In this retrospective reflection looking back, I take material from conversations, texts and interviews I have done with John over the years and compile together those stories about the man, the artist, the husband and the father that my family and I have come to know and love over the last seventeen years.  Not only has John been a true friend to me, but his music has gone way beyond the confines of a record to minister to me personally in some of the most trying and difficult times of my life.  I couldn’t think of a better way to honor John and his music and what its meant to me in that time, than to go back and highlight a record that was not only a powerful anthem of hope and perseverance that could be used as reminders in times of trials and tribulations in life – but more importantly to highlight a talented musician whose life goal and ambition is to use his collective thoughts and music to inspire anyone who needs a reminder that Jesus is always there for them, no matter where life takes them.

That record – While I’m Waiting – released 15 years ago and is still one I feel carries many timeless messages through its catchy vehicle of tunes, remaining just as relevant today as it was when it originally released.  Enjoy!

Way Back When I Met John

By the time that I wrote this reflection in early 2024, John and I had long been good friends, dating back seventeen years earlier to late February 2007, when he was doing press on, The Blessing. Though John had at that point, at age 36, found moderate success as the lead singer of the popular Georgia-based indie rock band, According to John, he felt that he wasn’t getting any younger and his dream of becoming a nationally recognized musician was slowly dwindling away with each passing year.  I remember initially receiving a physical pre-release from the label from former Sony Music / Provident Label Group’s lead publicist, Jackie Marushka, with a note attached.  She touted it as a “must listen”, and an album “full of hope and inspiring, uplifting songs.”  When asked recently about reflecting back on John’s time on PLG’s imprint Beachstreet Records, she added, “John is one of those artists who, when I think of him all these years later, I don’t recall specific “memories,” but I recall how he made me feel. As a believer working in the music industry, I hear a lot of “inspirational” music, but something about John’s songs and voice is how effortlessly they deliver hope. And on top of that, he is inspiring, thoughtful and kind.”

When I was granted a phone interview with John just prior to The Blessing’s release, I too was finally beginning to find my footing in the Christian music industry as both a journalist and radio/podcast host.  I remember being a little nervous about the interview, because it was one of my first couple I had done.  It was also a good year before eventually starting my podcast/radio show, Kingdom Builder, in 2008.  After the introduction of the conversation, and me jokingly pointing out that John had the “Buddy Holly look” on the album’s headshot cover, he started telling me about the stories behind many of the songs from the record, including my favorite track, “Still Calls Me Son”.  John had written the song as his own homage to the parable of the Prodigal Son story found in the Book of Luke, Chapter 15.  Unbeknownst to me at the time of our chat, a few short months later while explaining the story of the song to my late wife Shannon during a drive to church one afternoon, I started crying uncontrollably. While explaining to her John’s message behind the song, it suddenly hit me.  That song was describing me! Listening to the song and the conversation I had that day with my wife, would be somewhat of a personal spiritual awakening for me in my own walk with Christ. It revealed to me that even though I had been a follower of Jesus for four years at that point, I wasn’t following Jesus in the ways He commanded.  John still reminds me when we chat of me telling him that story and how much those kinds of stories mean to him, giving him a little affirmation that the songs he writes have an impact on people.

Jay & Shannon Heilman with John & Josee Waller & Family @ Rock the Universe, September 2007 (Orlando, FL)

Later that year in September 2007, after a back-and-forth exchange text messages, John had invited me out to see him perform live for the first time.  The event: Universal Studios Orlando’s annual Christian music festival called Rock The Universe. John was playing along with other groups like Casting Crowns, Mercyme, Jeremy Camp, TobyMac and others.  Despite the overly hot and muggy temperatures we encountered that afternoon, ones that often times hit Central Florida that time of year, our families spent the rest of the evening riding rides together, fellowshipping with one another and really getting to know each other more.  It was good to also spend time with John and just reflect on other things outside of music.  Life, faith and our families.  It was safe to say, from that first conversation over the phone to our first meeting at Rock the Universe, John had come across in every way as the down-to-earth, talented and humble guy that others had described him as, which was great.

At the time of meeting John and his family at Universal, my first wife Shannon and I only had two children – Mariah, then eight years-old, and Hannah, then ten months-old (who was at home with grandma).  John and his wife, Josee, had three at that point – Baylee, then ten years-old, Hadlee, then six years-old, and Sophee, then three years-old.   Shannon and I would go on to have three more for a total of five, adding Aaden a few years later while shortly afterwards adopting Zachary, and then capping it off by being surprised with the youngest, Addison, eight years later. John and Josee would add seven more to their home – adopting three children and siblings from the Ukraine in 2013 with Max, Anna and Olga, before finishing out their clan with Ezekiel, Josiah, Israel and Journee in the years after. Thinking back now on that first meeting, John and I still talk and joke about all of our “kid additions” over the years and how not only was it truly a crazy blessing from above – but a plan that only God Himself could orchestrate.  17 years later, our families combine to total sixteen children between us!

Early Days of the While I’m Waiting Record Recording Process

With the success of having put out his debut record, the pressure was mounting to start the creative and writing process of the sophomore record that would eventually be called While I’m Waiting.  I know John spent much of 2008 penning that upcoming record, writing and recording demos for nearly 10 other songs.  Between writing and recording, he had also been a part of a run of shows as the opening artist alongside the group Leeland for Casting Crowns’ hugely popular Altar and the Door Live tour in 2008.  When things calmed a bit and John was finally starting to piece together new music, I was fortunate enough to hear a few of those songs that would eventually appear on the upcoming record in their earliest and most raw forms.  I remember one day in the late summer of 2008 getting a text with audio attached with the message, “Just finished this one.  It’s called “Our God Reigns Here”.  It has an incredible story.  Let me know what you think!”  Upon first listen, I was immediately taken in by the simple, yet eerie-sounding acoustic track.  The song, almost like a prayer itself, went on to proclaim God’s sovereign reign over anything and everything that Satan could use as a tactic to bring someone down.

The story of how he wrote the song was as equally eerie, having written it upon his return from a mission trip to Wales.  While there, the guide took them to the town of Aberfan, a small once thriving coal producing community haunted by the events of one fateful morning on October 21, 1966, when at approximately 9:15AM, built-up moisture from recent heavy rainfall had built underneath a large mound heaped up on the hillside, causing one of the many piles of colliery spoil (coal waste) to collapse, careening down the hillside and into the town without warning.  The local school and many houses situated at the bottom of the hill were completely swallowed up and covered up in the material’s landslide, leading to the deaths of 144 people – 116 of those being children.  “The spirit of death reigns over the town of Aberfan”, the guide tells John.  Inspired by the heartbreaking story, John sat down and penned the lyrics, offering it as not only a way for effected residents of Aberfan to deal with and overcome, but anyone who was dealing with such oppressive, spiritual warfare.  Since the song released, it has went on to be a fan-favorite at many of John’s shows and to this day is one of his favorite songs as well as mine.  It is also one that I feel relates even more to our 2024 societal and world climate than it did when it was originally released in 2009. [Listen to the story behind “Our God Reigns Here” at this link]

Official Press Photo from the ‘While I’m Waiting’ Recording Sessions, 2009

Some other tracks I had heard early demo versions of were, “House of God” and “Cling To The Call”.  “House of God” was a simple, yet uplifting song about the church, reminding listeners that it was not the ‘four walls’ or the ‘steeple’, but “it’s only made of Jesus’ people”.   I also believe, if memory serves me correctly, “House of God”, was one of the first songs that featured John’s children singing on, at least as far as the demo of that one went.  The other track, “Cling To The Call”, was in many ways a song that’s message really complimented the album’s title track, relaying the importance of staying the path, no matter what we’re going through in life. We’re to stand where God places us – even when we’re not sure where He’s leading us.  I also loved the proclamation in its chorus when it says: “cling to the promise though you stumble you won’t fall” culminating with “Just look at Me and I will lead you as you cling to the call.”

“Cling to the Call” was the last of the While I’m Waiting songs that I had heard prior to the record’s release.

By January 2009, John had the record done and recorded and was telling me of a few possibilities for names of what he wanted it to be titled.  At the time, I had a track listing of the tunes that he had recorded, ten tracks that would be on it.  All of the above-mentioned songs, including a re-recorded version of “Quest”, a song that original appeared on the According to John record, Greater Things, in 2004.  However, one song that was noticeably missing and was not listed on the record at that point was, “While I’m Waiting”.  At the time, John had told me that he was toying with the idea of the album being called Our God Reigns Here, before also throwing House of God and Cling to the Call into the mix.   It wasn’t until about a month or so prior to its April 7th release, that the label had decided to re-add the “While I’m Waiting” song to it, deciding to go with that as the title track as well.  The consensus was, with the popularity of the song’s place in Fireproof and its successful theatrical run in September 2008 followed by its subsequent release on DVD four months later in January 2009, Provident Label Group and Beachstreet Records, decided it would be a wise choice to re-release the song on the new record, highlighting on the success that the song placement had had in the film.  “While I’m Waiting” was also the only song played in its entirety during the whole movie, easily making it the most memorable part of the soundtrack.  Two versions of “While I’m Waiting” would appear on the record, with the original 2007 recording along with another ‘Fireproof edition’, which featured dialog from the film including Kirk Cameron and other actors from the film.

As for the song itself, which had been penned a few years prior, “While I’m Waiting” being a part of the Fireproof soundtrack in late 2008 was also much of a surprise to Waller himself.  He said, “When I got a call from [Director] Alex [Kendrick] about wanting to feature one of my songs in his upcoming Fireproof film, I immediately thought to myself, maybe he wanted to use “The Blessing”? When he told me that he wanted to use Waiting, I was surprised, yet floored and humbled at the same time that he wanted to use one of my songs.”  Nonetheless, having that song, one that was one of the very last added to The Blessing, was still a moment in which John would never forget.  He and his wife would even attend a screening of Fireproof, sitting next to its star, Kirk Cameron. “I’m sitting next to Mike Seaver and watching a movie with my song in it!” he said excitedly.

While I’m Waiting Album Release and Beyond

When While I’m Waiting released to stores on April 7, 2009, the single had already been spinning in rotation on some radio stations across the country.  However, despite its success and prominent feature within the Fireproof film, it surprisingly was not picked up by as many stations as John and the label had hoped.  Even with ministry friends and myself, all in different markets across the US helping plug the song and the album to local Christian radio, it was still being largely ignored and overlooked by many stations.  For the life of me, I could not figure out why.  Aside from being a fan and friend of John and his music, I tried looking and listening to the album and the song objectively and from an unbiased point of view.  It had all the “catchy hooks and choruses” that seemed to saturate Christian radio at the time, and as a whole, possessed a message that I really felt people needed to hear.  I know John was perplexed as well and felt the same way.

Although the overall response to the record and its release to radio, was disheartening to John – what he did in response to that was amazing.  “I really don’t care if I am played on radio.  It’s not my motivation behind creating the music.  I pray God uses it how He sees fit.”   And boy oh boy did the music flow as the years went by.  John would follow up While I’m Waiting with many records, including As For Me and My House in 2011 (the album’s title track was featured on the soundtrack of the 2011 film, Courageous); Crazy Faith in 2015 (its title track also being a part of a film soundtrack, this time with War Room);  Life Is A Gift in 2017; followed by Explosions of Light in 2019. Supporting each record, Waller would continue to go out on the road, often with his family in tow in the family van, playing the music in churches and wherever he was invited, lifting up the name of Jesus each and every night.  For Waller, these weren’t just shows. They were opportunities in which he felt God had given him to love on people, listen intently to their stories of heartache and despair, and just talk and pray with them, sometimes long after the shows had ended.  All the while, keeping the faith and continuing to live out that message of being patient, waiting on God and allowing Him to lead – from his song, “While I’m Waiting”, after all, the chorus of that song proclaims, “I will move ahead, bold and confident / Taking every step in obedience / While I’m waiting” and he was going to practice what he preached.  The audiences each night motivated John to keep his head held high, move forward, and not allow anything to deter him from following the calling in which he felt that God had placed on his life – his calling of continuing to reach people for Jesus through his music.

Waller & Co. Album Cover, 2024

Springing forward to 2024, a time in which marks a new season John, or Waller and Co. – a name he coined for his new and upcoming music project of the same name.  The new project is different than anything else he’s ever done before.  Waller and Co. is a family affair.   The album features vocals, instrumentation, song-writing and even producing, from each of his three oldest children: Baylee, now twenty-seven; Hadlee, now twenty-four and Sophee, now twenty-one.  Music and ministry has truly come full-circle for John, happy that his kids have willingly chosen to be a part of the music mix of honoring and glorifying God through the music.  “I couldn’t be more proud as a father”, John says of his children and their God-given musical gifts and abilities.

I mentioned in the opening introduction, I really do credit John and his music for being a great encouragement and a light in my world in all of the trials and tribulations I have gone through. Following the shocking September 2021 death of my first wife, Shannon to COVID, at only thirty-seven years-old, I truly felt lost for the first time in my life.  I know I had leaned a lot on music, both listening and playing myself, as a way for me to cope.  Through the devastation, the trauma and the heartbreaking loss Shannon’s death left in the lives of my children and I – it went so far in being a huge reminder to me – that despite all of it, God was still there for us and desperately wanted show us that He was going to help us through it. It’s ironic that Shannon’s life verse was Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ, Who gives me strength.”  Boy did I need a whopping dose of that strength, because had it not been for that, God’s grace and provision and the music of John Waller, I truly don’t think I would have made it through.

So in closing, although the last seventeen years have brought us crazy periods of life for both my family and John’s as well, I don’t say it lightly when I say – I am so honored and proud to be able to call this man my friend.  I pray God keeps using him and his music to reach more and more for Jesus.

For more information on John Waller, check him out on the following social media platforms:

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