Kevin Olusola: I want to have a relationship with Him so that any single time I ask Him for something or He’s speaking to me, I will actually listen because I care. So I think that is where prayer has been so important this year, being committed, emotionally connected to the One who created me, not just reading these words or writing these things down just because I have to, really being like, I want to worship you.
Restoring Our Relationships and Reconnecting to God: Kevin Olusola & Seth and Heather Thompson Day
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Theologian and monk Thomas Merton once wrote, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” We were designed by God to live life with and surrounded by people. But to successfully do so, we have to learn what makes others tick. We have to know how they move, and how we can speak love and understanding into their lives. Truly loving people comes with knowing that they are flawed, but resisting the desire to “fix them” to some standard of our own. When we choose to let others be perfectly themselves, we begin to understand God’s unconditional love toward all of us.
Our guests this week are people who’ve come to the realization that in order to make a relationship thrive, acceptance and resilience are so important. Beatboxer, cellist, and singer/songwriter Kevin Olusola from the a cappella musical group Pentatonix talks about what it takes to make space for his bandmates through their differences, and how they move beyond those differences to make beautiful harmonies together. Husband and wife duo Seth and Heather Thompson Day speak about the tensions they’ve experienced with their individual families and how as a couple, they are committed to the hard work of living relationally with others and with God.
Let’s start with Kevin’s story.
Kevin: My name is Kevin Olusola. You might know me as the beatboxer of an a cappella group called Pentatonix. We’ve done some pretty cool things in the music industry: three GRAMMYs, a couple of platinum albums, in addition to world tours.
I was born in Pasadena. My dad and my mom, they’re both from Nigeria and Grenada, respectively. They decided to move to Owensboro, Kentucky. And that’s where I was raised, and we had a truly great time. I think I had so much fun making music while I was in Kentucky, but I would say it was never the goal. Being a musician was not my plan. So I always thought that I was going to go into medicine, but apparently God had other plans.
A Music Career Based on Trust
You know what? To this day, I think it’s so funny that beatboxing is the thing that I’m known for. But the thing that I did literally for fun, no training, just was making sounds out of my mouth. I first started to learn this whole idea called “cello boxing,” which is playing cello and beatboxing at the same time.
Two opportunities opened up my junior year of college. One was a competition that Yo-Yo Ma hosted, called the Celebrate and Collaborate with Yo-Yo Ma competition, in which I put something in, made something with cello and beatboxing. The second one was in my junior spring where I got to open for KRS-One, who’s one of the grandfathers of hip-hop. And I would do raps with him while I played cello and beatboxing.
And that’s when I started to pray and start to think, God, what am I doing here? Because I’d been training to be an academic my whole life. I’d been training to go into medicine my whole life. But I felt a tug at my heart so seriously.
I got down on my knees. And I said to God, “I think You’re absolutely crazy. This doesn’t make any sense, but I can’t deny that I feel like You’re leading me here. I don’t know if it’s forever, but I know I at least have to follow this right now. You’re going to have to do it because I literally have no idea how to pursue a career in music. I feel unprepared. I don’t feel as trained. But Lord, here I am. I trust You.”
And from that prayer, it was like a can of worms opened. I knew I couldn’t go back on my word. I knew I was supposed to do this. I couldn’t even explain the feeling to you. It was like I just gave my life over to Christ. And He said, “Okay, now let Me take the rest of the journey.”
“I said to God, ‘I think you’re absolutely crazy. This doesn’t make any sense, but I can’t deny that I feel like You’re leading me here. I don’t know if it’s forever, but I know I at least have to follow this right now.’” – Kevin Olusola
Kevin’s Early Videos Go Viral
I had a laptop. I had my cello. So I just started to post videos of me playing cello and beatboxing online. And in that summer of my senior year, I didn’t do anything but start working on this piece that I heard long before—it was one of the, I think, exciting pieces that got me even interested in cello—called “Giulio.” And as I was perfecting it, I had an opportunity to finally put it up online. Lo and behold, the next day, this thing is in the top ten on Reddit. I think it was number four on Reddit, and it started to go viral.
What happened from that, I got so many opportunities to do things for like The New York Times and other publications. But two main opportunities came. One, Gungor had called me and asked me to tour with them as part of their opening act for the David Crowder Band.
The other opportunity was three kids from Texas—Scott, Mitch, and Kirstie—were deciding to go on this TV show called The Sing-Off. They had formed an a cappella trio in high school, and they thought that their sound could really work for this TV show. And so their producer, Ben Braham, said, “Well, you know, if we’re going to do this, you need a bass and a beatboxer.” My video that was going viral, Ben saw that and said, “This is the guy you need to round out your sound.” So they called me and said, “Would you want to be a part of it?”
And I actually said, “No,” I was not interested in a cappella.” Like I said, beatboxing wasn’t something that I wanted to do as my career. I wanted to do more cello playing and production.
They said, “How about just come and join us for this audition? Try it.”
And I said, “Okay.”
We do the audition the next day. And we find out that we make it onto The Sing-Off.
Pentatonix Finds Their Special Sound
When I met them for the first time, I remember the first time we sang the arrangement that they had prepared, and I kind of just beatboxed on my own while I was away from them. When we got together and sang it for the first time, I remember we all looked at each other and were kind of confused because the sound was so new and fresh and good. And remember, I wasn’t exactly a fan of a cappella. It was something I had done a little bit of, but not too much. But this sound, I think all of us were quite surprised by. And so I think we all knew that there was a special, but I don’t think we realized how special it was until the first time we actually performed on The Sing-Off. When we performed “E.T.” by Katy Perry, I mean, the standing ovation that we received kind of blew our face off, because we just said, “I mean, we’ve just met.” That first meeting was so incredible, and I don’t think any of us knew that it was going to lead to all this.
We’re five such different people in such a beautiful way. That’s what makes the sound interesting. We’re all bringing our different ideas of musicality to make one joyful noise. I think we’ve gotten to a place where we say we need to be able to figure out how to accommodate because if that’s going to make them the best, we should make room for that. I think they learned that this made me the best me, that I could be the fullest band member that I could be.
“I don’t think any of us knew that it was going to lead to all this. We’re five such different people in such a beautiful way. That’s what makes the sound interesting. We’re all bringing our different ideas of musicality to make one joyful noise.” – Kevin Olusola, on Pentatonix
I think for us, one of the things that is so special is that we know that every single member of that band is indispensable. What each person does and what each person brings truly fits the whole. We really try to be a group that understands each other’s necessities so that when we come together, we feel full and whole and overflowing. So I think that’s why making space for each person to be fully them is so important.
Trusting God for the Outcomes in Your Life
There was a before and after moment when I knew that I had to completely trust God with everything. When you’re trying to give God everything in the places where you may not feel comfortable, that’s where you have to lean in, because in that place is where God’s going to require the most out of you. Doing things that you know you can do on your own strength, it doesn’t require all of you. Doing things where God is calling you will require you to be so unbelievably aligned in Him. And you’re going to have to develop yourself in Him to have success.
If God Almighty is the one who has put the plan in place for you to be successful so that His glory is known, you better believe that God will create a way for you to have success not just in your career, but also in your family, also in your health. He’s created a way because God wants a holistic, loving, joyous life focused on Him.
“If God Almighty is the one that has put the plan in place for you to be successful so that His glory is known, you better believe that God will create a way for you to have success not just in your career, but also in your family, also in your health.” – Kevin Olusola
This is a passage from Jesus Listens from January 20th:
Jesus, my Guide,
Help me to go gently through this day, keeping my eyes on You. I ask You to open up the way before me as I take steps of trust along the path of Life—with You as my Guide.
This is an important secret of success in Your kingdom. Though I remain aware of the visible world around me, I want to be primarily aware of You. When the road before me looks rocky, I know I can trust You to get me through that rough patch. No matter what is happening, Your Presence with me enables me to face each day with confidence.
In Your encouraging Name,
Stay tuned to Seth and Heather Thompson Day’s story after a brief message.
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Narrator: Our next guests are educators Seth and Heather Thompson Day. After years of working through pain, heartbreak, and trauma in their respective families and dealing with unexpected, devastating loss, the couple took steps toward restoration and healing. While doing so, they were inspired to help people consider ways to approach relationships from a more understanding and accepting perspective.
Seth Day: My name is Seth Day, and I teach courses in public speaking and a course in grieving and loss. And I am a father to three wonderful children.
Dr. Heather Thompson Day: My name is Dr. Heather Thompson Day and I am a communication professor. And I think that’s a really clear idea of who I am. I’m forever a teacher and forever a student.
My father was in Broadway, and he was touring at the time in a show called Jesus Christ Superstar. My mom was a waitress at a fancy restaurant in Grand Rapids. Somebody asked her if she would pick up their shift because they had tickets to go see the show, and so she picked up the shift. She wasn’t supposed to be there. And my dad, who’s actually in the show, he played the character Simon, sat down at her table. They met and he offered her tickets to the show. They developed a romantic connection, I think, that very first night.
And so they hung out that night. He went back to New York City. They stayed in touch. And so he would call periodically to talk to her. And one day, I guess my grandmother had answered the phone. And so they knew that my mom had been talking to this actor in New York. They did not know that he was Black. Apparently, my mom did not add that part.
He’s Black and my mom is white, and neither of them had ever been in an interracial relationship before. And when my mom got home from work that day, they essentially told her they were going to put her stuff out on the curb, that she could choose that relationship or essentially her family, that they weren’t going to be supportive of an interracial relationship. This is in, I don’t know, 1970. So my mom left.
And that created tension in my family. When my parents got married, my grandparents did not attend their wedding. That was their choice.
Seth: My mother decided to make an incredibly hard decision to leave my father at a very young age. She decided that she wanted to go to church and to try to give us a better grip, a better grasp, a better sense of life, and then put essentially God at the center of it, which was something I don’t think that my father was seeking after at the time.
You see, when my mother made that decision to become a single mother, that was not ideal. Actually, that was quite far from ideal. Any single mother can attest to that. And I wish that I could tell the listeners today that everything, all of the sudden, got easier because she decided to put her faith essentially first and to put her kids first. But it didn’t, it actually got harder. Because now on a single income, we had less money and we had to rely on family members more for support for things like groceries. We moved into government housing. My mother picked up three jobs, and then she felt God calling her to become a teacher. So we moved again a few years later.
I lost a brother my senior year of high school to a five-year battle with cancer. I greatly underestimated the toll this would take on my body and my psychological well-being, my physical well-being, my emotional well-being. And I shut down for about seven years of my life.
And the next thing I knew is that my grief had become such a part of my identity that I couldn’t see past it. I thought that this was who I was forever and and essentially became quite hopeless that I would ever be able to function again as a normal human being.
And so when I met Heather, I was at home. I wasn’t driving. We were living about an hour away from each other. And I had had Heather’s number for a few years. And I had found that number and had happened to call Heather the night that she broke up with her fiancé.
I think the timing that Heather and I met in our lives, the encouragement that we were able to offer each other, I think one of the hardest things for us to do is to encourage ourselves. I don’t know what it is about us as human beings, I think that when we’re down and we’re going through these situations—I was grieving, and for Heather, it was the night that she just broke up with her fiancé.
Heather: And I would say in that very first conversation that we had, he was just a really compassionate, loving, genuine person.
Seth: But I don’t know what it is, why we struggle to speak life into ourselves. But when I met Heather, I was able to speak life into her. And she was able to speak life into me.
“I don’t know why we struggle to speak life into ourselves. But when I met Heather, I was able to speak life into her. And she was able to speak life into me.” – Seth Day
Heather: And Seth was always just somebody who made me believe that I was worthy, who made me believe that I was funny, who made me believe that I was special. He just always had this really endearing quality that made me see myself, I think, in the way that he saw me.
Seth: And I think that when it comes to healing, we need stability and we also need to listen to the encouragement that people in our lives are speaking over us.
Wired for Connection
Seth: When Heather and I got connected, we decided that this friendship was just going to be that, it was going to be a friendship. And what grew out of that is obviously into a marriage.
Heather: My grandfather, who didn’t walk his own daughter down the aisle to her wedding, it’s so hard for me to reconcile in my mind because my grandfather did walk me down the aisle in my wedding because my dad was marrying us. They had a strained relationship for many years. And through the power of prayer, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through reconciliation, they mended that relationship. My grandparents repented of their racism both to my father and to my mother, and in actually the way that they lived their lives.
I think the beauty of the Christian experience is we can actually allow our spirits and our brains and our bodies and our hearts to be transformed in the hands of God. And I’ve seen that firsthand in my own family.
“I think the beauty of the Christian experience is we actually can allow our spirits and our brains and our bodies and our hearts to be transformed in the hands of God. And I’ve seen that firsthand in my own family.” – Heather Thompson Day
I think if we don’t understand that you are actually wired to exist in relationship with other people, like literally, biologically—this is true of both evolutionary biology and Christianity. You are wired to exist in relationship with other people. So to me, it’s just not optional. And I think we have to do a better job of understanding how important relationship is just to my own biology, but also how important this is to God. This is the call. To be an image bearer is to live in relationship with other people.
When Your Expectations Aren’t Met, Be Reminded of Who God Is
Heather: Seth and I are in a season right now where we are trying to navigate and figure out how do we keep going, how do we keep picking ourselves up? And so one thing that we do together and we both do individually, we went yesterday on a prayer walk. We do this a lot. And Seth said to me, “Let’s not even start spiraling down all the things that we wish were happening or all the things that should be different. I just want to take this entire walk to remind ourselves of who God has been.”
Seth: Heather has always valued my pain, but greater than that, she has always valued my promise. What I mean by that is she has sat with me when I have been in deep grief or when I have been in disappointment. And she has said, “Yeah, that does hurt, you should be disappointed,” or “I am so sorry.” And she has let me share my story over and over again as much as I needed to till I got it out. And then she would direct me to my promise. “But Seth, do you think that this is the end for you? Seth, look back. Look at how God has worked that out. Do you think that He’s going to have an ending like that in this story as well?”
So one of the things that we can do, one of the things that Heather has done by willing the good for me is that she’s valued my pain. But she’s also definitely valued the promise that God has over my life.
“One of the things that Heather has done by willing the good for me is that she’s valued my pain. But she’s also definitely valued the promise that God has over my life.” – Seth Day
Heather: Let’s just remind ourselves of the stories we’ve already lived. And let’s let that speak to us.
Seth: Looking at the example that my mother set, as I’m now a parent, when times get tough, I go, “And my mother did this as a single mother.” When Heather and I come up against challenges, I think to myself, My mother did this, yeah, I can do this too. And so it has greatly, greatly encouraged me. I think that’s what all of us need to do in our lives, is to look to people who have done it when things weren’t ideal, to build our confidence, and go, “Well they did it. So can I.”
“I think that’s what all of us need to do in our lives, is to look to people who have done it when things weren’t ideal, to build our confidence, and go, ‘Well they did it. So can I.’” – Seth Day
And so I have always sat in the presence of someone who will do good value to my pain and my promise and allowed me to share my story. And I think that’s something all of us can do in all of our relationships.
Feeling God in the Words of Others
Heather: One of the other ways I personally hear God is in the writing of other people, and the writings of Scripture.
So I am almost militant about my devotional life. I’m a mom. I have three kids. And so I just learned fairly early into motherhood that life was never going to give me time to spend with God. I was going to have to take it and make it. And so I set my alarm every morning, four or five a.m., so that I can have a devotional life. And as I read other people’s work and read Scripture and just allow myself to sit before the Lord and meditate on those words.
So my personal belief is spending time before the Lord, having a devotional life. I’ve watched it transform my own heart. I’ve watched it transform my own life. And I would say it’s something— that’s what I love about the Jesus Calling books too—it’s a progression and it’s daily, right? I think that something really powerful happens when we stick with something, not for like two weeks or three weeks, but years at a time. That’s when we really start to see ourselves change.
Seth: I think that one of the reasons sometimes we feel disconnected, as Heather tells us, we’re wired for relationship. We feel disconnected from God because we’re disconnected from each other.
Seth: And we need to restore our relationships with one another. And I think that sometimes that just brings our relationship with God back to life.
This is from Sarah Young’s devotional, Jesus Listens.
Please help me learn to appreciate difficult days—being stimulated by the challenges I encounter rather than becoming distressed. As I journey through rough terrain with You, I gain confidence from knowing that together we can handle anything. This knowledge is based on three blessings: Your Presence continually with me, The Bible’s precious promises, and my past experiences of coping successfully by depending on You.
When I look back on my life, I can see how much You have helped me through difficult days in the past. Yet I easily fall into the trap of thinking, “Yes, but that was then, and this is now.” Instead, I need to remember that though my circumstances change immensely, You remain the same throughout time and eternity. Moreover, in You I live and move and have my being. As I love close to You—aware of Your loving Presence—I can go confidently through my toughest times.
In Your worthy Name,
Narrator: To learn more about Seth and Heather and their work, you can follow them on social media. And be sure to check out their book, I’ll See You Tomorrow, at your favorite retailer.
If you’d like to hear more stories about acceptance and understanding in relationships, check out our interview with Tauren Wells.
Next Week: Matt Rawle
Matt Rawle: God gives us the raw ingredients, and whatever we cook up is culture: music, television, books, artwork, all of these things. The way we organize, the way we communicate, value, all of those things are a particular culture. And I find it fascinating because, you know, if we believe the incarnation to be true, then culture is a vehicle through which we can discern God.