Jesus Loves Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston is gone. But I remember when she was alive in my family’s kitchen.
As a boy, I was awestruck by the power of a Sony radio. My parents kept it high on a shelf, up next to all those red and yellow cookbooks and the potted green ivy.

Once I reached a certain age, I was allowed to touch the radio. My fingers stroked its walnut wood casing. I experimented with those clockwise and counterclockwise movements, exploring a world that went far beyond my small Indiana college town.

There, in the kitchen while helping my mom with the dishes, I heard a voice hit a frequency of celebration that only a soul lost and then found could reach.

Surrounded by the toil of clean and dirty dishes, I fell in love with The Voice.

Whitney Houston.

But that was then. When good and evil stayed in separate sinks.

Last night, though, things got messier.

We’re hosting a party of friends at our home. We’re all laughing and listening to music. But now, instead of a kitchen radio, my wife’s cell phone brings the news of Whitney’s death.

I watch the light from the tea candles flicker once, back and forth, flash over our guests’ faces. Brief silence leaves a lump in our throats.

We’ve already heard or can imagine how the news will all be packaged by entertainment networks and late night monologues, then dumped into a sloppy, microwaveable pop culture casserole.

“Is this real or a joke?” someone asks.

A lot of awkward silence and people changing the subject.

A longer reflection tells me, though, that Whitney Houston reached for something real, something beyond her addictions in the same way that Hamlet reached for something beyond his indecisions.

Torturous circumstances and poor choices leave ugly scars. Even rewire brain chemistry. They make life tragic and leave us desperate.

Desperate for the voice of a lover.

News reports tell us that Whitney showed up at a club the night before she died and did an impromptu performance of “Jesus Loves Me” with R&B star and friend, Kelly Price. Just two nights before the Grammy Awards.

But it was never about the Grammy’s. Or even about the party. She’s been singing about this lover of her soul  for a very long time.

It was about Jesus. How He loves and how He saves. Whitney grew up with gospel roots and knew what her life was meant for. But the world and its darkness beat her up and sent her spiraling downward, again and again.

Before my wife and I met, each of us had been praying for Whitney Houston, from time to time, as she rose and fell. We felt called. And we know others who have felt the same call.

I believe Whitney Houston battled against her demons while struggling to hold onto truth, but the shelf finally broke and the kitchen radio dropped and died in a sink full of dirty dishwater.

Today I found a YouTube clip from her movie “The Preacher’s Wife”.

She stands before the church and wears a choir robe. Her voice is beautiful again.

“I love the Lord,” she proclaims with the angelic sweetness of a child. “He heard my cry.”

He heard my cry?

I believe God did hear her cry. But she still died. I don’t know how to deal with those contradictions. They’re jagged. And they hurt. She was supposed to die free.

Before I find the answer, I hear the church choir rise and join her solo. They begin to sing the same words of that hymn, now together, and somehow all those voices carry her, contradictions and all.

Tonight I’m so desperate to join that choir.

And we still have dirty dishes left unwashed, from last night’s party.

36 thoughts on “Jesus Loves Whitney Houston

  1. It’s the story of us, isn’t it? All of us. That voice…oh, how it made this tired world sing. So sad her life here ended this way. So glad for the way Jesus never lets us go…

  2. The first CD I ever bought was by Whitney Huston and I bought it before I had a CD player. I just heard the voice and had to have it, I’ve never been so moved. Thank you for the tribute.

  3. Matt,
    It is incredible that you and Toby both prayed for Whitney Houston before you met each other. What a rich blog post. Not too rich that it gave me indigestion… I’m talking rich that it’s incredible how simple and messy always seem to be fraternal twins. I will forever be trying to process and digest this idea.

    • I like your attitude, Hope. Your commitment to process and digest the mess. Sometimes our temptation is to gawk at what’s on a plate and just poke at it with a fork.

      I prefer indigestion to tasteless conversation.

  4. Haven’t stopped by your place before, Matthew. (Thanks to Charity and Nancy =) Quite an introduction to your writing… but, more so… your heart. I remember those days with Whitney. And yes, Oh, How He Loves… you, me, Whitney. Thanks Matthew… nice to meet you.

    • How He loves us …

      It’s true: Whitney’s life makes me uncomfortable. Her life invites me to ponder the heart of God at a deeper level. Thank you for your kind words tonight. So good to meet you here.

  5. Your writing is so beautiful, but this sentence just breaks my heart: “But the world and its darkness beat her up and sent her spiraling downward, again and again.” I’m struggling to make peace with the reality that some of the wounds are so deep that they don’t get healed this side of heaven. I know, in my head, that this world will never satisfies my deepest longings, nor Whitney Houston’s. But, oh, it hurts to watch someone unable to find peace in this lifetime.

  6. “But that was then. When good and evil stayed in separate sinks.”

    The dirty dishwater. And the clean. Neatly separated. What a powerful image. (That’s what good writers do with black and white words.) This is why you’re one of my favorite online writers. I’m with Gene. Let me know when you have a book to sell. I will stand in line to buy – and promote.

    • Denise, you are an extraordinary gift. More than you know, you have been a constant source of encouragement to me. Your comments here, and on your blog, have always blessed me. I know it in my gut: You make your Father so proud.

  7. Matthew – What a wonderful post – dealing with all the complexities of good and bad and lost and found. And of course being redeemed. I loved Whitney Houston, too. I have many memories associated with her songs. I will miss her presence in the world.

  8. Good and evil just don’t stay in their separate sinks, do they? (That imagery right there, best ever.) We want to take folks and plunge them in one basin of water or the other, leave them baptized there with the dirty plates or the rinsed clean. But the water, in real life, it sloshes back and forth and it’s never so simple as that.

    Thanks for this, Matthew. Realistic, truthful. Her mess is ours, sans the microscope of celebrity.

    • It’s never so simple, Lyla. And if we should linger in either of those basins for too long, then they’ll quickly become toxic cess pools.

      But Grace always aims to cause a splash, on both sides.

  9. Matthew-I watched the Grammys last night and was amazed at the way Whitney’s loss permeated the night, beginning with the host saying a prayer while everyone bowed their heads. God can always bring glory to His name even in a tragedy.
    Thank you for speaking to this.

    • I didn’t get a chance to watch the awards ceremony. It must have been difficult and surreal at the same time. My hope, though, is that people saw at least a glimmer of truth and love shining among its brokenness.

  10. Matthew,
    Once again you have spoken what is in our hearts and we thank you.
    My contribution of the moment is a poem I wrote for the mother of a fine young man who died an untimely death from leukemia, adapted to Whitney:

    Strength found in others in the same situation,

    And relatives and friends throughout the nation.

    Strength found in God and in His blessed Son.

    With such allies, the battle is won.

    Peace now on earth and goodwill toward men

    Can now be widespread among Whitney’s friends

    Also her siblings and her precious mother.

    Let us give thanks to God – love and serve one another.

    And we can share with the apostle Paul his confidence in:
    2 Timothy 1:12
    For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed,[fn] {believed: or, trusted} and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

    Our love to you and yours,’

    Ken

  11. Matthew – thank you for such a moving post on Whitney. I love your heart and your response. I sat there last night watching many of those videos from the Preacher’s Wife and you so wonderfully put into words what I was feeling. Thank you. I pray peace and comfort for her daughter and family.

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