Life hasn't always been kind to 22 year old Heidi Smith, and her infectious smile and sparkling eyes belie a history of both physical and emotional pain. But a deep and profound faith in God and a love for music have provided her comfort in the midst of the dramatic blows she has had to endure.
One major setback for Smith happened in 2008 when she sustained several injuries from a truck wreck, which included acute damage to her back.
“We had a rollover,” she said. “I didn't have my seat belt on, like a knucklehead. I got out of the truck and didn’t feel anything.”
The adrenalin pumping through Smith's system had blocked her pain receptors. She had a serious cut on her foot and glass embedded in her forehead and hands. But in her shocked state of mind, Smith, who had walked away from the wreck, decided being ambulatory meant she was fine.
“That night the adrenalin started wearing off,” she said. “My back started hurting, and I asked my friends to look at it to see if it were bruised.”
Her friends delivered the scary report that her back was turning black along her spine.
A trip to the emergency room ascertained that she had practically broken her back. The doctor told her the damage was so severe she would have been better off with a complete break.
“It would have healed better,” she said. “The wreck just tore everything up.”
Smith's love for music came into play during her convalescence.
“Music is so healing,” she said. “It's very therapeutic. It diverts my attention from the pain onto something else.”
She credits her chronic back discomfort for inspiring her to write music.
“It's funny how you write the best when you are in pain,” she said. “When I am having a very strong emotion or am in pain, I start writing or listening to music or playing it. It’s soothing.”
Smith readily attributes her love for God and music for getting her through yet another dark period of her life.
She was barely out of her teens when she suffered an agonizing personal loss. Her boyfriend, Bryce Hodges, fell victim to diabetic complications and died on Feb. 25, 2010.
“He was one of my best friends,” Smith said. “We met when I was 16. I have never felt such an unconditional love toward somebody. I love my parents and my brothers, but this was a completely different category of love.”
After Hodges passed away, Smith had to go through the many stages of grief survivors experience following the death of a loved one. But she sees faith and music as coming together to foster her recovery from the loss.
“He passed away a month after my 20th birthday,” she said. “It put me in a place in my life where I never thought I would be—it was the darkest place I had ever been in my life. But I would write songs or hymns. I finally realized when things under you are shaken, that's when you find out where you are in your faith. And I've slowly been getting better and stronger.”
She said she can now conceptualize the idea of God's sovereignty.
“He knows what he's doing,” she said. “His plan is so much more than we can comprehend.”
She sees music as an outlet for painful experiences.
“People write and play about what they are passionate about, what they have lived. That's where the really good music comes from.”
Smith is a devotee of the dying art of banjo playing. She has been playing since she was a little girl. Her father introduced her to the instrument which has been a source of comfort for her ever since.
“My dad always played for me when I was a baby to put me to sleep, or for our daddy-daughter time,” she explained.
Her first foray into the world of banjo playing was accomplished on a small tenor banjo.
“I'd just strum on it a bit when I was little,” Smith said. “But when I got older, I started playing on his first banjo, which he passed down to me when I was 14 for Valentine's Day.”
She has acquired additional instruments in the years since and is especially proud of a banjo that sports bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs' signature.
Smith and some friends had attended the free annual summer concert series in Stephenville where Skaggs performs every year.
“I was sitting on my case and watching him perform, and I called my dad and asked him to guess who I was listening to—for free,” she said. “I told him who was right in front of me.”
Smith's father, who counts Skaggs as top among his favorite musicians, didn't believe her.
“He said, 'You are joking,'” Smith recalled. “I told him no and that I was going to ask him to sign my banjo.”
Her father didn't think she would succeed in that task.
“He said, 'Yeah, right. Good luck with that,'” Smith said with a laugh. “But I did it. You tell me I can't do something, I'm going to prove you wrong.”
Her father was incredulous when she texted him a picture, proving her success in getting a signature on her banjo.
Smith is reticent about singing along with her banjo picking.
“I don't sing in front of a lot of people,” she said.
But she doesn't demur from opportunities to play music with others.
“I used to play with a band in Granbury,” she said. “We'd go to different places where people needed something to lift their spirits.”
One evening she had a chance to play with the William Clark Green Band.
“They are some of the nicest guys you'll ever meet,” she said. “I got to jam with them in Odessa. I had never heard of them before. But they were playing, and one of them had an electric banjo. I told them I had my acoustic out in the truck and after the show, we jammed a bit.”
Smith has added hymn writing to her musical pursuits.
“I don't do it consistently,” she admitted. “It's just whenever it hits me.”
The first hymn Smith wrote was based upon Psalm 146.
“I just felt like I had to open my Bible,” she said. “I flipped it to Psalm 146, and I wrote the entire song in a span of a minute and a half. It just all came together.”
God and music continue to be the driving forces in Smith's life.
“I might not be the best at it, but it's something I love to do,” she said. “And if I'm doing it for the right reasons, then I know doors will open up for me.”