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Dalton Roberts

Sometimes in the very writing of a song, a person's inner being will respond exactly to the words being written on the paper.

A perfect example is Billy Joe Shaver while he was writing, "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Someday"). Depressed, Shaver walked into the woods at Kingston Springs, Tenn., and was actually considering suicide. Then the words to a new song started moving through his head and, at that point, he started moving in the direction of becoming a diamond.

I know how he felt because I went through a similar change in 1978. I had been fired as Hamilton County manager, was freshly divorced and living alone in a one-room apartment. I tried praying, but spiritual things seemed unreal to me at that time. So I just said, "God, you were very real to me when I was a small child in my 'honeysuckle cathedral.' If you will become real to me again, I will serve you wherever I end up and whatever I decide to be doing."

I had no idea that day that I would be running for Hamilton county executive - and winning. But every morning I would have coffee and read the paper with my mother, then end up ranting about what was going on in county government.

One day Mother asked, "Who knows the most about those things in county government?"

I said, "I do, of course, since I served as county manager for seven years."

She said, "I know. So you should either do something about it or shut up."

I went home to lick my wounds and recover from Mother's barb, but what happened was something entirely different. I realized she was right. So with no money or commitments of support from major politicians, I ran for county executive.

I went to see every elected official and received no encouragement from anyone except Paul Clark, a Chattanooga city commissioner. And his support was lukewarm. Most said things like, "You can't get elected without money" or "You're starting too late." Even the chairman of my party reminded me that my opponent already had billboards up.

You may choose not to believe this story (after all, I am a politician), but the reason I haven't told this story before is that, when a politician starts talking religion, people think he's trying to use religion to get votes. But I knew that, at some point in time, I would want to give credit where credit is due. God became very real to me during those days, as I had requested. I'm not claiming that God elected me, but he did give a peace and confidence that enabled me to win.

But back to my original thought about songs creating the same experiences inside of us. I felt I had come home to God. Shortly thereafter, I wrote:

I've been all the places I thought I had to go,

I've done all the things I thought I had to do,

But Lord, I'm so unhappy I think I always knew,

I'd never find myself 'til I found you,

Lord, can I come home?

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