Listeners have come to expect inspiring and remarkable stories in songs from Mark Schultz, a 14-time Dove Award nominee, Dove Award winner, and platinum-selling artist who touches hearts whether he sings about parents praying for a sick child ("He's My Son"), or writes in honor of his great-grandmother's sons who fought in World War II ("Letters From War").
And with his latest effort, All Things Possible, Schultz continues to tackle matters of the heart and spirit with uncommon craftsmanship--though the past five years have impacted this artist in ways he could've never predicted or expected. He's lived in Europe, started the Remember Me Mission with his wife to help orphans (Schultz himself is adopted), and became a father in 2012 to a boy, Ryan Samuel Schultz.
Produced by Seth Mosley (Newsboys) and Pete Kipley (MercyMe/Phil Wickham), All Things Possible has a joyous, infectious pop-rock feel that shows Schultz' soulful tenor and tuneful melodies at their peak. Yet there's added depth that comes as this compassionate storyteller dives deeper into using music as a vehicle for better things. Here, he quotes no less a source than theologian Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
"All Things Possible means something different than when I was first starting out as a musician," Schultz says. "When I first got signed, I thought that if 10 people bought my record, that would be 'all things possible.' But today, using this platform for myself to sell more records is not as inspiring to me. I can only accomplish good things if God is in them, and God shows up. I want to pray those prayers."
As Schultz describes it, the road to All Things Possible began, quite literally, on the road. In 2007, he dipped his toe in the Pacific Ocean and began a punishing 3,500-mile bike ride across the U.S. to raise money for orphans and widows via the James Fund.
Here's how Schultz recalls that bi-pedal leap of faith that kicked off a 14-date concert tour: "We took off from the Pacific and I thought, 'God is in this.' Forty miles into it, I'm out of shape, but I'm thinking, 'God is still into this.' And then I got to the first mountain and I thought, 'I'm not sure God is into this anymore!'"
But if his muscles ached and doubts nagged, Schultz got over it at his first stop, a small church outside Palm Springs, Calif. There he played for only 400 people, a modest crowd by Mark Schultz standards. Yet unexpected inspiration carried him up a mountain of another sort.
"I did a set list I'd never done before; I told stories I'd never told before," Schultz says. "The minister took an offering and afterwards he said, 'I don't know what you're used to, but for this little church, it's really good.' They had raised more than $20,000."
While Schultz has always been a powerful encourager through his music, experiences like that took him to new places he wanted to express through new songs. Yet the Colby, Kansas native crafted many compositions for All Things Possible the way he's always done it--at a chapel piano in Nashville where he's written since his pre-recording artist days as a youth group leader.
"It's right around the corner from my house," Schultz says. "I go to the little chapel where I've written almost every one of my songs, and I just repeat a line, and usually tears are running down my face. My best songs are written when I don't plan them out."
Take "Haven't Met You Yet," a driving slice of organ-and-piano fueled pop rock Schultz crafted for his then-unborn son: "This is where your story starts/ You’ve already stolen my heart … I don't remember life before you at all, and the funny thing is/ I haven't even met you yet."
"I just get tears in my eyes thinking about him," Schultz says of little Ryan Samuel--and with poignant reason. "I've never met my bloodline in this world; it's not like I've got my biological mom or my dad. I remember my wife saying, 'He looks just like you,' and I looked in his eyes, and he smiled. My knees just buckled. He's the first part of me that I've ever seen in someone else. I play that in concert and it gets a standing ovation. The thing that's so exciting for me is that I can't wait until he gets older, and he can sing his song for his kids."
Yet other songs for All Things Possible took flight across the Atlantic, as Schultz and his wife Kate, an OB-GYN, spent a yearlong sabbatical after she completed her medical residency. Take the snappy tune "I Gave Up," the first one written for the album: "We'd been in Europe for a while; everything was slower and relationships are pretty prized, while stuff is not prized. And my wife looked at me and said, 'Everything we own is in a garage in Nashville. So, do you miss anything?' I said, 'No, I don't miss anything.' And right then there was a shift: We have to pay more attention to the relationships, the things that matter, and less to the things that are gong to crumble in time."
When the tune came, Schultz wasted no time catching it, though it took some late-night finesse. "I jumped out of bed and soon I was on the street in Florence, out in the street singing into a recorder at 3 o'clock in the morning."
Of course, it helps when you're a songwriter abroad to find a piano, and Schultz (who couldn't exactly ship one to Europe) found instruments in the most surprising places. "When we got to Florence I was climbing the walls. I had to find a piano somewhere. And Kate said, 'Don't worry, if we pray about it, we'll find one.' So we were eating dinner and there was this very old church across the street, with frescos on the wall."
Schultz went to investigate, and found out that the church not only had a piano, but also was holding a worship service for American college students the next day. The former youth leader stepped up; "I played one song, and then another, and one kid said, 'Hey, you're playing an awful lot of Mark Schultz songs.' And I said, 'Yeah, I know.'" Schultz eventually became the church's temporary worship leader, and grew attendance at the youth service from 5 kids to 30 by the time he left four months later.
Another unlikely surprise awaited Schultz in Italy: He found out that his wife qualified for Italian citizenship, since her great-grandfather was an Italian citizen. "So she got a dual citizenship in Italy, and because I'm married to her, I was able to get one, too. And my kid is an Italian citizen, and he didn't do any work at all!"
Some kids, though, have a lifetime of struggle ahead. Ask Schultz to sum up the album's theme in one song, and he points to "One Day," which got its start while he was on stage singing his hit "I Am." "I'm looking out in the audience and halfway back, I can see kids in wheelchairs. There's this one kid in a wheelchair with his fists clenched and his arms thrown up in the air and tears running down his face. And I got choked up. Right at that moment I thought, 'Kid you're going to get your own song.'"
The refrain, in typical Schultz fashion, spotlights bigger possibilities and hope beyond human limitations. "One day we will touch the healer's hand/ One day we will be whole again."
"When I sing it, I think of the kid in the wheelchair, and how when he gets to heaven, he gets to kick that wheelchair to the ground and walk away from it," Schultz says. "No matter what you're going through—cancer, a disease, or being in a wheelchair—it's powerful to think there's an endgame to that."