Accident helped guitarist get in tune with God’s plan
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
A horrific accident taught Mark Lee that such momentous life events sometimes are no accident at all in God’s plan for us.
He realizes now that, if not for getting hit by a pickup truck as a pedestrian (really), he might not have become the guitarist for Third Day, among the best Christian rock bands for nearly 25 years … which led to having a platform to share his faith … which led to getting a degree from Grand Canyon University … which led to writing a book … a book that begins with the story of the accident.
Talk about full circle.
There was still more irony Monday in the fact that Lee was on the GCU campus to share his story with students from the Center for Worship Arts (see what students said about it in this video): The accident had happened exactly 29 years earlier — not exactly an anniversary to celebrate, but certainly one to commemorate.
It happened at 7 in the morning, just early enough that the sun hadn’t started doing its illumination thing. Lee was a high school freshman selling donuts to commuters for his church group on a Marietta, Ga., street corner and had gone out into the intersection to deliver his first sale of the morning.
As he turned to rejoin his friends back on the corner, he didn’t realize that the light had changed. Before he knew it, he was bouncing off the hood of the truck, which he estimates was going 35 mph.
“I was totally alert through the whole thing,” he says. “Laying there in the middle of the street, I was kind of confused. I thought, ‘Well, I thought you’re supposed to die when you get hit by a truck.’ So I tried to get up, but then I slumped back down to the road and realized it was pretty bad.”
His worst injury was a right leg that was broken in two places, which would force him to spend most of his freshman year at home. That truck had turned his whole life upside down.
“It was really confusing at the time and hard to get through,” he says. “But because I had to miss so much school, I had all this extra time and I started playing guitar during that time. That was when I really cut my teeth on how to play an instrument. It really launched me in the path that I ended up on. Would I have done that had the accident with the truck not happened? I don’t know.”
Something else to deal with
Lee was faced with another challenge his sophomore year when his father was diagnosed with brain cancer, a disease that would take his life a year later. The guitar became even more of what Lee calls a “coping mechanism.”
“I would come home from school, and here’s my dad on the couch, sick, and I don’t know how to deal with that, so I would go to my room and just play my guitar for hours,” he says. “I can look back and go, ‘God used that time, even though it was very difficult, that I was able to hone these talents that God was able to use later on in life.’
“The happily ever after is the plans we have for ourselves. Through I went through, you learn that all that’s kind of fake – it’s kind of like this plastic thing that everybody has these plans and these goals, and it never really works out that way. God has a dream for us that’s so much bigger than what we have for ourselves.”
Lee realized another dream after GCU partnered with Third Day on one of its frequent tours. He had put off getting his college degree because of the band, but it had always been a goal. Then a University representative mentioned the possibility taking online classes, and Lee was intrigued.
“I really enjoy reading,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’ll just do literature.’ But as I was talking with the counselor, she said, ‘You can do that. That’s great. I’m sure you’d do really well at that. But you have this platform that God has given you as a Christian musician. Wouldn’t it be great to study and get this Biblical/theological foundation so when you go out and speak you’ll have that base to speak from?’ I said, ‘I like that.’”
Touring and writing
So a degree in Christian studies was his decision, and then he went to work. It’s hard to imagine a touring musician taking time out from his 80 concerts a year to write papers for college classes, but Lee had found that he had another purpose besides music.
“As strange as it sounds, because I was a professional musician at the time and everything was going great, I was able to find my purpose through my studies here,” he says. “The online program is very rigorous — every week you have to write a paper and turn it in — so I learned this discipline of writing. I figured out through doing that that I really enjoy writing.”
He enjoyed it so much that he couldn’t stop.
“Something about that process and the discipline of it — as soon as I was done with the degree, I felt this emptiness. I missed the writing, the routine of that. Almost as soon as I finished the degree I started writing a book.”
“Hurt Road: Trading the Myth of Happily Ever After for the Freedom of Trusting in God” is scheduled to be published next year. Lee estimates that he writes about one song a month, so writing a manuscript fit right in with the program.
Sharing with students
His message to the Worship Arts students Monday night centered on those life lessons. Many of them have the talent to follow in his footsteps, but it’s important for them to realize what it’s going to take.
“I don’t want overstate it, but it’s a calling just like somebody would be called into traditional ministry,” he says. “If you think, ‘I think I might want to do music. I think that might be kind of fun,’ I think that the negatives will outweigh the positives because it’s a crazy lifestyle and not everybody’s cut out for it.
“But if you feel it’s something you have to do, something God has given you — whether it’s a message to share or a specific talent or however you feel you want to serve other people — then, absolutely, I would recommend it.”
He doesn’t recommend doing it quite the way he did it, of course — at least the getting-hit-by-a-truck part. But it’s a classic example of how, when God comes crashing into your life, it can result in beautiful music.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.