I looked up and saw the headlights. There was no time to react. The truck was moving too fast. I remember my body’s impact with the front of it. For a moment I felt nothing—then I hit asphalt.” Mark Lee, founder and guitarist of the Christian rock band, Third Day, vividly recalls the accident that crushed his leg and redirected his life plans.
He had just entered his freshman year in high school and was in the marching band. In a single moment, everything changed. Lee was selling doughnuts for his church youth group, not far from his home outside of Atlanta, Georgia, when a truck accidentally struck and seriously injured him.
Multiple surgeries repaired Lee’s leg, but he missed a lot of the school year. Suddenly, things that were most important to him—attending classes and marching with the band—were out of reach.
“I couldn’t exactly carry my instrument on the football field while hobbling on crutches,” he recalls.
Hurt Road in a Broken World
“By age 14, I already had the idea I was in charge—that the things I did, the choices I made, would lead to a happily-ever-after life,” Lee explains. “That’s wrong-headed, and God wasn’t subtle in getting my attention.”
Lee says it’s fitting his accident took place on Hurt Road.
“Seriously, God’s got a sense of humor,” he says. “But, there’s a lesson in that too. We make plans for how our lives are going to go forward, and the next thing you know, we’re landing in a ditch we didn’t see coming.”
“We’re all traveling a hurt road in a broken world. The good news is we don’t have to go it alone,” Lee reflects. “Getting hit by a truck, and the other things life hit me with soon after, showed me we’re going to be thrown some curves along the way. But those twists and turns—many I didn’t choose—are where I’ve met God most profoundly,” Lee says.
God Uses the Hard Places
Both of his parents worked outside the home. “So while I was home recovering, Dad switched his work hours around to be with me during the day,” Lee recalls. “We studied, but we also listened to music together, and my dad encouraged my talent. He was my biggest fan.”
This special bonding time between father and son became irreplaceable when his father was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly after Lee returned to school.
“Dad’s cancer changed his personality, and it was a tough thing to watch my hero and role model become almost a stranger—confused and, at times, angry,” Lee recalls. “This added to the tragedy of his illness for my mom, my brother and me.”
“His death was a terrible blow,” Lee says. “But I’ll always be grateful for that extra time I had with Dad. What seemed like the worst thing—my accident—turned into a gift. God uses the hard places.”
Healing in the Music
Though Mark Lee was 6 years old when he first picked up a musical instrument and discovered his passion, after his father’s death he immersed himself in playing music. And he found healing.
“God wired me to make music. It was both a refuge and a way to move forward,” he recalls. “I don’t know when grieving stopped and regular life picked back up. They sort of existed side by side for a while until there was just regular life left.”
“My senior year, I started a garage band,” he says. “One of my friends from marching band, Mac Powell, agreed to be the band’s singer. And he became one of the most important influences on my faith journey,” Lee states.
“God was dealing with us the summer after high school,” he recalls. “Mac spent a lot of time studying the Bible and wasn’t comfortable with secular lyrics,” Lee says. But when Mac Powell decided to walk away from their band, God threw another curve in life’s road for Mark Lee.
Powell asked Lee if he was a Christian.
“I was a little bit offended, to be honest,” Lee admits with a smile. “I mean, I grew up in church and accepted Jesus as a kid. So I told him I’m about as Christian as you can get,” Lee remembers.”
But his friend responded, “That’s pretty sad.”
“Mac wasn’t questioning whether I was a Christian. He was referring to my lack of commitment. And he was right. I’d gotten lazy. I went to church and was passionate about it. But I left it at the door,” Lee says.
“Suddenly, it struck me that I didn’t need a commitment to music as much as I needed a commitment to Jesus.”
“I asked Mac if he wanted to form a Christian band—and I know that wasn’t my idea,” Lee states. “It was God’s.” And the Christian rock band, Third Day, was born.
This band that went on to have 28 number-one hit songs and win four Grammys was founded on friendship and a recommitment to faith. Lee strongly believes God places landmarks along our paths to help guide us through life and point us to our purpose.
“Relationships, faith and our God-given talents all are important internal landmarks,” he explains. For Lee, faith is an essential landmark.
“We’ve soaked this thing [the band] in prayer from day one,” Lee says. “Third Day had so many early band practices that turned into Bible studies, it’s a wonder we ever rehearsed enough to get in front of an audience.”
But once they did, things took off in a hurry. “That whirlwind musicians warn you about kicked up, and life got pretty crazy,” Lee recalls. “Success can be filled with land mines and temptations that so many folks fall into, it’s almost a cliché.”
“ ’Cry Out to Jesus’ and ‘Show Me Your Glory’ aren’t just songs—those aren’t just words to us,” Lee says, referencing two of Third Day’s biggest hits. “Prayer and reading God’s word guides our steps,” he adds. “We didn’t want to trip on those land mines, chasing something other than God.”
“Circumstances beyond our control and accidents and tragedies and the choices we make redirect the road we are on,” Lee says. “But I’m learning God can use me exactly where I am—when I let go of things that get in the way of who He wants me to be.”
“The biggest thing I’ve had to let go of was my concept of happily-ever-after. I’m continually amazed at the way God steps in and leads me in a moment-by-moment faith. And that’s opened up a more fulfilling and beautiful life than I could have imagined,” Lee concludes.
Mark Lee’s memoir, “Hurt Road: The Music, the Memories and the Miles Between,” was just released by Revell, a division of the Baker Publishing Group, in September, 2017.
Lee and his wife, Stephanie, and their daughters, Abbie and Kitty, reside in Georgia.
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