They say the songs of your childhood never really let you go— that music has a seizing, shaping power. It must be true because my Southern Baptist pastor dad still thumps the steering wheel to Journey and James Taylor.
Now I’m crossing that threshold between childhood and life beyond. I’m eighteen and watching just how much my upbringing shaped who I am today; especially the music, the voices, and the lyrics I drank up.
The artistry, the hymnody, and the passionate serenity of Fernando Ortega come to mind.
Because his was the voice of my growing years—the voice that lulled me in the dark with so many miles to go before dawn. The voice that captured me and shaped me and whispered beauty into my budding heart.
Fernando’s voice warmed my childhood and now as a teen, I’m carried by it to a place of childlike rest. A place where the red sun bleeds across the horizon and the Creator invites me to bask in the breaking of the dawn.
I remember a souvenir shirt my grandma brought home with dragonflies ironed onto the front. The size was small, so I must have been too. I wore it faithfully because I felt a connection with the big black-eyed bugs. When I wore that shirt, Dad would sing:
Hey, hey dragonfly
I’d like to stare into your big bug eyes
Get a closer look at your fine wings
Think about some fleeting, pretty things
Hey, hey, hey
I still like them. I sit on the pond bank and watch them dive, swoop, and wrestle each other, thinking hard about the fleeting, pretty things of the world. Fernando’s poetry has kindled that part of me— my wonder for dragonflies and desert roads and daybreak. His eyes open my eyes to creation. His voice opens my ears to God’s singing world.
“If I Flee on Morning Wings”
I’ve grown up singing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, but Fernando’s melodies are what made music in my heart to God. He minored what I knew to be major and majored what I knew to be minor. Pass Me Not and Great Is Thy Faithfulness and Be Thou My Vision. Heart-piercing words spun into soft, warming wool.
Fernando sang the Psalms into my childhood and I wonder if David’s voice didn’t sound similar: Resonant, rich, reminiscent. The words just had to be true.
If I flee on morning wings
Far across the gray sea
Even there your hand will lead
Your right hand will guide me[ii]
I’ve heard lifetime listeners call his songs “Sunday morning music.” For me, Fernando’s songs characterize every morning. And I think somewhere deep in his lyrical heart is a fondness for the early hours he couldn’t help but paint—from metaphorical morning wings to the breaking of a desert dawn.
“The Breaking of the Dawn”
Last summer, my family took a trip I’d dreamt about for years. We packed early, before the red sun lit the horizon, and drove west. My parents like destination vacations with a clear-cut itinerary. This was going to be something new—something to stamp our memories.
What I remember was crossing the border, New Mexican mesas rising from the plains, and the lyrics of my childhood starting to pulse with life.
Lift me over the San Gabriels
Leaning into the southern sky
The foothills burning in the afterglow
An angel fire passing by[iii]
How I love these roads
Every far and lonely highway
Through basin and range
And a desert that never ends [iv]
It was a girl’s dream coming true— nose against the glass, heart high, Fernando words bounding across my mind.
I’ve grown out of my pigtails and my dragonfly shirt. Fernando has grown with me, a part of me I can’t—don’t want to—shed. My taste buds crave coffee. My playlists have softened. My adultlike schedule looks forward to first light, the silent minutes of the morning.
And as I write this—eighteen years into life, morning breathy with fog, grounds deep in my mug—I’m again letting Fernando’s voice warm the early air.
“Give Me Jesus”
Dad hummed Fernando into my little-girl ears and it did more than warm me. It shaped me. I don’t just love the morning sun—I’m in love with the Morning Star.
Fernando Ortega’s ageless voice and tender hymnody carry me into the warm, loving arms of an ageless and tender God. A God who wraps himself in light, whose right hand lifts me on morning wings. A God whose right hand is Jesus.
Fernando sanctified my waking moments with what mattered most:
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus.[v]
For 6,525 mornings I’ve opened my eyes to a cold and bloodstained world. Not yet twenty, I’m staring ahead into maybe thousands more. Lyrics like Fernando’s lift my chin and rest my gaze on what’s true and good and worthy and eternal.
And when my childhood memories blur and fade, these are the songs I want to still seize me. I want to hum Fernando’s words into my little girl’s ears. I want his music to warm her, to shape her, to whisper Jesus into her budding heart.
[i] Fernando Ortega. “Dragonfly.” Fernando Ortega, Curb Records, Inc., 2004. Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/3QqbneCqU062IrD0mQt398?si=GSj8YXYYSu2DBVuJFzunqw
[ii] Fernando Ortega. “If I Flee On Morning Wings.” The Breaking of the Dawn, Word Entertainment, 1998. Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/1SPoMp5CMshdM06eVFZyVa?si=X2sjVNxpR725EPXWQG67-g
[iii] Fernando Ortega. “Angel Fire.” This Bright Hour, Myrrh Records, 1997. Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/739f7MBStVHYgyYX1nmYEp?si=R2_YI5veSHiiwkwQWmb2EA
[iv] Fernando Ortega. “These Roads.” The Breaking of the Dawn, Word Entertainment, 1998. Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/2Gl6wZTMJAT1xqA9GNs3hB?si=XYSmdIOwR_Go0m2bwETzOA
[v] Fernando Ortega. “Give Me Jesus.” Home, Word Entertainment, 2000. Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/5QVgUbFGSeN0S6gFinYjRP?si=Kd1AuS0ASqm1E5BRVrguTg