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A lightning strike brings second chances for ‘songwriter/singer’ Ryan Stevenson

Ryan Stevenson performs in August at the Grand Ole Opry. Photo by Jack Rodriguez

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) — Ryan Stevenson’s past includes the good and bad, happiness and heartache, triumph and tragedy.

Those experiences came together in his signature song, “Eye of the Storm,” but can be found throughout his catalog going back to his 2007 debut album, “Running to You.” They reflect his past of enduring bullying throughout high school and becoming the primary caretaker as a middle schooler for his mother as she battled breast cancer. They also include the joy of becoming a husband and father, of touring the country to sing of a Savior whose grace and love exceeds every conceivable limit.

His music will become available to audiences in another format Nov. 6-7 with the national theatrical release of “K-LOVE: Live at Red Rocks,” a concert event from earlier this year featuring numerous artists.

An Oregon native who now lives in Tennessee, Stevenson called his first time playing at the famed amphitheater west of Denver “surreal.”

“Any opportunity to get to play is special,” he told Baptist Press. “It’s a big deal and I want to be the best steward of these chances regardless of the venue or event. The way my journey with the Lord has been throughout my life, this is nothing short of a miracle.”

Stevenson’s road to becoming a songwriter/singer – the order in which he prefers those descriptors – began when his youth pastor gave him with a guitar that sat unused for a few years. In college he finally began playing it and something clicked. It brought a spark and love for transforming words into something that healed.

Before his career as a musical artist, though, Stevenson was on the front lines of a different kind of healing. Initial plans were to become an emergency room physician. Those plans changed, however, and he ended up graduating college with an education degree.

Things changed again after a year of teaching high school as a 22-year-old. Stevenson looked back to the medical field, which led to eight years as a paramedic. What he saw during that time shaped his songwriting.

“The overwhelming uncertainty and tension that people experience in the middle of raw pain, the continuous suicides, the effects of addition – those are the things that really impacted me the most,” he said.

“They were the biggest fuel for wanting to communicate messages of hope.”

Stevenson grew up knowing the longing for such hope. His parents did their best, moving away from extended family where addiction was the norm and settling in a small south Oregon farming town. Money was tight, though. Not only was that painfully obvious for Stevenson and his classmates, so was the fact that he didn’t hit puberty until he was 19, going through high school in the body of what was essentially a sixth-grader.

“I finally started growing my freshman year of college,” said Stevenson, who now stands at 6’4”. “It brought 18 years of profound insecurity.”

On top of that, in middle school his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Stevenson’s sister had gone off to college and his dad was constantly on the road as a trucker. It left him taking care of his mom in their single-wide trailer, and the one to shave her head the day clumps of hair began falling out from her chemo treatments.

Her death when he was 30 hit hard.

“The one person in my life who knew I wanted to be loved and had irrevocably accepted me and loved me had died,” he said. “I felt like I had been orphaned and was really alone at that point.”

The pain he has witnessed as well as experienced has greatly influenced the way he sees the audience.

“I write to the recovery community because, maybe I’m not a heroin addict, but I’m recovering from something. We all are,” Stevenson said. “Everyone is in a stage of recovery from something in their life. Maybe they’ll never share it or talk about it, but it’s there.”

He has witnessed firsthand how recovery leads to new beginnings. As a paramedic, Stevenson responded to a call where a woman was struck by lightning. She was “dead on arrival” he said in a radio interview, but was resuscitated in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

The experience connected them. They had different viewpoints on practically everything, but she still wanted to help Stevenson get his musical career off the ground.

“She got a retroactive disability check from the lightning strike … in the exact amount that I needed to get into the doors of a studio,” he said. “That … ultimately led me down the path of getting a recording deal and brushing shoulders with a guy named TobyMac.”

The two would go on to co-write TobyMac’s 2014 Grammy-nominated “Speak Life.” In 2020, with Stevenson now a name in Christian music in his own right, the two joined on stage in Denver to sing it together.

Stevenson and the woman stayed in touch following her near-death experience, with her sending a simple “Thank you” each year on the anniversary. One year while on tour with TobyMac in Boise, Idaho, where she lives and the lightning strike had taken place, Stevenson invited her to the show. It was a night where two key people in his life met.

“It was so special to me to see Toby and her and me together at this environment [at a] sold-out arena show,” Stevenson said. “It was emotional, man.”