MODESTO — Sandi Patty was on top of her career in 1993 when she shocked the Christian world by announcing she was getting a divorce from her husband, John Helvering. The public reason given was that the two, who had four young children, just weren't in love anymore. The truth was much messier: A short time after Patty married Don Pesli, she admitted she had been having an affair with Pesli, one of her backup singers and a married man.
Her book, "Broken on the Back Row: A Journey Through Grace and Forgiveness," talks about that time in her life. In the book and in her appearances with the mega-women's conferences, Women of Faith, Patty openly shares her mistakes and what she's learned about God and life.
"Sin has consequences and my actions and my choices hurt a lot of people," she said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network after her book was released in 2005. But, she added, "I want people to know that they don't have to be stuck in their sins, and they don't have to be stuck even in their grief and their guilt, that God can move them through and truly he is the God of second chances."
Patty never stopped singing with her amazing four-octave voice, although she took several years off from touring to deal with the aftermath of the negative publicity and to help blend the seven children the couple had between them. They also adopted an eighth child.
Patty, who has racked up 39 Dove Awards and five Grammys, will bring her old favorites, some new songs and possibly a couple of Broadway tunes to her concert of inspirational music at the Gallo Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.
She spoke to The Bee last week about her childhood, her music, her struggles and the lessons she has learned. Here is what she said:
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born here in Oklahoma City, then my parents moved to Phoenix when I was about 3. My dad (a music minister) took another church there. Then we moved to San Diego when I was in eighth grade.
Q: Was it hard moving while you were in junior high school?
A: Any time you move is hard, but I really loved San Diego. I had some great friends there.
Q: What kind of a child were you?
A: I was that compliant kid. I had a lot of friends and got along with my parents. My room was messy. My parents say that I was easy to get along with. I have two younger brothers.
Q: Were you into music as a child?
A: I was very much into music. I loved it, the choirs at school. I had piano lessons regularly from the time I was 5 until I was in high school. I really loved music. I was pretty shy, so music was my voice. It really opened some doors and gave me some confidence.
Q: How old were you when you won your first Dove Award?
A: It was before kids, so probably 24, 25.
Q: You came to our area in the 1980s to sing at our county fair when you were married to your first husband and had young children. What's happened to you since then?
A: I went through a divorce. I've now been married almost 20 years and just have the sweetest, blended family that anyone could ask for. I've been doing a lot of singing and speaking with Women of Faith. I do a lot of shows with symphonies across the country. I speak or sing at churches. I really enjoy that so much.
When we got married, I had four kids, my husband had three and then we adopted our youngest. We talked about adding another one to our bunch. My husband was adopted. We thought it would be very special if we could adopt. Finally, I just said, 'God, if you want something to happen, just drop a baby in our laps.' About six months later, I had a call from my friend, who was an OB/GYN nurse. She said, 'We had a baby born. The adoption fell through at the last minute; do you know anyone who would want to adopt?' We got the call on a Saturday, met him on Sunday and brought him home on a Monday, and he's been a joy ever since. He's multiracial and has taught us a whole lot about how God sees us. There's just a special kind of love, there really is.
Q: Tell me about your children. How old are they, and have any of them followed you into the music business?
A: The oldest is 28, then we have 25, 25, 25, 24, 23, 21 and 17. It's so weird (having just the youngest one at home). It's like he's a single kid now. One is in the music business, but working behind the scenes. Two are in music in church. One is working at a church with youth. One is singing at Disneyland. All are involved in the arts, but in their own way. It's very cool.
Q: What's the biggest lesson you've learned about God over the years?
A: That God is more loving and more patient and more understanding than we could ever be on our best day. The Bible says that nothing will separate us from the love of God. There are no qualifiers; there are no "except fors."
Q: What would you say to the woman who either has already made a bad choice in her life or maybe is on the verge of doing so?
A: There's nothing that feels better than someone who comes along and sees you as you haven't been seen in a while, who listens to you as you haven't been listened to in a while. But remember that anything done in secret will be shouted from the mountaintops. Even before Twitter and all that, it was a spiritual principle. Even more so now. Where your world is, that's where it will be known, whether it's the baseball moms or the church choir.
You're worth being seen and worth being listened to, but you're worth so much, it's worth being done right. Whether that's dragging yourself or your spouse to counseling, and if he won't go, go yourself. Speak (what's happening in your life and mind) out loud to somebody, whether it's a trusted friend that you can really say (the truth) or a counselor or somebody who can help reflect back to some truth of the situation.
Q: What if it's not adultery? What if it's turning to alcohol or bulimia or some other unhealthy choice to help cope with life?
A: All of those look so alluring. They all offer immediate relief and immediate feel-good. But the long-term consequences is what we don't see in the midst of it. To speak it out loud often makes it lose the grip it has over us. It lessens the allure a little bit. As we continue to speak it out loud and get with someone who can help us, that leads to healing.
Q: What would you say to the woman who finds herself in a hard situation where there seems to be no way out, where she has no hope?
A: It is sometimes so difficult when we're right in the midst of it, like a wet shower curtain that you can't get off of you. It's so hard to see beyond those circumstances. What I have learned is that what you see in the midst of those circumstances is not always reality. If we can allow somebody, whether it be a counselor or friend, to come alongside of us and to remind us that what we're seeing might be a little skewed, but just to come on, just take one more step.
It's hard to walk that by yourself. It may be just getting up in the morning. OK, now I've gotten up. Now I'm going to go brush my teeth. Sometimes we have to talk our way through the next right thing. As you do that, it may make tomorrow a little easier. I hesitate to say there's hope on the other side of it, because when you're in it, you can't see it. So what I say is just to do the next right thing.
Q: You have said you struggled with your weight for years, but a couple of years ago, you had lap band surgery and have lost 80 pounds. What made you decide to take that step?
A: I think my age had a lot to do with it. My blood pressure, my cholesterol were all up. I asked my doctor, "Am I cheating God by doing this?" She said, "You'll be cheating your family if you don't do it and die too soon." It's a tool; it's not a quick fix. It doesn't make weight loss easier, but it makes it possible. I still have to make choices every day, protein over chips.
Q: You have sung almost every kind of song, from your early Christian music to patriotic songs to Broadway hits to hymns and Christmas favorites. What kind of music will folks hear at your Modesto concert?
A: It will be a night of inspiration, a very Christian message, with a lot of older songs and some of my new songs. Some of my Broadway songs bring inspiration, like songs from "The Sound of Music" and "You Never Walk Alone." If they're appropriate, I'll definitely add them.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2012.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Christian artist Sandi Patty
WHERE: The Gallo Center for the Performing Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
TICKETS: $20 to $50
CALL: (209) 338-2100