Jim Sonefeld: I’ve been really blessed by my bandmates as I made a transformation into contemporary Christian music. In fact, one of the first times I was able to perform one of my Christian songs was on a Hootie and the Blowfish stage in front of 9,000 people. My bandmates said, “Why don’t you hop up to the front and we’ll be your backing band?” So I sang the song of hope and redemption in Jesus to 9,000 people. It showed me, in fact, they accepted my new walk and that it was more meaningful than anything as a band going forward.
Living in the Present Moment with God: Jim Sonefeld and Sara Gruber – Episode #311
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Recent attention to mindfulness through the popularity of prayer and meditation apps reminds us how important it is to stay in the present with God. Our perspective is transformed when we are more able to recognize God in each moment. Scripture backs up this premise with the statement “pray without ceasing.” [1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 NIV]. When we open our hearts to the presence of God in every moment, we begin to look at life differently.
Today’s guests both pay special attention to the present by emphasizing the importance of a daily walk with Jesus. Both wrestle with conditions that require ongoing attention. Jim Sonefeld, drummer for the rock band Hootie and the Blowfish, addresses his alcoholism on a daily basis, noting that his spiritual growth blossomed “when [he] made that decision to practice a daily surrender, a daily prayer, [and] a daily devotion.” Our second guest, Sara Gruber, deals with chronic disease. Over the initial and very scary discovery, she has found that the daily impact of an ongoing illness presses her into a complete dependence upon God.
Jim Sonefeld: My name is Jim Sonefeld. I’m a musician, songwriter, singer, father, son, husband. I write songs. I try to share a positive message of transformation, victory, and honesty.
I grew up in a fascinating little town called Naperville, Illinois, and we were on the edge of the corn fields, a suburb of Chicago, sort of pointing westward. And it allowed me to dream and look out over those cornfields and always think about where life might take me.
Born With Music in His Heart
My life sort of ran through two things: sports and music. Sports always had me chasing a ball. My competitive spirit came alive when I could compete, and it was wonderful. We were in tennis, soccer, baseball, football, swimming, basketball, you name it. But I always had another thing in my heart: music. And that came from my parents as well.
They had some cool tastes in music. They listened to anything from sixties rock to R&B to some other more classical styles. And I took it all in. I loved it. Eventually, my parents decided that drum lessons might do me good, so they signed me up to start taking drum lessons in the seventh grade.
I was mainly a loner when it came to music, though. I listened to music with friends, but I drummed in the basement, alone on my headphones, hour after hour after hour. Though I started drumming early in life, I was a late bloomer when it came to interacting with other musicians. And it wasn’t until a gap year after my junior year in college that I first joined a band. It was a great little alternative band called Bachelors of Art down in Columbia, South Carolina. It was a great sort of inspiration for me to realize I would be able to pursue something in music.
I moved on to a cover band called Tootie and the Jones, and we played mostly cover music, and I learned there to play guitar and piano and how to sing on stage. So that was a great learning environment again. And then either a coincidence or a little luck or providence put me in front of a group of guys that were also from Colombia called Hootie and the Blowfish. It was at the same time we were all graduating from the university, and none of us seemed to want to jump into a real job. So we rolled up our degrees, shoved them under the bed, and bought a van and committed to writing music together and chasing a dream.
The Hootie and the Blowfish Years
The first member of Hootie and the Blowfish I met was Mark Bryan. He played guitar, and we had a class together our last semester of college. But it was meeting the entire band or seeing them and having me in a situation where they were on stage and I was watching from the audience—that was a huge moment for me and Hootie and the Blowfish.
I had just been burned out of an apartment. An entire complex took about a dozen of us and our belongings into the wind when a fire broke out on the second floor. We were all scrambling for a place to live and clothes to put on our backs. And I stood next to the Hootie and the Blowfish stage one night while they were playing in a club.
Mark Bryan took off his hat and made an announcement to the audience. He said, “Our friend Jim here was in the apartment fire on campus. I’m going to pass my hat around, and I hope that you all will contribute something because he doesn’t have a bed to sleep in or a kitchen to cook in.”
And that was my first experience meeting Hootie and the Blowfish. A great enactment of love—unconditional love, using their position on stage to influence, giving to somebody who really needed it. At that time, I was kind of homeless. At that moment, I realized Hootie and the Blowfish were not just a great local band, but a great bunch of guys.
Six months later, I was auditioning for that band, and as they say, the rest is history.
“My first experience meeting Hootie and the Blowfish [was] a great enactment of love—unconditional love, using their position on stage to influence, giving to somebody who really needed it.” – Jim Sonefeld
The rise in fame and fortune in music is a glorious path, certainly, and we enjoyed and benefited greatly. But what is often unseen is the path back down to reality. And during that pathway back to earth, I struggled greatly, emotionally and spiritually and chemically. I ended up resting in drugs and alcohol to make me feel better as I dealt with that conscious and subconscious pain.
But it was a moment on a morning, a Sunday morning, in November of 2004, that brought me sort of to my knees. I was in a music studio, detached—figuratively and, I suppose, literally—from my own house. I would make music out there and stay up late working, but also drinking.
On a Sunday morning, my four-year-old daughter came bouncing up to the studio to see where Dad was. And she said a sentence that greatly turned me, whether it was providence or just an innocent child wondering what her dad was doing. I can’t tell you. But she said, “Daddy, what are you doing?”
At the time, I was passed out on the couch at 10:30 in the morning, not looking or smelling too good.
She repeated it. “Daddy, what are you doing?”
I continued to have no answer. I believe that was God [who] sort of shut me up, shut me down, zipping up my lip to say, “Let her go. I need you right now.”
I sat there in my pain, and I believed God was looking down on me. I asked that question to myself: What am I doing? What am I doing? And it just kept ringing around until, in a rare moment of motivation, I decided to face the truth: I was not in control of my life, and I needed to ask someone else for help.
So that morning I turned and walked back into the house and found a phone number from a friend of mine who had gotten off the party train and had tried a spiritual life and asked him to help me.
“In a rare moment of motivation, I decided to face the truth, the truth that I was not in control of my life. And I needed to ask someone else for help.” – Jim Sonefeld
Sobriety Brings a New Perspective
I spent a considerable time in my early sobriety listening to contemporary Christian music, which was having a great inspiration and positive effect on my thinking. I needed to move from my old thinking, my old ways, into new ways. I was a forty-year-old man who thought he knew everything in life. I was, as Proverbs 26:12, says, “A man who is wise in his own eyes.” And I had the things that society told me made a man successful: a house, cars, a family, a paycheck. But as the Proverb goes on to warn, it says, “There’s more hope for a fool than the man who is wise in his own eyes.” So I needed to realize I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. And that’s where fellowship around me and some new spiritual concepts—or old ones, rather, that I was relearning—became so important.
I found it difficult after a few years continuing down the road with Hootie and the Blowfish, after I’d changed my course and gone towards God and sobriety. I found it difficult, understanding where my place would be.
I actually asked the band if we could take some time away from touring and recording, which we all agreed would be a good thing. It was around 2008. And it was during that period that my songwriting towards recovery and transformation and God really blossomed.
I started writing in 2010 in that direction of spirituality by opening a Bible to reaffirm what Jesus taught, what He brought, what He asked of me—which was more than just believing Him. It was following Him. And that was a big change. I didn’t need to stay home and just believe anything. I needed to go out and follow Jesus. And that led me to bringing my spiritual music to audiences—smaller audiences than I was used to—and giving them a message of hope and redemption.
“I needed to go out and follow Jesus. And that led me to bringing my spiritual music to audiences—smaller audiences than I was used to—and giving them a message of hope and redemption.” – Jim Sonefeld
I realized in the mid-2000s that my spiritual life, my prayer life, needed to change. I had put a lot of pressure on thirty minutes of a sermon I was hearing on Sunday morning, as if that were to be enough to carry me through another 167 hours in a week. And when I made that decision to practice a daily surrender, a daily prayer, a daily devotion, I really saw an improved outlook and perspective in my life. It changed the way I felt and the way I acted.
I ended up writing a song to speak to the daily prayer idea called “Not Waiting on Sunday.” And it continues to be one of the fan favorites for my audience. It’s a daily surrender. I’m either meditating or praying or listening to a podcast. Jesus Calling is one of them.
I am nourished on a daily basis to act and live on a daily basis. So if this is the only day I get, I’m prepared. I haven’t left anything to question or to chance. I start over tomorrow morning. I start over the next day, if I’m lucky, with the same idea. I’ve got to give it to God. I’ve got to get my head straight and get my sails pointed toward the right beacon on the horizon. And for me, that’s Jesus.
Stay tuned to Sara Gruber’s story after a brief message.
A Gift of Encouragement & Peace: Jesus Calling for Moms
Celebrate the moms in your life with the beautiful gift of encouragement, reassurance, and peace with Jesus Calling for Moms!
Fifty Jesus Calling devotions speak to the power of love, the gift of strength, trusting God’s guidance, and so much more. Also included are: a prayer for mothers from Sarah Young, Scripture verses, journaling prompts and space for women to write their own prayers.
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Narrator: To honor chronic disease awareness month, our next guest is survivor Sara Gruber, who’s also the founder of Blessings of Chronic Illness, a blog that journeys through life lessons that chronic illness can teach us. Sara is passionate about finding the silver linings, even where there seemingly aren’t any. And today she opens up about her diagnosis and how it keeps her in the present moment with God.
Sara Gruber: I am Sara Gruber, I am the founder of Blessings of Chronic Illness. If you asked me who I was a year ago, I would have said, “I work in public relations, I’m a wife and a mother of two little girls.” And I’m still all of those things. But now I also live with a chronic illness that greatly impacts my daily life and the dynamic of my family, my work, and my community.
My life changed from one day to the next. I was just hitting this really sweet spot in life where I was doing well professionally, we bought a cute house, I just decreased my workload to spend more time with the girls. It was everything that I have been working for and everything that I had been wanting. And then from one day to the next, it changed.
Two days after Christmas, I went for a two-mile walk, which was my norm. I would always go for two-mile walks. And throughout the walk, my chest and my arm were just throbbing. And you just start thinking about, I know that’s a heart attack warning. Let me pay attention to this.
I came home from that walk, I laid down, and the pain went away. And I had this relief of, Oh, okay, it’s fine. I’m forty years old. I am healthy. That pain went away. I have nothing to worry about. And when I was laying down, I just got weaker and weaker and weaker. Anytime I stood up, I was very dizzy, weak, fatigued, and achy, like I had the flu. My legs felt like Jell-O, and that got worse and worse. It got to the point where I was having a hard time standing and then a hard time walking.
Then it got to the point where my legs were weaker, and I started crawling from room to room. It was so much work. It was so exhausting, and it was scary. And I look over, and I have these two little girls watching me, and they’re going to remember how I reacted. I don’t want them to think, Mom was never scared. I want them to know, Mom was scared, and she figured it out. It didn’t hold her down. It didn’t stop her. She got through it.
Initially, I thought I had a virus, and I was waiting for this virus to go away. And it just never went away. So we began all the medical testing. Is it MS? I had an MRI, the blood work looked good. You know, it’s tricky to figure out. Let’s give it some more time. This specialist, that specialist.
We eventually discovered that I have dysautonomia. What that means is that anything that my body is supposed to regulate automatically, that no longer works very well: things like my blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, temperature. I have days where I can be upright for a good ten minutes, and then I have other days where I find myself crawling from room to room because I’m too weak and too dizzy to walk. I never know what kind of day it’s going to be.
In retrospect, we think that I’ve had dysautonomia for fifteen or twenty years, but a very mild version. But for whatever reason, two days after Christmas, everything just exacerbated to where even though I had been functioning really well, I was no longer functioning at all. I needed to have help showering. I couldn’t make our meals. The extent of my parenting was from bed and the couch. So it was a drastic change.
But all of that busyness, I couldn’t do it anymore. And it was just me and God, my husband John and the girls. We had to figure out a new life, a new way to approach things, a shift in our household.
“All of that busyness, I couldn’t do it anymore. And it was just me and God, my husband John and the girls. We had to figure out a new life, a new way to approach things, a shift in our household.” – Sara Gruber, on her sudden diagnosis of dysautonomia
Making the Most of a Scary Diagnosis
You know, you would think all this would rattle my faith. I would have expected it to rattle my faith, but it did the opposite. It wasn’t this dark night of the soul. It was this: nobody understands what it’s like to live inside my body except God and me. And it led me to this complete dependance on God. I could explain all of my symptoms. I could explain what I felt and what I was going through. But I felt like God was the one I was living it with. And so there was this increased dependence on Him. It was an unexpected gift.
“Nobody understands what it’s like to live inside my body except God and me. That led me to this complete dependance on God. I could explain all of my symptoms. I could explain what I felt and what I was going through. But I felt like God was the one I was living it with.” – Sara Gruber
I’d prefer not to be sick. But if all of this is to bring me closer to God, then I’m all in. If this is going to teach me the lessons that I need to know to be a better person, a better friend, a better mom so I can raise better people, then I will take it.
I think I’ve been gifted faith. I think that’s something we’ve nourished, but I think that’s been a gift. And I cannot imagine how much harder this would be and how people get through these types of challenges and worse challenges without the companionship of God.
Before all of this happened, I had pretty good self-esteem, and I thought I loved myself. When I became ill, I realized that the love I had for myself was very conditional. It was based on, Well, I work hard to provide money to help this family, and I can take good care of my daughters. I am a good wife. I listen to what’s going on with my husband, and I walk hand in hand with him. I’m a good partner. I can care for ailing family members. I can serve at church. I can do, do, do, do. And all of this for some reason will make me worthy.
And I’d say the first few months I was ill, when all of that was stripped away, I started to feel very unworthy of the love and the care I was receiving, the support. And so it stripped away all these things I thought that made me me: wife, mother, PR professional, friend.
My whole foundation became I am a child of God, and that alone makes me worthy. I am deserving of love, I am deserving of care and support. I’ve spent a great part of my life being a caretaker, and now I have to learn how to receive care, and receive it with grace, and know that in some way I am gifting others by allowing them to care for me.
“I’ve spent a great part of my life being a caretaker, and now I have to learn how to receive care, and receive it with grace, and know that in some way I am gifting others by allowing them to care for me.” – Sara Gruber
I think when we become ill, we always have that fear of, I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to slow you down. I don’t give you more to do because you’re already so busy. You don’t have time to worry about me, too. But this hasn’t just been a lesson for me, it’s been a lesson for everyone around me.
Shattering Myths and Claiming God’s Truth
I felt like I was learning so much about life and what really mattered and what didn’t matter. All these myths I had about myself in the world were being shattered, and I felt like everything was being rebuilt in beautiful truths. I was so grateful for all of this, but I felt like, What is the purpose of me learning all of these wonderful things if I don’t share them?
I’m looking around at my friends and my family and I’m thinking, Looking at the course of life, most of us are going to be sick at one point or another. And if we’re not sick, we’re going to have somebody close to us who is sick. So I think it’s good to have the experience of, “This is what somebody else is going through. This is what they’ve learned. This is what’s helping them.”
Can I read this to you? This is my favorite devotional. I don’t know if I can do it without crying. There’s this devotional that has resonated with me even before I came ill, and it’s from August 12th in Jesus Calling. It says:
COME TO ME when you are weak and weary. Rest snugly in My everlasting arms. I do not despise your weakness, My child. Actually, it draws Me closer to you because weakness stirs up My compassion—My yearning to help. Accept yourself in your weariness, knowing that I understand how difficult your journey has been.
Do not compare yourself with others who seem to skip along their life-paths with ease. Their journeys have been different from yours, and I have gifted them with abundant energy. I have gifted you with fragility, providing opportunities for your spirit to blossom in My Presence. Accept this gift as a sacred treasure: delicate, yet glowing with brilliant Light. Rather than struggling to disguise or deny your weakness, allow Me to bless you richly through it.
We have a friend who’s a young mother, a lovely human being, and she has had several brain aneurysms. And what am I going to do for her? How am I going to take care of her? We gifted her that devotional because I just wanted her to know how much God loved her, and I wanted her to feel not alone. I was so drawn to that particular passage, and when we sent the Jesus Calling book to my friend who had that aneurysm, I had tagged that one for her. This was all before I became ill.
And then this ended up being my life, this one passage that spoke to me before any of these events happened, it was like [God] was preparing me. He was preparing the path that He was going to walk with me. This devotional has been a big part of that for me. It put the right things in my spirit and my head and my heart, so that when my trouble hit, I could handle it better, and then I could share it.
Isn’t it so amazing when you have those moments, those little brilliant moments where you have these small miracles that maybe aren’t so small, and you realize that God worked this just for you, all these little things that we take for granted?
“Isn’t it so amazing when you have those moments, those little brilliant moments where you have these small miracles that maybe aren’t so small, and you realize that God worked this just for you, all these little things that we take for granted?” – Sara Gruber
I think it distills life down to the finite of, This is what’s really important. So I just wanted to light that spark to help people put aside the things that we get caught up with in this society that don’t matter and to really refocus our energy on compassion and caring for one another. And then as I was journeying through that, what I began to see and feel is, I am so lucky. I have had a great support system. I can afford medical care. I’ve been able to work a little bit less hours and still pay my bills. And not everybody who’s ill has that. You know, some people don’t have a good caretaker or a caretaker at all. They’re not in a position where they can work to support themselves. They don’t have access to the best doctors in the field where they need it. People are going through so much.
And I had this new calling. I felt like for the first time in my life, outside of my family and taking care of my children, I felt this calling to take care of people who are walking down this road, who don’t have the same support that I’ve been gifted. I felt like I had an insight into some of the physical and spiritual struggles they may be having. And I wanted to be able to walk with them, to give them some kind of companionship and comfort.
Blessings of Chronic Illness
So Blessings of Chronic Illness, it’s a home for people who live with chronic illness, for anybody who cares for somebody who’s ill. And I think that when you come here, you’re going to find a place of healing, of support, maybe thoughts that hadn’t occurred to you until something like illness hit. Thoughts like, Do I genuinely love myself, and why? Is it based on what I’m earning, or is it based on the fact that I’m a child of God and that’s enough? Do I feel guilty because people are having to take care of me, or can I lean into that and be a blessing as they take care of me knowing that, hey, I’ve taken care of other people in my life and that built me up, that filled my stores?
I see how much of my story people don’t see when they look at me, and now when I look at others, I think, How much did I not know? What have you walked through? Where are you hurting? How can I help you?
I used to think that I had to serve through the busyness of life, through the busyness of showing up physically, bringing meals, teaching Bible school, attending a meeting, cleaning the kitchen after a family event, that’s how I served. And right now, I’m physically more limited and I can’t serve in that way, which has opened this amazing door for me to be able to serve through the digital space, for me to be able to serve through conversations, through prayer is a huge one.
I absolutely believe in the power of prayer. You just kind of feel like your body and everything is wasting away and you’re looking for purpose and you’re so frustrated and I started thinking, You know, there’s not a lot I can do physically, but I can pray. And so I started growing my prayer list and, you know, laying in bed, I think I did what a lot of people do. I’d scroll through Facebook, scroll through Instagram. People are sharing their lives. And I’d see, Oh this person got married, they’re on my prayer list, so every day I’m going to pray for them to have a blessed union. Or This person just lost their mother, so I am going to pray for their family and their growth in this new journey they’re going to have without this person physically here with them. And so I felt like I was able to do good work from my bed.
“I absolutely believe in the power of prayer. You just kind of feel like your body and everything is wasting away and you’re looking for purpose and you’re so frustrated and I started thinking, You know, there’s not a lot I can do physically, but I can pray.” – Sara Gruber
I have a firm belief that our life has to be our message. And our lives are not easy. We all have different pains, different struggles, different gifts and joys. And I think it’s really nice to see how other people are walking things and not the polished, “everything is great” version. But one of the things I try to share here is no matter how old or where anybody is on that journey, we are a spirit and a child created by God who is living in this body right now. And no matter how old you are, we can be scared and we can hurt. And it’s not something I think any of us should be alone with.
Narrator: To find out more about the work Sara is doing with Blessings of Chronic Illness, visit their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
If you’d like to hear more stories about the importance of a moment-by-moment relationship with Jesus, check out our interview with John Hill.
Next Week: David and Tamela Mann
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from husband and wife duo David and Tamela Mann, who share how they keep God at the center of everything they do.
Tamela Mann: He really has kept me and brought me a mighty long way. And to have what we have and accomplished what we’ve accomplished, it’s all because of faith in God, loving God, and the fear of God that’s always been in my heart.