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Country Music Stars Trades Brokenness for Worship

Jessi Colter, a name etched in country music history. A singer and songwriter, Jessi’s first big hit came in 1975 with “I’m Not Lisa” that topped both country and pop music charts. She’s also known for her rocky marriage to the late country music legend Waylon Jennings, and standing by him as he fought his own demons of addiction. 

At the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville she talked about her new memoir, An Outlaw and a Lady, a book about her marriage to Waylon and her journey to a lasting faith in Jesus. Born Miriam Johnson in Phoenix, Jessi’s faith was shaped by her mother a pentecostal evangelist. 

“It was her faith. Her faith in God. Her staying attached to God in prayer, in praise. A heritage of faith is what I’m talking about. It is better than money, celebrity, anything that you could offer a child. It’s a marvelous something that’s implanted in you, that can’t be forsaken for long.” 

At 18 she met and married producer and pop Star Duane Eddy. Intrigued by his philosophy on life of intellectualism and objectivism, she began question her Christian beliefs. “I had looked into Buddhism. I was into this Urantia book. I had accepted Ayn Rand, existence exists. There is no big universe, a father, all this stuff and I thought well maybe Christ came as Krishna, maybe He came as Buddha. The places I walked are not places that I would recommend others to walk. I thought this is really intellectual. This is really smart.” 

As Jessi drifted further from God her marriage started unraveling. After six years, the couple divorced. By then Jessi and Waylon had collaborated on several projects. As the two continued sharing their mutual love for music, they became inseparable. They married in 1969 forming a country music power duo that achieved rapid success. “We were kind of surprised and happy. It was just that simple. We didn’t know the impact of what it was going to do until Waylon went down to Texas and found the young people were really discovering our music.” 

The couple released two top 40 singles, Suspicious Minds and Under Your Spell. Then in 1975, Jessi released her breakthrough single “Im Not Lisa”. The following year, she and Waylon were featured on the groundbreaking album Wanted: The Outlaws with country legends Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser. 

Both had children from previous marriages, and Jessi says Waylon loved all of them, but his growing addiction to cocaine was tearing their marriage apart. 

“I loved Waylon with my whole being. But I came to a point where our lifestyle was getting physically destructive and I just had to make a decision.” 

“One day I was opening the door to this little house we lived in and I said ‘Well, there’s always God.’ All you can do is pray at certain points. That’s all you can do. 

In 1976, Jessi turned her heart, her marriage, and her husband over to God. 

“I had good reason to leave the marriage. One day I was on my knees, after fasting, I said ‘I know You’ll bless me if I leave and You’ll bless me if I stay. No matter what I want, what do You want?’ At those points of submission it is amazing what happens. I stayed. From that time on, I knew that my spiritual Father was my partner and I was there for Waylon.” 

She says only then was she able to love Waylon with the love of God and pray for her husband. Then in 1979, they had a son, Waylan “Shooter” Jennings. Five years later, Waylon got over his addiction to cocaine. He quit cold turkey as Jessi poured his last stash of the drug in the toilet and flushed it away. In that moment, she shouted “hallelujah,” but one prayer had yet to be answered. “I was so excited when I came back into my faith and wanted for him to share that but he wasn’t there. So I had to learn through trial and error to just live it. And I did.” 

By 2001 Waylon’s health had been deteriorating for years. On Thanksgiving Day he gave his life to Jesus. “He said the rest of my life is going to be a mark for the good. He made that decision.” Afew months later in 2002, he passed away due to complications from diabetes. Jessi found peace in knowing he had accepted Jesus in his heart. “He’s been truly the Lover of my soul. If we just say, you know, I just need You. I need You to be in this. You’re saying there is an infinite being and He knows me better than I do.” 

Jessi recently released an album called, The Psalms. She says she sees traces of her own life through the story of the biblical character David.”David so speaks to our human condition. He gets so mad. He gets so troubled. Yet he always comes to worship. I can’t stop learning from the Psalms. If you read the Psalms, you just can’t miss yourself. It will show you yourself.” 

Through that, Jessi hopes people discover how God’s love can restore the broken parts of their lives. “I’m hoping that it gives people some direction and helps them acknowledge the power of prayer, because I’m a prayer answered.”

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