Four years ago this morning, I awoke from the worst night of my life. My brother-in-law, Sheldon Martin, was dead.
My wife’s sister Louisa had called the evening before to say that she didn’t know where her husband, Sheldon, was. He had gone canoeing by himself, and she hadn’t heard from him all day. When he still hadn’t arrived home that night, Louisa called for help.
What none of us knew was that earlier in the day, the wind had picked up while Sheldon was out on the lake, causing large waves that capsized his canoe. Even though he was wearing a life jacket, the cold water made it impossible for him to swim to shore.
Family and friends joined together that night to pray and search. Searchers found Sheldon’s car by the lake. Police joined the search. An airplane flew over the lake. Some searchers combed the shoreline on foot while others searched with boats and spotlights. After agonizing hours of searching, they found Sheldon’s body.
In the weeks following that earth-shaking event, I wondered what I could do to honor Sheldon. Writing a piece in his memory seemed almost too tame and churchy for such an active, witty, unconventional guy, but I offered to set a poem to music if Louisa found one she liked.
Three months after Sheldon died, I arranged Peace, Perfect Peace for the EBI choir. I needed another piece for a section of the program titled “God is Our Peace,” and this seemed like the perfect piece (no pun intended, really). I tried to write a simple arrangement that reflected the beauty and simplicity of the text. I didn’t write the arrangement specifically in memory of Sheldon, but when Louisa heard the song, she claimed it as Sheldon’s song because the text was perfect.
“Jesus, we know, and He is on the throne.”
“Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.”
“Earth’s troubles soon shall cease, and Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.”
So I dedicated the piece to Sheldon Wade Martin (1982-2013).
Several years later, I added an optional congregational part for the choral festival at Shenandoah Christian Music Camp, and that’s the version that appears in the Shop.
This song is special not because it’s connected to a particular incident but because it asks a hard question in the beginning of nearly every verse and offers a response of hope in the second half of the verse. It is not trite or simplistic, sentimental or banal. It has substance strong enough to endure the weight of questioning and grief.
Whether you are experiencing grief or loss or whether you are simply needing encouragement to trust in the Prince of Peace, I hope this song speaks to you where you need to hear it most.