Labor of Love
Born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, Maria was considered a musical prodigy by her parents from the time she could speak. Maria sang songs standing next to her Dad in the car on the front seat at the tender age of two (long before the days of required car seats). By three, she was plunking out nursery rhyme songs and lullabies on her toy piano. Her first stage experience occurred when she was only five, singing and dancing in front of 500 to 1000 people with a Flamenco dance troupe where she was regularly featured as a soloist singing in both English and Spanish. Maria fell in love with performing and hasn't stopped since, singing and soloing in choirs from elementary school through high school. Maria turned to writing secular songs and poetry in high school as an outlet for the typical emotional turmoil that teenagers often experience. She competed at the state level in vocal solo performance, jazz, women's and show choir, achieving the highest possible ratings in each. Maria was also a Thespian, acting and student directing various productions. Performing and the arts became an integral part of every aspect of Maria's high school life. In college, Maria seemed to take some needed time off from music, possibly feeling burned out from all of her involvement in high school. Her entire four years at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois failed to provoke her to write a single song. Perhaps it was because she experienced a happiness and contentment with life she had never before experienced. With music still being a powerful outlet for Maria, she joined the University Singers where she met the love of her life, a young man (a bass) from Barrington, Illinois, named Michael Graft. By January of 1987, Maria knew that she would marry the young man (although he was not quite aware of this yet). Maria had stopped going to church many years before, and it was Michael who encouraged her to return. It was because of Michael that Maria was reacquainted with God. As for Maria and Michael's relationship, the rest is history. They were wed four and a half years later and settled down in Barrington in September of 1991. Maria became active in their church's music ministry. She also taught elementary school until their third child, Michael III was 11 months old; at which point she "retired" from teaching to be a full time mom. It wasn't until October of 1997 that Maria began a true relationship with Jesus. While at a Darlene Zschech concert, Maria felt the Holy Spirit's power for the first time. "I heard the song, 'So You Would Come' and I finally understood that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was for me personally-that no matter how I had failed in my life, regardless of what I had done in the past, this was a new beginning and that I was forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. I couldn't do anything to make Him love me any more or any less! He loved me, and I was His child. I asked for His forgiveness and knew that He was MY personal savior! That was only the beginning for me. I delved into God's Word- the Bible. I couldn't get enough! And that's when I began writing music again-songs the Lord was giving me!" Through the Holy Spirit, an outpouring of music came to Maria. She found herself humming new melodies and words of praise to the Lord every day. "It was difficult to keep them all straight in my head," explains Maria. "I had to begin writing them down. And then I knew the Lord was taking my music ministry onto a more serious path." That was when the Labor of Love CD idea began to brew. Just recently, the Running Home studio work was completed. That project consists of many of those early songs that Maria wrote.