Gloria Gaynor: I’ve often heard people say, “God won’t put any more on you than you can handle.” If you will call on Him, ask for His help, and then take His direction, He will bring you through whatever.
“I Will Survive” – Believing God Can Get You Through: Gloria Gaynor and Jeff Huxford – Episode #166
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today’s guests remind us that no matter the challenges we face, with God’s help, we can survive life’s toughest moments: music legend Gloria Gaynor and author Jeff Huxford.
First up, it’s hard to think of an anthem more iconic than Gloria’s 1978 blockbuster hit, “I Will Survive.” And while those lyrics have come to mean many things to fans all over the world, today we learn how the words of “I Will Survive,” coupled with her strong faith in God, fueled Gloria to keep going through both the hard and good times in her life.
Gloria Gaynor: I’m Gloria Gaynor: a performing artist, a singer, a writer, and an author as well. I was going to say psychologist, but that wouldn’t be fair. I only went to school for it, I never practiced. This is my life and I love it.
Growing Up with Music and Love in Newark
I grew up in Newark, New Jersey. We were poor, quite poor. But as I often say, children don’t know they’re poor, as long as they’re loved. So we didn’t know we were poor, because we were very much loved.
“Children don’t know they’re poor, as long as they’re loved. So we didn’t know we were poor, because we were very much loved.” – Gloria Gaynor
My mother was a really great cook. With the meager means that she had, she managed to pull together meals that would bring in our friends, and they would leave their fresh cuts of steak and lamb chops and chicken and all of that to come and have some stew that my mother had made, which she couldn’t always afford. [She couldn’t] even [afford] the baking powder to make the bread rise, so she would make it a flatbread, and she’d make animal shapes so it would be fun for us. We just sat around a table and laughed and talked and had fun. It was a very happy household.
The neighborhood was really happy, because during the summer, we would go out on the streets. One kid would come out with a guitar and start playing. Somebody else would come out with bongos and join him. And then, some other boys would come and sing, and before you knew it, there was a crowd half singing, half listening, right on the street corners. This happened all summer long.
When I grew up and moved and was able to leave the area where I grew up, I was very sad to find that they rest of the world didn’t have that, because it was a wonderful thing to me that the entire neighborhood came together, almost like a family, enjoying life.
Faith was a part of my childhood, because my mother was inundated with church as a child. She made a solemn vow that when she grew up and had children, she would make them go to church. So she did make us go to church, but having been so inundated with church stuff, that’s all she knew, so that’s what she taught us. She taught us the principles and the morals of the Bible, and that’s what we knew.
Young Gloria Realizes, “I want to be a singer.”
I remember the day that I decided I wanted to be a singer.
I was standing in the hallway of my apartment building, waiting for my friend to come down and play, and I was singing “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by Frankie Lymon. Frankie Lymon and I were the same age. When a neighbor came downstairs and I heard her get close to me, I stopped singing. But when she reached me, she said, “Gloria, was that you singing?”
And I said, “Yes, ma’am.”
She said, “My goodness, you sound just like the radio. I thought you were the radio.”
I thought, Oh my God, I can do this. I can totally do what Frankie Lymon is doing, and I’m gonna be a singer. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to be a singer.
My brothers all had great voices. They sang together and formed a little street quartet, but never got any further than the street. But we had fun with it, and I wanted to sing with them, but I was a girl so there was no way. I mean, my mother would make them take me with them whenever they went out to play, and that was enough. [But the expectation was that] this ends here.
“I just wanted somebody to hear me sing. I didn’t care about accolades or applause, I just wanted somebody to hear me sing.” – Gloria Gaynor
My girlfriend called and asked me to babysit for her while I was on my first day of my two-week vacation, and I told her, “You got two weeks, [but then] you have to get somebody else.” I went to babysit for her, and while I was there on the first day, I heard somebody walking in the apartment above hers, and I thought, If I can hear them walking, they can hear me singing, if I sing out. So I began to follow those footsteps, and when they stopped, I would stop and sing. I did this every day for the two weeks that I was babysitting for her.
A few weeks later, my brother and I stopped into a nightclub to hear this band. And while we’re sitting, waiting for service, the band started playing. They were playing a song that I knew. I’m sitting there, thinking that no one could hear me, singing to myself.
Then, someone got on the stage and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a young lady in the audience. She has a wonderful voice. I don’t know her last name, but first name is Gloria. And if we give her a good round of applause, maybe we can get her up to sing a number.” And I thought, Oh my God, he is looking right at me. This was an opportunity I’d been waiting for for years. I wasn’t about to give it up, and my brother wasn’t about to let me.
So I got up, very timidly walked toward the stage, took the microphone, and told them I wanted to sing the song that I’d been singing in my seat, because I knew that I could sing the key that they were playing it in. That song was “Save Your Love For Me” by Nancy Wilson. I sang the song, I got a standing ovation, made it back to my seat, and I was so excited.
Afterwards, the band came over to me and said, “We want you to come and sing with us. We have a singer already, but she’s very unreliable. She hasn’t even shown up tonight. Would you come and sing with us?”
I’m like, “Of course I’ll come and sing with you! But how do you know that I can sing?”
It turned out that the owner of the club was the man whose footsteps I followed [in my friend’s apartment] above me. One day, he had heard my girlfriend call to me out the window, and he looked out to see who she was talking to. That’s how he got my first name, and how he recognized me when I came into the club. He told the band about me. I can look back over my life and see so many God moments, but that is one that got me started on the path that has led me here today.
The Legend Behind “I Will Survive”
[Here’s the story behind] the song, “I Will Survive.” I had come out of the hospital after having surgery on my spine, and I had lost everything because I’d been in the hospital from the middle of March to the third of July. I hadn’t paid my rent because I didn’t have any money, I wasn’t working, and I had no income.
I’m praying, of course, “God, please. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I don’t have any work. I don’t know anything else to do. I don’t want to go back to a day job. You’ve got to do something.” The record company had said they were not going to renew my contract, that they were just going to let it die, and people were going around the record company saying, “The queen is dead,” because I would have been the Queen of Disco.
“So I was just leaving [my problems] up to Him. I was fully assured that God would do something, I just didn’t know what.” – Gloria Gaynor
As it turns out, the record company called me and said that they were not going to let my contract die. They were going to renew it, because they had gotten a new president from England, where I was popular, and he had had success with a recording over there called “Substitute.” He wanted to repeat that success in the United States, specifically with me.
They sent me out to California to record that song, and when I was there, I asked the producers, “What is the B side?” They had made a deal with the record company that they would record me singing “Substitute,” if they could write the B side.
I said, “Okay, so what is it? What is the song?”
They said, “Well, what kind of songs do you like?”
I said, “I like songs that are meaningful, that have lyrics that touch people’s hearts, and that have good melodies.
“I like songs that are meaningful, that have lyrics that touch people’s hearts, and that have good melodies.” – Gloria Gaynor
They said, “We think you’re the one we’ve been waiting for to record this song that we wrote two years ago.”
I said, “What song is that?”
They didn’t have it with them, so he wrote it down on a piece of brown paper bag, and gave it to me. I’m reading the lyrics and I’m thinking, What are you, nuts? You’re going to put this on the B side? This is a timeless lyric. Anybody and everybody can relate to this. I’m sitting here, with my back in a brace, and I’m relating to this song. I’m relating to this song in the fact that my mother passed away a few years ago, and it was something I never thought I’d survive.
The audience immediately loved it. And the rest is history.
I think that I’ve always believed that the song celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit, a God-given ability to—of course, with His help—overcome anything. Jesus Calling has given me the perfect thing for that. On May 18th, it says [something like]: “Forget about your plans for the day. Seek My plan for your day, because if you don’t, you’re going to miss all of the wonderful things that I prepared for you.”
I’m following that. Every day, I read whatever [passage there is for that day]. I read that because that’s what I want to do. I want to make sure that I’m in God’s plan.
Another thing my pastor, Pastor A. R. Bernard says is, “If you want to be successful in life, find out what God is doing and get in on it.” So that’s what I plan to do. Just follow His plan.
“My pastor A.R. Bernard says, ‘If you want to be successful in life, find out what God is doing and get in on it.’” – Gloria Gaynor
Learning About “This Jesus”
After “I Will Survive” [came out], it was thriving, and I was thriving in my career. My mother had passed away, and I kind of lost my compass and was trying to be in with the crowd. I’d always been a wallflower. I [started] trying to live up to the expectations of my audience, and to be this star among all of the other stars, and to have all these friends. But it wasn’t really who I am.
I was at a party one day, one that my husband and I had pulled together in our hotel suite. I specifically remember the Holy Spirit grabbing my collar and saying, “That’s enough.” And I was visibly shaken.
I got up from where I was sitting, and I went into the bathroom, and I’m going, Oh my God. Oh my God. What I was thinking, not saying, but thinking, was, What was that? I realized that that was my God, saying to me like a mother tells a kid, “Okay. You’ve been piddling around over there long enough, you know you’re not supposed to be doing that. Get away from that. That’s enough.” And I just pulled away.
I never went back to a scene like that again. That started me on the path.
I came back home and decided that I should go to church, and I went to church with my godmother a couple times. I was bored to tears and falling asleep.
But one day, the third time that I went with her, someone was being accepted as a member of the church. They were coming from another church, and they [the preacher] asked them, “Do you believe in the death, that Christ lived and died for your sins and rose again?”
And they said, “Yes,” and [the church] accepted them.
And I thought, Oh, you have to do that? You have to say that to join the church? I really did want to join, but I really have too much respect for God to stand up in church and lie. And I don’t know anything about that.
I always thought that Jesus was a good man and that He was a prophet, and I was afraid to put him on the [same] level with God. I always prayed to God, I never prayed to Jesus. I really didn’t understand that.
I went back home, and I pulled out a Bible that some girl in California had given me. I pulled it out, blew the dust off it, and sat down with it. I realize, in retrospect, that I was “sassing God,” as they say here in the South. But I sat down with that Bible, and I said, “Okay, God, showdown. I want to know who this Jesus is. If you can talk to a preacher, a priest, and a rabbi, you can talk to me. I’m here, listening. Talk.”
And He started talking.
The first thing He said was, “Open the Book.”
I opened the book, and it fell open to the center, and in the center on one side of the page was a list of prophecies of the forthcoming Messiah. On the other side, there was a list of part of the Scriptures as to how Christ fulfilled those prophecies.
The one that struck me the hardest was Isaiah 7:14: “For behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and I shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us.”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so penitent in that moment. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.” And I . . . I repented.
I feel so privileged that the Holy Spirit walked me through that Bible. Every time I had the opportunity, I sat down when I was at home at my dining room table with that Bible, and other books that I had bought. And He taught me foundations of the faith, about His love, His mercy, His grace. And He has continued to show me who He is and how faithful [He is]. He is so faithful. It is incredible how He is always there for you.
“He is so faithful. It is incredible how He is always there for you.” – Gloria Gaynor
Gloria Shares Her “Testimony”
When God has a timetable, and you run out ahead of God, you end up out there by yourself. But this is the right time. God has set everything in motion. He’s got everything set up so that you know things are flowing nicely.
“When God has a timetable, and you run out ahead of God, you end up out there by yourself.” – Gloria Gaynor
I mean, [my new album] “Testimony” was out for three days and it was number three on the charts. That’s God. That just so rarely happens. “Testimony” is not my first gospel album, and I believe that this is God’s timing and His timing is always perfect.
I believe that this album is anointed to teach, to admonish, to live, to encourage, to empower people to make it through the difficult times in their lives, and to celebrate the wonderful times in their lives.
Jason Crabb is on the album. Bart Millard is on the album. [They are] such soulful singers, and Yolanda Adams, of course, is incredible. I’m so excited and I’m so pleased to have all of them on this album.
The song “He Won’t Let Go” was done with with Bart. That one I feel special about, because I think that there are a lot of people today who need to know that whatever it is you’re going through, God is there for you. As long as you are willing to hold on to Him, He won’t let go of you.
I remember a time when I was going through something similar, and I remember specifically saying, “Jesus, please. I don’t want to let go of Your hand.”
And He said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your hand.”
So I’m not just holding on to Him. He’s holding on to me, and He won’t let go.
I find that song very special for that reason, because it is my purpose to uplift, encourage, and empower people. I believe that song would do that. This album has a message for everybody. Hold on. Stay on the path. Keep the faith, and know that He won’t let go.
“Hold on. Stay on the path. Keep the faith, and know that He won’t let go.” – Gloria Gaynor
Narrator: You can find out more about Gloria’s new gospel album Testimony at gloriagaynor.com.
Stay tuned for our chat with author Jeff Huxford after a brief message about a free offer from Jesus Calling!
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Narrator: Jeff Huxford was a young doctor with a long career in medicine ahead and a beautiful family by his side. But in 2012, a driver ran a red light and struck Jeff’s car, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. Though he and his family were grateful he survived, life looked vastly different than it had before the accident, which required some hard adjustments and letting go of the notion that things could “go back to normal,” and what that would mean for the life Jeff had worked so hard to build.
Jeff Huxford: My name is Jeff Huxford, and I’ve been married for 15 years to my wife Jackie. We have two children and we currently live in Franklin, Tennessee. I was a family medicine doctor in Northwest Indiana. We were up there, living in my wife’s hometown, and I started practicing medicine there in 2006.
I was really doing what I envisioned myself doing [when] I was going to med school. I imagined myself being that type of doctor. We were living the American dream, you know? Things were going just as we’d planned, and we had two healthy, young children. Things were going great for us.
Life Turns Upside Down
In the summer of 2012, [while I was] driving back to the house, I got in a car accident at a four-way stop.
I was headed south through the intersection, and there was a truck that was headed east through the intersection. He failed to stop at the stoplight, struck me on the passenger side of my truck, and ran me into a concrete utility pole. The pole was wrapped around the truck and my head. I believe my driver’s side window may have been down. My head went through the open window, slammed against the concrete pole, and I suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“My head went through the open window, slammed against the concrete pole, and I suffered a traumatic brain injury.“ Jeff Huxford
The ambulance ride was literally across the street. They had a helicopter fly in to pick me up and it flew me to Chicago.
When they called my wife, they said, “Your husband, Jeff, is being life-flighted to Chicago.” And [when] you hear that, you’re thinking terrible things. But she handled this whole situation far better than I would have.
She drove to Chicago, which is about an hour and half [from us], not knowing the whole time whether I was alive, or what was going on with me. I don’t recall being at that hospital at all. After a week there, I had recovered enough [to the point] where they thought I should start doing some rehabilitation.
I don’t know when exactly it was, but there was a time when I woke up and I started getting better. And that’s when the [doctors said] they didn’t think I needed long-term inpatient rehab. [They thought] I’d better go home and do outpatient [rehabilitation]. So after being there for three weeks, I went home with my wife and kids, and started my outpatient therapy.
Finding a New Normal after a Traumatic Brain Injury
I can’t remember too much about the early [part] of my recovery, but I can remember the doctors talking to me and my wife, repeatedly, about this whole concept of a new normal. After a brain injury, the [affected] person essentially becomes a new person. Who they were before is a thing of the past, and they have to be willing to accept that and figure out what that looks like for them.
“After a brain injury, the [affected] person essentially becomes a new person. Who they were before is a thing of the past.” – Jeff Huxford
I guess the fact that I started getting better so quickly gave me the impression that maybe that wouldn’t be the case for me, that I could get back to the old me, to the old normal. That became my goal early on. Within five months, I was back to working as a family doctor. I was only working a couple of days a week, maybe even half days, but this furthered the impression on me that it was going to take a while, but I was going to get back to normal.
I don’t remember exactly when it finally started to sink in: I think they’re right. When I wasn’t advancing in my work hours or in my workload like I thought I would. I plateaued and got to a point where I could only see a certain amount of patients. And any time I had to use my brain a lot, it would fatigue me.
Normally, before the accident, I’d come home at night and I’d go outside and play baseball with the kids, play basketball, and do stuff around the house. Then [it got to the] point where I’d come home, and I would just go to the bedroom, and lay there on a bench. I’d go to sleep.
And, of course, when you’re not reaching goals you thought you’d reach, or you’re not getting to a point where you thought you’d get, the mental aspects start to sink in. I know that depression and anxiety are common after an accident. But it seems like that’s really when the depression and the anxiety and stuff started to affect me—when I realized how much I’d changed. I wasn’t sure how to process it all.
Learning to Give God Control
Throughout all this, my faith was more of a checklist, or checkbox, type of faith, where I had to make sure I did certain things. You know, go to church on Sundays, and read my Bible a couple of times a week. It almost didn’t matter if I got something out of it, as long as I tried. Set some time away. Set some time aside to read the Bible.
My faith was based more on the don’ts rather than the do’s. I was trying to avoid certain things I knew were bad, and there are so many commandments in the Bible that God wants us to follow, and those get ignored. Some of those things He wanted us to do are very challenging, and may be hard, or they may make us uncomfortable.
“My faith was based more on the don’ts rather than the do’s.” – Jeff Huxford
I’ve read a lot of devotionals, and I went through a lot, but I like the way Jesus Calling seems to make you slow down, rest, and think about what Jesus is trying to tell you right now. I feel like Jesus Calling is more about listening to Jesus. Because if we allow ourselves to block out everything else, and set such time aside to focus on Him, then Jesus is going to talk to us and He may also start bringing people, godly friends, alongside you that are going to start telling you some of the same things.
“I like the way Jesus Calling seems to make you slow down, rest, and think about what Jesus is trying to tell you right now.” – Jeff Huxford
Many days in Jesus Calling have been helpful for me, but there’s one in particular, from March 24th, that was so relevant to some of the things that I went through and am going through now. It reads:
This is a time in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. Take time to bask in the Light of My Love. As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care. You can feel secure, even in the midst of cataclysmic changes, through awareness of My continual Presence. The One who never leaves you is the same One who never changes: I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. As you release more and more things into My care, remember that I never let go of your hand. Herein lies your security, which no one and no circumstance can take from you.
It didn’t make sense to me that I had miraculously survived this accident and had this amazing recovery. Why should I? [I’d think,] Why am I depressed when I should be so excited about this?
I got to the point where I was so obsessed with writing things down, so I wouldn’t forget them. And unfortunately, some of that behavior leaked over into my home life. If I misplaced something, I couldn’t do anything else until I found it.
I used to be so good, before my accident, at patient’s names. So if I saw a patient out [in public], I would know exactly who they were, and what their medical problems were. I’d know their name and their kids’ names. I had such a hard time, and I still do, remembering people’s names. I’ll recognize them, and that can mean a lot of things about them, but I cannot remember their names. And when that would happen, my wife could see it my eyes, because I would ask, “What is their name?” She could tell that I could not do anything else until I figured out what their name was.
But [sometimes I wonder,] How much is too much? If I don’t do some of these things, then I’m going to forget stuff all the time. I have a hard time if things aren’t extremely organized. If my days are not extremely structured, I’m just going to be a mess.
It’s frustrating sometimes that I can’t go outside, and it’s frustrating my kids that I can’t go outside. They get home from school and go play, [but I can’t] because I’m so tired. They’ve been able to process that scene far greater than I would have at their age. My wife’s been the same way. She’s been able to explain to people, “This is what Jeff does. This is why he’s doing that, or he can’t come because he’s just so tired.” She’s just been so understanding of everything.
Sharing Our Stories Heals Others
In January of 2016, my neurologist instructed me to stop practicing medicine, so I had retire from medicine. I was thirty-four years old at the time. When I had to retire, that threw me for a loop. I was like, What am I going to do now?
When you’re working in a small town, and you’ve been a doctor for ten years, that’s what you’re known for and it’s your identity. With my brain injury, if you see me walking down the street, you would think, Jeff looks fine. So I think it was kind of hard for me to keep on living there, as a doctor who wasn’t a doctor.
I started to talk to my wife about possibly moving, [even though] we were living in her hometown, where all our family stuff is. It was really hard. It was a really hard decision to make for her. But I think she felt like it was the best thing for our family.
I didn’t talk much at that point about all these things that God had been doing in my life and the things that God would teach me. I started writing journal entries. I would go to a library or a little coffee shop in town a few times a week to write something out. Eventually, we started showing a few of my friends what I’d been writing and [asked] what they thought. Whatever [feedback] I receive helps.
I started a blog. We moved down [near Nashville], and it just so happened that the guy that helped me start my blog lived in Franklin. We became friends, and I talked to him a lot, and he started saying, “I think you should write a book about this.” In fact, I think that the first time I talked to him on the phone, he said that. I [brushed it off] like, Whatever, I’m not an author. I’m trying this blogging thing for a while. I wasn’t sure if that would work out. But as I did more and more blogging, he said, “I think you need to write a book about this stuff.”
He helped me write a book proposal, and I pitched it out to people. It didn’t take long. I got an offer from a publisher, and now I have this book that’s giving me a lot of opportunities to spread my message, so I’m looking forward to that.
“I grew up believing that it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. But the truth is, there’s a lot of things in the Bible that God calls us to do. And it’s not always going to be comfortable, because He knows that when we do things that are uncomfortable, that’s when we grow, and our faith gets stronger.” – Jeff Huxford
Narrator: You can learn more about Jeff’s experience in his new book, Finding Normal.
If you’re inspired by these stories and would like to hear more about the ways God can help us through our darkest moments, check out our interview with NFL linebacker Mark Herzlich and his wife Danielle.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with bishop Dr. Derek Grier. Dr. Grier is the founder of Grace Church in Virginia, one of the fastest growing churches in America. When we spoke with Dr. Grier, he reminded us of the wonderful things that happen in our faith journey when we get to know Jesus a little more.
Dr. Derek Grier: I think, if we’re really learning, if we’re really growing, if we’re really gaining a revelation of who He is, there would be a constant breathlessness and a constant level of gratitude that’s not forced. I would say that each of us need to press into really knowing Him.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/media/video.