Denver, Colo., Dec 21, 2015 / 17:45 pm
Luke Spehar was an aspiring musician with a girlfriend when he couldn't shake the feeling that God was calling him to enter the seminary and consider the priesthood.
He turned the painful (but inevitable) breakup into a song (what are painful breakups for?) but said there was still an uncertainty at the beginning – how would his gifts and talents as a musician be used if he were called to be a priest? He had already recorded his first album, "Be Still," before graduating high school, and had dreams about where music could take him.
"Entering seminary, that was a huge choice that kind of pushes you off the fence in regards to faith, and I think because of that level of extreme expression of faith, that actually helped my music deepen and grow," Spehar told CNA.
"So there was a tension there because of what I wanted to do in regards to music, but then there was also the gift of it being purified so that I could really actually do what I was meant to," he said.
After four years, Luke discerned out of seminary, and began praying about the next right step. He started going on tour throughout the country with his second album, "No Other Way," which started naturally morphing into a sort of music ministry.
"I realized I was telling my conversion story," he said. "It has a lot of ups and downs and it has a lot of questions and answers. I'm just sharing what's happened to me and how the Lord's worked in my life"
Music interested Spehar from an early age – whether it was violin lessons, or picking up the drums or guitar and learning from family friends. Some of his earliest influences included folk singers like Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle and Cat Stevens, which is reflected in his own acoustic, folky style.
Spehar attributes the inspiration and motivation for most of his songs to three things: His relationship with God, boredom, and anxiety.
"I had a lot of questions in regards to my faith and then answers that came to me, so (songwriting) was a form of prayer for me," he said. "And especially when I was younger I would play a lot of music when I got bored or stressed out, that really influenced my style."
Several of Spehar's songs also reflect his Midwest childhood in Minnesota, where he grew up with two brothers and two sisters in the woods just north of the Twin Cities. In much of Spehar's music, he essentially pulls a Bon Iver, a band whose lead musician wrote an entire album while spending three months in a cabin in Wisconsin.
Many of Spehar's songs evoke memories of times spent in the forests and hills of Minnesota, and of crazy antics with his brothers and sisters, including smashing into a tree while testing a treehouse rope.
"It was just kind of us to entertain each other, so we got tight," he said.
Because his music was so personal, Spehar said he was hesitant to record, at least at first.
"In a lot of ways I just wrote them because that's what was in my heart to write," he said. "I really didn't have much more intention behind a lot of my earliest music, and I was hesitant to record kind of for that reason, these were just kind of my songs and my thoughts."
"Then I realized that it's maybe not just for me," he said. "I'm sharing what's happened to me and how the Lord's worked in my life, and people can just relate to it, so that's what's been really exciting to me."
Life looks a little different now for Spehar than when he first started writing songs. In September 2014, he released his third album, "All is Gift," which he has been taking on tour ever since, minus a small break to marry his wife Elizabeth in January.
Since then, they've put some 30,000 miles on their Honda Odyssey minivan and have been as far north as Maine, as far south as Texas, and as far west as Hawaii. Spehar had concerts in over 20 states, and travelled through at least 40.
"We've really enjoyed it, and come to have a new respect and love for America," Spehar said. "That was really neat to show her America, to see it together."
Spehar said it was a "dream come true" to have his wife with him on tour, after experiencing three tours on his own.
And although Living in a van with your pregnant wife for over 6 months can create a lot of opportunities for "conflict management," Spehar joked, the tour proved to be full of adventures and opportunities, which they blogged about on lukespehar.com.
They even came up with their best road trip advice, including: always do a head count when you leave a rest stop, even in a party of two.
Luke had been sleeping in the back of the van when Elizabeth pulled up to a rest stop and hopped out to use the bathroom. When she got back, she thought Luke was still sleeping in the back and drove off.
"She jumped back in the van thinking she was being efficient and drove off, while I groggily walked out of the bathroom to see my wife driving off onto the 80 mph Texas highway leaving me without a cell phone!" Luke wrote.
"She did come back 40 minutes later after I figured out how to get in touch with her without a cell phone. I highly recommend memorizing your wife's phone number. I had to borrow the rest stop attendant's phone to call my dad for Elizabeth's number and wrote her number in the sand. Oh the practical lessons you learn from Jesus…"
Something that stood out to Spehar about the tour was how ecumenical of an endeavor it was. He played for a wide range of audiences and denominations; Catholics and non-Catholics.
"It was really exciting to me to be welcomed in and to feel that music was a way we could connect and to remember that it's all about Christ…and people that are singing and praising him are welcome anywhere."
He said it was also encouraging to meet other Catholic musicians while he was on the road, and to realize that the genre was growing.
"(There's) a surge of Catholic musicians that are picking up on an earthy, acoustic singer-songwriter style, I like that type of music so I was excited to see that grow, and it's exciting to me to see young adults and Catholics and non-Catholics really relate to it and really get into it and find a connection to Christ that way."
Spehar already has another album that's in the works, though there's not a set release date yet. It's going to have a different tone than his other three albums that will reflect some of the recent changes in his life.
"Since my three albums I've grown and there's been a lot of fun stuff that's happened, and I hope my newest album will reflect the excitement of getting married and being on the road."
The Honda Odyssey will be putting on less miles in the near future, with baby's arrival, but the traveling will continue.
"We'll continue to pursue it as long as God wants to bless it, so we're really hoping that it will grow into something that could sustain us and hopefully grow into something that will really bless a lot of people."
Spehar's music can be found on his website, lukespehar.com or on iTunes.
This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 20, 2015.