The mixing console was right next to the drill press, and we stored our taped archives in a stack of Tupperware containers. When Jim and I pieced together a rag-tag recording studio in his garage, "Low Budget" was the perfect name for it.
His wife, Teresa, joined in the fun of "Low Budget" and we treasured that funny name almost as much as the music and laughter that emerged from their converted garage. Late at night, Jim and I would sit and dream of creating music that touched the world beyond his garage door, but Teresa and I shared a mission even greater: we wanted to see Jim surrender his life to Christ.
She and I often exchanged knowing glances as we prayed quietly for the day Jim would cross from death into life. Most of the time, that day seemed pretty distant.
Jim had taught at our local high school for years and while he was known and admired throughout the community, he had little use for the Gospel. The Good News did not settle naturally with Jim; his Mormon background combined with some strong political convictions made it hard for him to respond to the Master's call.
But one day it happened.
Jim finally encountered Jesus during a church New Year's Eve service, and though I wasn't there, I couldn't have been happier. While families sang songs, popped corn and played Boggle, Jim sat in the pastor's office and asked Jesus into his heart. That evening, a good man became God's Man.
Jim grew quickly in the faith. His teaching gifts propelled him into leadership and his musical skills fueled the worship team. Jim's counseling was in high demand, and he led many to Christ, including high school students.
As life's seasons changed, Low Budget Studio morphed back into an ordinary garage. Jim's role at the High School grew into that of a gentle statesman; at one point he even helped guide the school - and the community - through a bitter teacher's strike.
Jim was a pillar, but no human pillar can stand forever.
Though he was still young and apparently in good health, his heart just stopped beating one night. Jim died. The community was thunderstruck at the instant loss of a beloved friend, husband, father, teacher and leader.
Mitzi and I visited Teresa to pray with her, but as we shared coffee and talked, we recognized that God was transforming a grieving widow into a woman with a vision.
She cast that vision plainly: "Jim is a grain of wheat that's fallen, and I want God to have the harvest." she said. "Let's hold a huge memorial service at the high school and make sure that every man, woman and child who enters that auditorium will hear the message of Jim's Jesus. That's what Jim would have wanted, and that's what I want."
That's just what we did. We assembled a full band and choir for the event, and had an extended time of joyful, high-energy praise and worship. Even standing room was in short supply as the praise thundered and bounced around the Sandy High School gymnasium. It wasn't like any memorial service I'd ever seen, and from my place at the center of the platform, it was clear that a few others were thinking the same thing.
A beyond-capacity crowd had gathered to honor a beloved teacher and friend. At least two decades of graduates were stacked in like cord wood, many of them with small children. Scores of faculty and administration - past and present - were shoulder-to-shoulder with business, civic and church leaders.
Pastor Stan delivered a sterling Gospel message and several close friends gave testimonies about Jim's faith. Jim's own daughter thanked the crowd for coming but asked them to honor her father by responding to the same Savior who had revolutionized Jim's life.
As if the service wasn't already brimming with surprise, it closed with a staggering moment: a clear and compelling recording of Jim himself. He sang,
There's a Man on Calvary
Who gave His life for a fool like me...
I don't know why it took so long to see
The love of the Man on Calvary
Jim had composed the song around the time of his conversion, and we'd recorded it in his garage.
Heavenly treasures had been sealed in "Low Budget's" Tupperware archives. With a brief flash of eternity's light, time stood still in that great auditorium. Jim had touched so many people; now they gathered quietly and listened carefully as he sang to them the simple but Transforming Truth of the Gospel.
It was a profound moment. "Low Budget" had accomplished something more than any of us could have imagined: Teresa and I watched in awe as the music of Jim's heart indeed reached far beyond his garage door; it reached even beyond the grave. We shared a knowing glance that words would only have spoiled.