“When the doctors told me the news, my world stopped,” says LynnMarie Rink, a Grammy-nominated artist and entertainer, who began a journey she did not wish to take. “I was frozen. I thought my life was over—and my career. I even wished it were over. But in that ‘frozen’ period, I slowly began to write, and just like the end of a winter thaw that leads to spring, through writing, I found a new beginning.”
That new beginning came when Rink stopped running from her past and fearing her future, and learned to accept her life as it was. An adult child of alcoholism, she was now ready to admit that she was a codependent, a survivor of depression, and most importantly, the mother of a special needs child.
“The news that James would have Down syndrome took me to a place of darkness so black I never thought I would get out. I didn’t want to raise a son with this disease. All I wanted to do was ‘fix’ him. But through her music, therapy, and the help of family and friends, Rink slowly began to heal. She is now ready to tell her powerful story in the hope that it will help others to do the same.
In order to truly appreciate Rink’s story, you need to know her past. Raised in an ethnic community outside of Cleveland, Ohio, the customs and music of her Eastern European immigrant grandparents served as the backdrop for the chaos of her dysfunctional childhood home. But she learned at an early age the power music had to bring joy in the midst of pain.
“It was my First Communion party, and it was boring,” she remembers. “Then my dad began to play his accordion, and in an instant everyone was laughing and having a good time. The music changed people’s spirits. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to entertain people and make them happy.”
Rink did exactly that. She learned to play the button accordion, and began to work hard to break down the barriers in people’s minds of polka music being performed by portly old men in lederhosen. In the course of a few years, she garnered not one, but five Grammy nominations—the first and only female artist to hold that honor. She performed all over the world, bringing her modern-day polka music to people who loved the fresh sound.
Jay Leno introduced Rink as “The Dixie Chick of Polka” when she performed on The Tonight Show. And after moving to Nashville, legendary guitarist Chet Atkins invited her to tour with him. They did a show together before Atkins succumbed to cancer.
Throughout her successful career, she’s released 13 recordings and had the honor of writing, recording, and performing with legendary artists like Vince Gill, Hal Ketchum, Dobie Gray, Air Supply, Riders in the Sky, Ricky Skaggs, and Willie Nelson. For many years, she collaborated with Nashville guitarist and producer Charlie Kelley. They became innovators in the genre, changing the face of polka music forever.
On the stage, her career was soaring, but on a personal level life was much more challenging. After several miscarriages, her son James was born in 2006 and Rink went into total depression. “Depression is an odd thing. You are still functioning on a daily basis, but it’s like there is a veil around you dimming everything. I did the only thing I knew to do: I went back on the road and performed.”
But being back on the road didn’t make things any better. Rink and her band, The Boxhounds, were traveling in a 1986 motor home that broke down on every trip. One time they were stranded outside a Japanese massage parlor, which she was forced to enter to use their bathroom.
“God showed up in that dingy whorehouse bathroom and it was there that we had very heated conversation!” she says, laughing. “After I cried and screamed at Him for a bit, I said in what felt like defeat, but now I know to be surrender, ‘The motor home is broke again, my career at this moment is literally in the toilet, and I have a child with Down syndrome, and I can’t fix it!’ As I wept on that bathroom floor, I heard, ‘That’s right Lynn—you can’t.’” It was one of the pivotal points in her journey.
Finally, four years after James was born, and after years of running from the truth, while simultaneously hitting walls with her career, Rink decided to take some time off and figure out what her next steps should be. It was during this time that she got to know her son, and came to a deeper understanding of her destiny.
“It’s amazing what happens when you take a break and breathe; take time off, take long walks, and really get to know yourself. It’s then that God speaks to you most creatively,” LynnMarie admits. It was during this time she began to know and like herself.
“What I realized is, that I couldn’t love James until I loved myself, but first I had to forgive my father.” “My dad wasn’t a ‘falling down angry drunk’- he was an amazing entertainer and a high-functioning alcoholic. But still, any type of substance abuse changes your family dynamics and your reality, and you develop survival skills to deal with the pain.” With this understanding, she began a journey that would lead to acceptance—and joy.
“I had to understand and heal my past to understand my future. I had to get to me before I could get to James. Once I did that, all the creativity came back.” An accomplished songwriter, LynnMarie was surprised to find that that creativity began to take a new direction.
During the year that she was off the road, she tried to write songs, but instead, stories suddenly began popping into her mind while she was walking, when she was sitting in quiet moments thinking and while she was watching James fall asleep in his crib. But Lynn had never thought about being a writer.
“At first I thought the stories were just for my own personal healing, but then I started to let people read them and found myself telling the stories out loud at parties. It was at that point that my friends encouraged me that it could be more.”
And now it is. LynnMarie has written a one-women show: Wrap Your Heart Around It. She smiles as she relays the title, and then explains, “I was staring out my closet window which happens to overlook our driveway. I had a vision of waiting at the end of the drive, like I did as a kid, for the school bus. Standing there with James, I looked up, and what I saw coming down the street was not the real school bus, but the short bus. I hit my knees and cried out to God. “God, I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that I have a special needs child.” And what I heard back, from somewhere deep inside myself was, “Lynn, I’m not asking you to wrap your head around it, I’m asking you to wrap your heart around it.”
Today LynnMarie’s show is going to run for four-weeks at the prestigious Falcon Theater in Los Angeles, July 19-August 11. In October of 2012, she performed off-Broadway as part of the United Solo Theater Festival and was awarded “Best New Production” out of 110 shows. “I am so excited about the opportunity to take this message of hope to a new audience. And to introduce people to the accordion and my ethnic upbringing in a new and exciting way!”
“I get it now,” LynnMarie affirms. “Being an artist doesn’t mean you do one thing and that’s it. Our challenges in life also challenge our creativity and force us to dig deeper. In the dark places of my life is where I’ve actually found the joy. Someone said to me once, ‘you can’t play polka music and be sad!’ And my response was, ‘Yes, you can, but eventually the music can overcome anything!”
For LynnMarie, a new creative journey is just beginning.
You can learn more about LynnMarie at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.