Songwriter Wes King shares the story behind the song “Almost There.” The powerful lyrics and melody invite you on Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. “Almost There” was featured on Michael W. Smith’s album The Spirit of Christmas and is the title track of one of our new Christmas musicals. Check out the musical on our site here: http://bit.ly/1V9DJ0k
It is hard for me to tell a story without mentioning that I’m a cancer survivor. Just when I was trying to write more at home, I was given a blow that staggered me and almost stopped my ability to write at all. I was diagnosed with cancer. I was told that I had six months to live. After surgery, the truth was that I had a very aggressive and rare type of lymphoma that doubled in size every twenty-four hours, and I would begin chemo immediately.
After very difficult news, I found that there can be good news. The cancer that I had could be treated. Still, the treatment would be as aggressive as the cancer itself. I was in the emergency room five times as a result of the chemo, holding on to life, and pulling back the veil to see Jesus in everything. I had seventeen spinal taps, and I had just about everything go wrong that could: unknown infections, bacterial infections, low platelets, very low blood counts, and on and on.
There were times when I could have just gone to sleep and all the pain would have ended. Dying would have been as simple as turning a page. It would have been much easier than the pain I had to endure to get the cancer out of my body. Then I would look at my wife, my rock, my dear wife, Fran, as she held her purple binder with all the information on my cancer and all her questions for the doctor. She would look at me and say, “Hold on my love, we’re almost there.” I listened. She would remind me of all I had to live for: there were my twin sons, Harrison and Mitch. The ones we prayed for, for so long, only seven short years I had with them. I had so much I wanted to teach them, so many songs to sing, so many stories to tell. Of course, there was my little baby, George, who was almost two, and he had completely robbed me of my heart.
What carried me through was our Almighty God, my family, my doctors and nurses, and my friends. Among so many of my great friends, was one of the constants, Michael W. He would come and see me at least once a week. I would be half dead, thirty pounds over-weight from all the steroids, completely hairless, and Michael would come by. I had never looked so awful. I never had so little to offer anyone, but my old friend would come and sit with me and laugh, tell old stories, and pray. He would tell me all the neat things he was doing and all the amazing things God was doing through him and with him. He would make a point to tell me reactions to songs we had written together. He would tell me that I wasn’t done yet, “You need to keep fighting. We still have songs we need to write.”
I had eight rounds of that awful chemo. After the first round I remember Michael saying, “One down, seven to go. You’re almost there.” Again, I listened. I always loved my buddy, Michael, but I never knew just how big his heart was until I was teetering on the edge of life and death. I realized that Michael W. Smith is loved by millions of people throughout the world because he is a man who has known the love of Jesus, and so he loves much. It is his love for Jesus and His church that spills into the music that Michael makes to the Savior of our souls.
These last few years have been better for me health-wise. A couple of years ago, Michael called and said, “I have a song I want you to write.” He sent me the music to “Almost There.” I knew when I heard it that it was special. Michael gave me some of his wishes for the song, and I set out to write it. I made a CD of it, and I played it in my car whenever I would take my youngest to school or run around town. I knew that Michael always needs things yesterday because he has so many irons in the fire. I was getting a little nervous because nothing was coming to me. I thought that maybe I was tapped out creatively. Then my baby boy came through for me. We were on our way to his favorite place on planet earth to eat, Schlotzsky’s Deli. While I was going through chemo, this was the only place he would eat.
The drive to Schlotzsky’s is about 20 minutes from our house. We pass Michael’s neighborhood on the way. There is a little mountain you have to go over to get there. As we were going up to the promised sandwich, the music that I was supposed to find a lyric for was playing. My car strained to conquer the incline as my boy battled his growling tummy. George was really hungry, and he had made this trip a hundred times. After all, he is Schlotzsky’s number one customer. Soon, we would not even have to order when we arrived at the drive through. They would just say, “Hi George, two kids meal ham and cheese, chocolate chip cookies, and raspberry lemonade?”
So George asked me, “Dad, are we almost there?”
I listened and said, “Yes, buddy, we’re almost there.”
There was the theme of the song. It was the same thought throughout my battle with cancer. As if it had been there all along, it was waiting for me to fashion it like an angel out of a natural stone. All the waiting in the hospital, all of the wondering if I was going to live, and finally, I could write again. Michael loved it. He asked Amy Grant to sing it, and she wrote on the song to make it better. Amy had introduced me to my wife, and I have written with Amy throughout the years. I love working with her. The finished product was the song of a lifetime written with my life-long friends.
A year later, Brentwood Benson asked if I would write a Christmas musical around the theme of “Almost There” with Michael. Of course I said I would. With the amazing talent of Michael and Amy, we were able to write the musical. Michael wrote songs that sound as if they were pulled straight from the heavenlies. Lyrically, Amy can take what might be good to what is perfect. She brings light and joy to everything she does. I also wanted to bring in Andrew Peterson who I’ve become a big fan of over the years with his “Behold the Lamb” Christmas concert he performs at the Ryman in Nashville every year. He collaborated with Michael and I on “Joseph’s Song.” My wife wrote with me too, but then she always writes with me (even in this article).
I believe that churches all over the world are going to love this musical. It is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I feel like I was able to bring all the theology I have been so blessed to be enriched by these years and marry it to Michael’s amazing music and Amy’s lyrical sense. It has the linear story of the Gospel. It has the ancient and the present-day sense that connects you with the majesty and the joy of Christmas. It has the difficulty of being “Almost There” and the glory of the long-awaited One, Jesus Christ!
I hope you enjoy it as much as we had putting it together.
“Do you hear what I hear?”