh, hi,” Jim grinned. “Carolyn, this is Danny.” He seemed very pleased to be presenting this tall, red-haired, skinny guy to me. Jim told me about a lot of people. I couldn’t remember them all. I’m thinking, Danny. Now, who is Danny? His brother? Jim set things straight. “Danny is my best friend. I told you about him.” Dan smiled out from his dense, red-brown beard. Jim continued, “If anything ever happens to me, I want Danny to mix my music.” I nodded to the Tascam. “Why not now? Let’s see what he can do.”
Five minutes later, Dan had mixed one of the troublesome songs. Jim and I listened back carefully. We’d been struggling to remix this album for six months and this quick mix was better than anything we’d done. We both agreed that, if Danny wanted it, he could have the job. That’s how Dan Worley came into my life. I do remember meeting him, partially because I was so annoyed that Jim brought a stranger into my studio without asking my permission first.
I played a lot of music with Jim over the years. We were on the worship team at Calvary Chapel for two or three years. We were in a band together playing Dan’s songs and mine. Then he moved away. He moved back. And when he came back, his Juvenile Diabetes was much worse. It’s an awful disease which can be controlled sometimes by careful eating habits, but also seems to carry with it a strong desire to eat “normal” like other people. I saw it in my husband Dennis. I saw it in Jim. They both chose to eat what they wanted, and in some ways it helped kill them.
On December 29, 2010, Dan received a distressed call from Jim’s brother Mike. Jim had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and was on life support. The family had said their good-byes. Soon the machines would be shut off. Mike said he thought Dan would want to know.
Dan told them to hold off until he got there. Within minutes he was on the road to the hospital. There, the family having left, Dan sat with his dearest and oldest friend, singing to him his favorite songs, praying with him, telling him what he would soon be seeing in heaven—mostly his Savior, the One he’d been singing to all his Believing life.
Dan and I were preparing for Jim’s service—discussing the order, the music, the parts of the opening program. Dan asked me to talk, but told me he didn’t want me to talk about meeting him in the studio. He said this is about Jim. He wanted me to tell how Jim wasn’t afraid to clean parking lots at 3 in the morning when the cold made his diabetic hands numb and it was harder to play guitar afterwards. It impressed me because Jim never complained. He did it to support his family. It was necessary and he was happy to do it. That was the Jim he wanted me to talk about.
I thought about that a lot.
At first I didn’t want to think about Jim. I lost my husband in October, my father in November, and this friend of twenty years in December. All three of them had unusual and extraordinary talents—gifts that made them stand out wherever they went. They dazzled us. They took us places we could not go on our own. All three struggled with years of poor health. All continued to make choices that compromised the quality of what they had left. They worried us. They angered us. They left us with frustration, loose ends, and grief at the loss of what they once shared with us and now was gone. I’m thinking of death and life and the meaning of the time between. This is what I think: It’s not ever about just the person who died. What about all the good changes that came about because of what they set in motion? As they gave us their gifts they influenced our direction, our potential.
Danny was one of Jim’s greatest gifts in my life—his best friend—the one to whom he trusted his music. Jim was thrilled that Dan and I became friends as well. Dan is Earthen Vessel’s recording engineer, and took EV places I could never go on my own. Steve was right: God sent me someone much better than he. If it weren’t for Dan, EV would not be a publishing house with more than thirty titles. We would not be recording the music of Robert Watson or Bettie Mae Fikes, or be present on the internet. And I would have missed out on knowing one of my best friends. That’s part of Jim’s legacy. It’s what he leaves behind as a creative gift that continues to grow and bless. If when I die all people talk about is me, that would be disappointing. What about the lives that have been made richer because of the people I’ve brought together to form new relationships that nurture and challenge and cause them to grow?
The other thing that has taken on new and much deeper meaning in the last few months is my understanding of Redeemer. I’ve always thought of Jesus as the One who redeems us from death, hell, and the grave. He paid the price for my sin and presents me faultless before Holy Almighty God. You redeem this coupon for this free gift—exchange one thing for another. I give you my life; You give me Yours.
What I realize now is that this exchange works in absolutely everything in our lives—not just the final end destination. Every disappointment, every loose end, every traumatic horror can be redeemed. It’s meaningless suffering that defeats us. A rabbi who studied survivors of the Holocaust discovered that.
In my life, it’s the loops of regret, bad decisions that exploded like land minds hurling shrapnel ripping into innocent victims who happened to be standing too near—my kids, my husband, my mom and dad. I’ve been seeing that Jesus gave His life so nothing that dies has to stay dead. Why else would He bother to give us new bodies? Because His victory over death would not be complete until there was no separation from life left. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life.
We were intended for life and more abundantly. And even the memories and regrets are candidates for that relentless redemption—that trading of one thing for another—a coupon for a cup of coffee. Your regrets, your sorrows for a fresh understanding of it from God’s point of view? He promised. Romans 8:28: God works ALL things together for GOOD for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. It doesn’t say all things are good; it says He WORKS all things together for good. We make bad choices. There are consequences. But He won’t let them lie there stinking, making us gag every time we happen by. He will redeem it, as He turns deserts into gardens. Death into Life.
I’ve seen Him do it. He used my mom’s seven-year neurological degenerative disease to bring the family into a healing of relationships that had been ripped for decades. It takes time. Sometimes you get glimpses. It’s a complex tapestry and usually all we see are the knots. But He who set the stars in place and knows each one by name knows every tear, every struggle, and is weaving it together in an enormous masterpiece of meaningful beauty and design. It’s not all about Jim, but it is about how his life has brought us together in one way or another, touched and changed us, frustrated and annoyed us and caused us to grow, giving us something uniquely his. We are part of his legacy and he is part of ours in the perfect redemption that only Christ can bring.
Here’s “I Get Lifted Up,” part of that tangible legacy that is Jim’s.
I Get Lifted Up (in case the Audio Player doesn’t work)