Perceptions are powerful things; some might contend that perception is a more potent tool than reality. A casual glance at any advertisement on the tube will confirm that philosophy. But in the end truth always unveils the man behind the curtain.
There is a popular perception that pop-worship band FFH emerged fully formed from the fertile farmland of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, blazed brightly for a decade then, just as suddenly, vanished into thin air. The truth is not quite so simple… nor so mysterious.
FFH was originally formed by Jeromy Deibler and Brian Smith in 1991, soon settling into its final configuration when Michael Boggs and Jennifer Deibler, Jeromy’s new bride, joined the band. Working independently, FFH produced and released six albums, while maintaining a productive touring schedule. But when its radio single cracked the Top 20 at Christian Adult Contemporary radio, eventually moving on to become the highest charting single by an independent artist in CCM history, major labels started taking notice. Essential Records signed the band, and multiple No.1 radio hits, Dove Award nominations, and approximately two million career album sales followed, giving rise to the ‘overnight success’ myth.
A decade of road dog work ethic ensued, with Jeromy and Jennifer sharing a tour bus alongside the band and crew for 200+ dates per year, often sleeping in separate bunks. That kind of lifestyle, Jeromy confesses, is not conducive to intimate conversations.
“In 2006 my wife and I had been married for 11 years. Ten of those years we had been in FFH, touring and traveling together,” Jeromy explains. “Over the course of those years we had our first child, Hutch. By the time we got to 2006, we were ready for something else. Burnout was part of it. We were never burned out with playing concerts; it was everything that surrounded it. It was the travel. It was leaving Hutch when we went on the road. It was a strain on our marriage.”
When their 10th anniversary rolled around Jennifer and Jeromy had a heart to heart conversation. Things were not all right. Things needed to change.
“We would do interviews where people would ask ‘How do you keep your marriage strong while on the road?’ And we had the audacity to answer, when in fact our marriage was not strong and the life we were living was destroying us,” Jeromy recalls. “We weren’t on the brink of divorce, and it wasn’t like our marriage was being held together by a thread, but we knew we had a choice to make. We could continue down the road we were on and grow further apart, or we could work through stuff here and now. We decided we didn’t want to wake up thirty years from now with our kids grown and wonder, ‘What have we done?’”
After much prayer, counsel and conversation with the other band members, the unanimous decision was made to take an indefinite break. FHH continued to tour for an additional six months, fulfilling all of its obligations, and on the last weekend of September, 2006, played its final show.
“The day after FFH played its last concert together, Jennifer and I were packing for Cape Town South Africa,” Jeromy says. “That literally was the first day of the rest of our lives.”
For the next six months the Deiblers ministered in a small South African church, relishing their opportunity to detox from the workaday world they had inhabited for the last decade. No high speed Internet; no land line telephone; no television; no heating or air conditioning – just sweet anonymity.
“At first we were very disconnected, very lonely,” Jeromy admits. “We had not been famous, but we had become used to being known. The Lord let that die while we were in Africa. I think we grieved a little bit, but then we started to really love it. Our time in Africa was a major life change and a huge personal shift. We fell in love with life again. When we left South Africa to return to the States we were absolutely positive that we were never going back to FFH. We were ready for the next season in our life to begin, and we knew we were going to hit the ground running. But God was silent.”
Unwilling to move until they were sure of God’s direction, the Deiblers received both good news and bad news over the next several months: Jennifer was with child; and Jeromy was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
“I was diagnosed with MS in August of 2007,” Jeromy says. “That is when we realized why the Lord hadn’t moved us on. We spent the next six months welcoming Sadie-Claire into our family and dealing with my MS treatment.
Jeromy continued to write songs and the couple continued to lead worship as opportunities presented themselves. Then in December of 2008, while on their way back from leading worship for a small congregation in Georgia, Jeromy and Jennifer looked at each other and they just knew.
“It was time,” Jeromy states. “It was like the Lord had turned the lights off, and then He turned them back on.”
FFH was reborn, but this time as an extension of Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler. The days of 200+ concerts a year were over. Worrying about chart position and album sales were a thing of the past.
“FFH is a part of our lives again, but it is just a part,” Jeromy insists. “We are determined to live the kingdom lifestyle of putting our relationships first. Selling albums doesn’t fulfill you. It doesn’t comfort you when you are lying in bed at night after being diagnosed with MS while your wife is seven months pregnant. The fact that you’ve sold a million albums means nothing. It is weightless. What does mean something is that your family is with you, being Jesus to you.”
With a fresh perspective and a new sense of calling, Jeromy set about the serious task of creating Wide Open Spaces, the first new FFH album in three years. Fans will instantly connect with Jennifer and Jeromy’s signature harmonies and classic FFH pop sensibilities. What may be more surprising is the intense lyrical content of the songs.
“We’re always going to sound like FFH,” Jeromy declares, “but lyrically I think Wide Open Spaces is different from anything we’ve ever done. These songs rose from the ashes of struggle. You can’t sever your ties with friends, family, record label and management company, move to Africa for six months, come home, have a baby, be diagnosed with MS, and still write the same kind of songs you wrote before.”
Jeromy points to the heart-wrenching piano ballad, “Stop the Bleeding,” as a case in point.
How much farther must I go ‘til you say that I’m broken?’
How much heartache must I know for you to say, ‘Enough’s enough.’
“It is a song of lament,” Jeromy explains. “Lament is actually an important form of worship that is largely ignored by the contemporary Church. Lament says, ‘This is hard and I would not choose it, but my trust is in You.’ Lament says, ‘I can’t do this, but I know that You can do this for me.’ ‘What it Feels Like,’ the first single from the album, is another song of lament. It talks about how it feels to walk the wilderness, to be undone, to be scared to death, to be unsure of anyone and anything, but eventually to feel the love and peace of God just the same.”
“Lament songs don’t sell a million copies,” Jeromy continues. “Lamentations is not the book in the Bible that people usually point to as their favorite - at least not until they are at the bottom, looking up. Then they can identify. We all, at some point, are going to be at the bottom. That’s just part of our walk with the Lord. Suffering is not just for some people, and it is not optional. But there is joy because suffering is where Jesus meets us in a special way.”
Although the songs on Wide Open Spaces were conceived in struggle and born after a long sojourn in the wilderness of God, Jeromy insists this is not a melancholy album. Yes, there are songs of lament, but there are also songs of joy and promise.
The title cut, “Wide Open Spaces,” uses a meandering country-rock backdrop to accentuate its message of thriving even during the desert times.
I need wide open spaces, I need rivers that flow
I need to find where my faith is.
Give me the desert; I’ll make it my home.
“That’s what our life is all about right now,” Jeromy muses. “If there is a theme that ties this record together, that’s it. It is about new hope and joy. It is about being content in the hard times and never going back to the old status quo.”
Vanished into thin air? No, that’s just a perception. FFH died and has been resurrected with renewed passion and a new story to tell.
And that’s the truth.