You Are My Defense: behind the song

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"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

Albert Camus

I love that quote. But it hasn't always been so. At least I didn't think so.

I finished high school outside of Chicago and don't remember the cold or snow, even in the black early morning at the bus stop, being the real issue. I was rather lonely during those high school years. I attributed that to being new, awkward, shy, fashion-challenged.

But maybe it was really the long winter. Or maybe I've merely associated winter with those blue feelings? Whatever the reason, my dread of the dark months seemed to grow over the years, even here in mild-natured North Carolina.

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As I said during a recent show, I even resented autumn because I knew where it was heading. The months of September, October and November formed a long, dreary hallway leading to winter, which felt like death.

(I'm not prone to overstatement at all.)

The slow but sure shortening of daylight was oppressive to me, to the point that the beauty of falling leaves or seasonal festivities went unappreciated almost entirely.

IMG_0694 I talk about this in the past tense, because this year and the last have, thankfully, not had quite the same effect. Certain circumstances in my life now allow for more solitude and focus which seems to be helping.

But in 2012, we saw a friend in our community repeatedly hospitalized for severe and chronic depression. This wife and mother of two young children known for creating beautiful and whimsical wall murals in playrooms seemed unable to keep her face above water for long, no matter the weather.

Numerous friends and family close to my heart have felt themselves swallowed up by depression during different life seasons, due to circumstance or chemistry or a combination of both. I remember the dread I felt walking into the apartment of one of these, the blinds closed mid-day, lights off, music blaring, finding there was nothing I could say or do that could get a smile out of this former class clown. I found red marks across his wrists and chose to believe him when he said he'd cut himself washing dishes.

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When I really look at it, I know my own struggles have never been quite that.  Depression is a brute, and I am less an expert than a bystander devastated by her own powerlessness to fix anything.

I asked my friend back in 2012 if she could describe it for me, what it was like for her. The songwriter, I suppose all artists, are prone to walking battlefields as well as beaches, gathering shells and making something out of them.

I wanted to write about this reality without trying to fix it. It's okay for a song to be a moment in time, to write where you've been and what you've seen. Of course, I've also seen too much love for it to not to make an appearance.

The stories of my people became linked to the story of me in winter, and this song, "You Are My Defense," took shape.

 

I feel the clouds coming over like a bad dream

Same shadows I’ve known since I was 18

Weeks before winter falls

You find me in the back hall, hiding

I feel the sunshine slip away

 

I don’t know how to climb out of this valley

I don’t want to go back where I’ve been

And every time you’ve laid yourself beside me,

Your love my one defense

Oh, you are my defense

 

You carve the stone with evidence of your love

Strike a match to warm us when the cold comes

And I will sing of summer light

That feeds the soul through the dark night

Will you feed my soul through the night?

 

Oh, when I’m a ship out on the sea

You are, you are the lighthouse calling me

And when I feel unreachable

You get to me

You get to me

 

And I don’t know how to climb out of this valley

I don’t want to go back where I’ve been

And every time you’ve laid yourself beside me,

Every time you’ve laid yourself beside me

Your love my one defense

Oh, you are my defense

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I wish I could say I actually remember writing the second verse, what prompted the stone image. I sing it almost as a newcomer to the song, which is kind of cool. The stone may have had a different inspiration, but I now think of it as the whole of planet earth. Call me crazy, but I do believe there is a Person behind all this wonder. And I think the whole place screams it.

Similarly, the match doesn't have to be one thing, but one thing it might be is the faithful-to-return sun-soaked months that restore and revive before the cold.

The song I sing of hope is one I choose to sing and must choose and choose again, because it does not always come naturally. I sing of summer light because I want to live and that's the only way to survive. I sing because I remember the way the sun felt on my skin and expect to feel it again.

It is invincible within me if only I pry my hands from these fearful, reluctant eyes and see.

IMG_0707Time and time again while I sleep, Someone comes and lays himself beside me.  Being aware of that...saves me.

It's not about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps but by Love that lays down for you and with you.

Finding yourself not alone, not beyond the reach of one who loves you..it really is something.

-cnw


Through the end of January, every moleskine journal we ship will be sent with                       a handwritten lyric of your choice inside + a free copy of my COVERS ep.

The journals are a great place to record the things that feed your soul this winter or any season. The songs on this album are songs that, in their own way, fed my soul "back then."

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You're wrong about your age.

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I felt old when I was 25.

I guess it started when I became one of the first to get married in my friend group before I was even 21 and suddenly felt separated from my former dorm-mates who were getting apartments together off-campus. After having my first baby, sleep-deprivation and semi-confinement to the house added to my sense of removal from culture, the working population and my own generation in general.

I’ve always felt like an outsider, like many of you – like most of us? – but now I was an OLD outsider.

At the ripe age of 25.

So when this fresh-faced musician approached me looking for reassurance that he hasn’t yet passed his expiration date, I totally got it; the anxiety you feel when you have exactly zero momentum, zero accomplishments, zero opportunities in sight.

The funny thing is, I do remember being eager to turn 22, the magic age when you’re finally taken seriously as a grown-up with some valid life experience and opinions.

That eagerness to age didn’t last.

And if you feel over-the-hill at 25, then of course you’re going to cry in the shower the morning of your 30th birthday.

Of course you’re going to describe yourself as “early thirties” when you’re 34.75 years old because “mid-thirties” is basically the same as dead.

And you're likely to approach 40 sighing an apology to the world for no longer being relevant and salting every conversation with “getting old ain’t easy.”

UGH.

But I think…you've been wrong about your age.

You’re wrong because you think that number has to mean a certain thing that's been advertised by a youth-centric media.

You think that the number of your years is the limit of your potential.

It is not.

Your age is not written in Sharpie on your forehead, nor is it remotely the most telling thing about you.

Listen.

Those numbers – or rather, the conventional assumptions about those numbers -- are not the boss of you.

There is no need to walk through life like heavy-lidded prisoners in ankle chains, when we have legs ready to run, feet wanting to dance and minds able to innovate and imagine.

Yes, yes, the human body wears out eventually. That’s why we start signing up for 10ks and eating kale.

And so also can we fight the stereotypes that trap young(er) & old(er) alike.

Still in your youth?

Why don't you go blow those clichés about teenagers out of the water by showing up not because you need the volunteer hours but because you’ve learned early to care for others?

What if instead of being fascinated by who "they" are, you find out who YOU are, and instead of doing what "they" do, you do what YOU do?

Devastate expectations by asking your elders what the world looks like through their eyes.  And listening to their answers.

Added a few years to your youth? (I like that framing.)

How great!

How about stepping outside your comfort, so that through discomfort you can step into a more vibrant & generous life?

Keep engaging with the world in the ways that move & excite you.

Stir up curiosity & admiration for the generations coming after you.

Keep being YOU, with all your affinities and quirks, because (p.s.) your license to be you was handed to you in the womb and it does not have an expiration date.

(Note to grown-ups: Life is short enough. Need we shorten it further by inserting a margin of 40 years to be bored, irrelevant and grumpy?)

Like you, I occasionally worry that my best is behind me, that it might be too late to try again.

Like you, I have felt I needed to wait for permission to add my voice to the important conversations.

But you know what?

photo credit: MaryAlice Joyce

I just had one of the best nights of my life, without anyone's permission and with a few years added to my 20s.

Musical friends helped me put together a release show for my recent COVERS ep at The Pour House in Raleigh. Not only was it incredibly fun, but the consensus is it was one of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of. I was a decent singer & songwriter in my 20s, but…I feel like I’m only now getting to really know my own voice, literally and figuratively. Quite honestly, I’m better now than I was then.  Don't be afraid, dear 25-year-old! More good things to come for you!

That night a guy and a girl happened into The Pour House “randomly.” They hadn't heard of any of the artists in the lineup and said it was one of the best “randoms” they’d ever experienced. In conversation we realized we are 10-15 years apart, which surprised them. Their enthusiasm about the music affirmed again to me that we are wrong to assume people are incapable of valuing our contributions because of the numbers.

 

Are you doing the work that is yours to do?

Are you doing it with joy & care?

 Are your thoughts and voice continuing to develop in substance & beauty?

 Is your work meeting someone’s need?

Are you still here, breathing in your mortal body?

 

Then welcome. There is always room at the table for one more choosing to live this way, at age 6 or 92.

This is not a statement about earning potential, nor is it an exercise in sentimentalism.  This is about the community of humankind, all of us learning to see & cherish each other because it is right & it is good & it is in our best interest to do so.

We begin to change the harmful, marginalizing system of age-ism (that travels both directions) right here in our own minds by internalizing the fact that our true worth does not ebb and flow with the hours.

Neither youth nor wrinkles have the power to diminish a reality which didn’t originate in the flesh but in the unfathomable love of the Maker who's devoted to what he makes.

You were BORN LOVED and SHALL REMAIN SO.

Every year added to your life is just a little more time to practice believing it.

That's what I think.

cnw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

at the sea

Image 1 Heaven rises on horizon And I with her am bird and brightness through clouds Over open sea That opens me

I begin a pilgrimage west Leave bags, sandy shoes And don’t look back, not once

I see and see and see Endlessly Talk to self, talk to God In silence Out loud

Listen to the past Replay words given Hours ago Days ago Years ago

Listen to surf Listen for something Demand something Ask outright

This is where the sound breaks loud & clear at my feet.

This is where no gulf exists between us.

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Here you are ocean And I lay a foot trail at your side

Here you wash my feet And I let you.

Here you are unavoidable.

Here you overwhelm and overtake, And imagination can no longer compete With senses.

I want to not turn back.

I want journey I want what I haven’t seen I want to make new tracks Without retracing

To walk until some final weariness Turns me fully to your navy depths And I enter with gladness Without waste or regret

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2014. Hello. Let's Go!

2014 I hang my hat on this peg each and every year and laugh with delight at the chance - again! - to wash the chalk off the board and say, "Here we go!"

I'm one for adventure mainly when in the company of the phobic or the homebody. If that's not you, and you're trying to force me to the high-dive, I'm fairly comfortable saying, "I'll wait down here" if I think you won't be angry/disappointed.

That's what this random marking on the calendar is for, in my mind. The chance to shed scales and weights and tired excuses and say (mainly to self):

Yes, I can be quite different, thank you very much. By the grace of the God who empowers and makes possible, I can see new sights and taste new tastes and touch what I've never felt before. Watch me.

Who cares if the exact details shift a little as we make our way into February and March?  It's not about perfection. It's the principle of the thing: We're not giving up. There is REAL HOPE for us beyond these precise goals, so let them serve to lead us into adventure and a real life of worthy risks and irrational hope.

And, yes, accomplish those goals, if you must.

Rather than sharing my personal resolutions (boring), here is my list of high hopes for you. For all of us, really.  In 2014.  Here's to more truth & beauty made visible through us in 2014.

In 2014, I hope you will:

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Signing out of 2013 with an ocean of love & gratitude for you.

cnw

 

 

Luminaries

Image I see the glow, the flames of a thousand candles, at an hour when few pay attention.

We saw the sun go down too early, as it does these days, but were quick to rush out with matches light up the streets bag by bag, votive by votive.

A reminder:

There is light that won’t be eclipsed, no matter how thick the reality of night. Small fires burn all over that together add up to: Something Substantial.

Something Worth Noting.

Something Worth Being Afraid Of. (If your name is Night or Darkness or Diminish or…Can't-Be)

Also noteworthy:

We gathered early to make preparations, when we could have ridiculed the very notion of a dwindling day.

None who came cared that there was:

A. Zero pragmatic reason to spend our hours this way. B. One hundred percent chance our hard work would be in the trash soon after dawn.

We did it for beauty’s sake and we did it for ours.

For the sake of fighting back in some warm, small way against the inky blanket of night, and standing outside to pay attention.

Because we know in our bones we are alive for just this kind of moment.

Aren’t we?

So let the wind come, Along with the clean-up crew.

I will fan this flame and see it glow in a place untouchable Until I reach a place made only-- and entirely-- of Light.

Smooth Like Sand

Image Each second lingered like it had nowhere to go.

We levitated in the early autumn light under pines.

Nothing happening here.

Fingers in sand, raking, scooping, pouring.

Simple.

Two boys, side by side, One mission, to do nothing.

I recalled the little boxes you can get for your tabletop that come with a miniature rake. The point is to be still, practice serenity.

“It’s really peaceful doing this, isn’t it?” I said out loud.

The older boy, the one who has tended toward struggle, anger, frustration…the one who fights me…who has seen me angry, untame, in his face, at my worst…he smiles his quiet, closed-mouth smile at me as he glances up and then back to his “work.”

“Yeah,” he says.

And after a long pause, “When you smooth something out, you feel smoothed out.”

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Image 4 I need to be smoothed out.

So I rake my fingers through sounds and syllables. Feel phonemes slide into a lyric or sentence or message.

Slowly my wind-torn and uneven soul becomes a shore on the moonlit beach.

You think I am here doing this for you, but I can’t take that kind of credit, because I’m not so generous. I only do what I have to.

As my friend Nick Flora sings,

I’ve got a longing in every part That will not let me be

And though it seems that everything is just fine Underneath what you can’t see I’m dying just to make it out alive

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Yesterday I was the sand.

You ran your palms over my back Smoothed, soothed Because I couldn’t reach What needed tending. Thank you for that.

We are a see saw, Rising and falling in unhurried rhythm. When your eyes lift, face the sun, You beam, And I take from you some of the Light and Joy I have none of at my weightier end. And you give it, knowingly, happily. Thank you for that.

Tomorrow it will be my turn. You’ll be the sand And I’ll reach For you.

Together we’ll smooth the wind-blown world Into dunes and rows ‘Til time And spirits Still.

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What we have to lose...

*With a new post in the works, but unfinished, sharing this one from the archives again. Go get'em. :)Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 10.54.53 PM

Steve Jobs died.

And a few days after that, I wept as I drove home from Tennessee.

Because of Steve Jobs? Not exactly…but sort of.

I’d just started down the long gravel drive, my parents waving in the rearview mirror, shouting their love…and suddenly all these years of being alive here together were also disappearing in the rearview mirror, and I faced ahead of me the likelihood of traveling on without them one day.

As she’d leaned into the truck for a last hug, Mom had said: Sometimes I wish you were still my little girl.

And as often happens, I stayed quiet while my heart said: Me, too.

I am not actually a worrier or a dweller on death and mortality. I do spy heaven on the horizon. But we all know time moves too quickly when you’re having fun, too slowly when you’re waiting.

My parents will turn 65 soon, and as amazing and energetic as they continue to be, they aren’t exactly the same as they were at 42. And 42 is the age they have been in my mind for the last 23 years.

Earlier in the week, I’d picked up a magazine from the big farm table in their kitchen and read this quote from Steve Jobs: “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

And I thought: Maybe he's right.

I’d spent several days writing, meeting, and recording in Nashville. When I’m there, I’m both invigorated by the city’s creative energy and also a bit intimidated and out of place with the industry side. I told Nicole: When I’m writing from home, it’s like a hot tub. Dealing with business out here feels like climbing out of the tub and into a pool of sharks.

Sometimes, I just want to pull away...keep myself and my work in safer places where I don't risk rejection.  Where I don't have to deal with fear and insecurity.

But I read that quote in my parents’ home, and I gave myself a little talking-to that went something like this:

Okay, listen, you. You're going to die.

You may have a few brief years before your parents stop feeling strong enough to get on the trampoline. A few quick years to be brave and share the music that grows in your soul. A few fleeting years before your little ones grow wings and fly.

A few years left. At best.

So, seriously. SERIOUSLY. What exactly do you have to lose?

Do you really want to spend even one day whining or holding back because someone might not approve? Certainly, since the dawn of time humans have faced far bigger hurdles, greater resistance.

Stop looking for permission.  Love your Maker.  Love people.  Make the Greatest.Work.You.Can make...in Him and for Him. 

What do we have to lose?

Even as I ask it, I know the answer.  For me, what I have to lose is your esteem.  I have been a life-long approval junkie, now happily on the mend, but not wholly rid of it.

I write songs to communicate with other humans, but I write also to imbed more deeply in my own soul the truths I know I'm in need of.

I wrote this for Allison but also, as it turned out, for me:

"There's no way to earn what you've already got...nothing to lose when you're loved from the start..."

I have all that I need.  I really do.  And there's nothing I can do to make Him love me more, nothing to make Him love me less.  If you know God through His son, this is true for you, too.

Let's boldly love and boldly make,

and let's repent of the moments lost to self-pity/self-consciousness/self-preservation,

because tomorrow we may die and all we'll have is what we've given away. (a truth found in a long ago Ann Voskamp post)

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for the reminder.

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At the time of this original post, I mentioned how Emily P. Freeman's book, Grace for the Good Girl had spoken to me.  It's awesome.  Now, in real time 2013, Emily has a brand new book out called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live.  I had the privilege of reading it in advance, and can heartily recommend it to you struggling creatives (You know who you are)!

Another book, a classic, on my short list for artists is Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

For the Invisible...SHINE

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I would sit in the car before school and obsessively rub more black liner beneath and around my eyes.  “Why do you do that?” my cute, sporty sister asked.

Because I’m ugly.  Because my eyes aren’t pretty and nothing is right about the way I look.

“Why does your sister dress like that?” someone asked her.

Because she has no idea who she's supposed to be.  Which version of herself is true.  Because she's drawn to a kind of beauty she doesn’t see here in these horrible school walls, and she doesn’t know how to be like you. 

My own small bedroom walls & closet doors were papered with magazine images of idyllic scenery and girls in wacky & fanciful ensembles really only worn at photo shoots and not in real life.  Those images were the backdrop for my imagined life (read: escapist).  I didn’t have money, so I spent hours modifying the clothing I had into something that resembled the girl in my mind that resembled the way I felt on the inside.

“Why are you so bizarre?” my Mom asked (who is now appalled she ever said that – she’s awesome).  “Why is your room such a disaster?”

Because I am a disaster.  Because I’ve been the A-student you don’t need to worry about, but I want you to worry right now, because my mind is dark and I’m deeply sad.

During lunch hour, I hoped fervently for one or two familiar faces to be easily spotted in the cafeteria.  If not, I carried my salami sandwich to some quiet corner of hallway and kept my head down.  At least one or two pep rallies were spent behind a locked stall door in the bathroom.  Pep rallies were the worst.

I literally ached to be noticed, even as I hid behind shyness and long skirts and hair and eyeliner.  I dreamed of that moment where one of those confident, popular boys would walk out of a John Hughes script, see the skinny, strangely-dressed girl and believe she was a mystery worth risking his teenage societal status on.

I hid inside music, and the music hid me.

There were good friends & mentors & safe spaces along the way, but it’s easy to experience and remember that young season in light of the place where we spend the most hours daily and feel the most judged.

We moved when I was in 5th grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, and 11th grade.  We’d moved plenty before those years, but it wasn’t a big deal until middle school.   Everything is harder during the teen years, and moving between different cultures without having the financial means to conform make it harder.

Almost every day for the first 3.5 years of high school, I crawled into the shower at 6:30am, sat under the hot spray and meditated on how miserable the next eight hours would be.  After school, I cried on the couch, begged my poor mother to home school me.

Please, please, don’t make me go back.  I hate it. I hate it. Hate. It.

We’d lived in the D.C. area just a few weeks when I waited in the lunch line, a scrawny 14-year-old recently returned from four years overseas, and heard three older girls behind me commenting loudly on my hair and clothing.

“Why is she dressed like that?  Look at her shoes!  I guess she thinks she’s cool.” (laughter)

Did you know it’s entirely possible to feel both invisible and conspicuous all at once?   Invisible, immaterial, irrelevant, unnoticeable.  Conspicuously wrong, unattractive, unfashionable, resist-able.

Why I am telling you all this?  It's not a pity party.  Really.  This was a long time ago.

It’s because I see you.

You're like me.

I feel compelled to write this down, the same way I felt compelled to write to creative mothers a few months ago.

It's for the invisible.  The ones who are reading this now and are quite sure I’ve been spying on you, because this all sounds a little too familiar.

You stand outside the circle, whatever that means.  Seemingly locked out of what looks like joy and you have no inroads. You see no similarity between you and the beautiful, interesting people strolling, laughing their way through life.  

You don’t know your own talent.  Or you have an idea of it, but no one else is convinced.

You look inside and find nothing brave, only fear and anger and jealousy and sadness. You want to get out of this place.  No other destination is in sight, but you’re hopeful there’s something, some bright place of belonging, out there.

I understand. And there IS.  There is a Place of Belonging in the Person of God.

Those words are not a consolation prize.  That’s the kind of TRUTH that will lift you right off the ground if you let it.

I didn’t come to give advice, but I’d be failing you if I left that unsaid.

People ask what I’d say to my younger self, and I don’t know what might have helped that girl. Maybe hearing the story of someone who walked that road and went on to lead a semi-normal life?

Maybe a couple of songs written/recorded by the same girl a few years apart?  The first a snapshot of that time taken just a few short years after.  The second a bit further down the road when things can be recalled without as much sting.

Time changes lots of things, and if your eyes are open, time will change you for the better.  Awkwardness shall pass (well, mostly) and wisdom will take the pain of those crappy years and shape you into a stronger and more sensitive, more seeing, human than you would otherwise be.

You’ll be one to notice and believe others are worth the risk.  You’ll write a song or a book or an email you wouldn’t have.  You’ll be the friend or the parent or the (fill in the blank) you couldn’t have been without the memory of loneliness.

I wish.

I wish I had embraced uniqueness instead of carrying it around like a necessary but unwanted load of bricks in my backpack.  I wish I had found the way to thinking about myself less and about others more.

I wish I’d listened to truer voices.  I was never invisible.

I could have been SHINING all along.

So can you.

"Invisible" - Christa Wells/Mandy Rogers - A Rogers/Wells Project

 

"SHINE" - Christa Wells - Official Music Video 

 

Feel that sting?

Little Samuel points to the “boo boo” on his forearm, scrunches up his face and says: It stings, Mom.  Feel it.

I don't understand as he presses his wound against my forearm, holds it there.

His eyes fix upward on mine, searching: “Can you feel that sting, Mom?”

Oh.  I realize.  He believes he can transfer the physical pain, share it by touching skin to skin…

And I so want to say: Yes!  I do feel it exactly!

But even though I know what he is talking about, even though I deeply love and care, even though we share blood…I can only share his suffering so far.

I wish we could fuse minds and hearts…experience each other’s joy, pain, memories.  Sometimes life feels so…solitary.

So much of our lives are experienced apart from other human beings, even the ones in our homes, beds.

Only God knows the exquisitely unique joy you felt when you realized you’d fallen in love for real...or the burn inside your heart, throat, when you were betrayed...the falling feeling when you heard the doctor's prognosis...your insides alight when the lightbulb went on in your mind and heart...my loneliness that day I ate my lunch hiding in the bathroom stall in high school.

God knows...

And yet…it is enough.  Creator and Created are in sync.  We are never actually alone, even in our thoughts.  The Created are fully known.  The Created are fully loved.

The Created can touch wounds to our Maker’s heart: Feel that sting?

And He says: Yes. I feel it exactly.

Where deep gladness and deep hunger meet...

It’s obvious she has the bug.  She is 6 and can’t keep from it.   Small brown fingers push the sound from the ivory and I watch her do what I do.

Play.  Evaluate.  Try a new way.  Repeat.  Build a pattern, wonder where it must go next.

She is emotive.  Sometimes loud.  Often tragic (her favorite song being Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”).

She pulls words from the air as she goes.

”Wheeeeeeeeen will you coooooooooooome, will we eeeeeeeeever be togeeeeeeeeeether agaa-aa-aain…”

Then suddenly she sweeps into a rhythmic dance number, shoulders pulsing as she pounds and sings lyrics that may or may not match:

“Jesus, you died, uh-huh, you died for us, Jesus, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah!!”

I say:  I love this, but you really need to practice your lessons now.

Swiveling toward me on the bench, her smile and eyes light up like fireworks: “But I LOVE it!!!!  It’s SO MUCH FUN making up songs!!!!”

I can’t stop my grin, overjoyed to have this in common with her.  To hear her say it out loud, the feeling I know so exactly.  It is SO MUCH FUN.

I’d choose songwriting over many things.  I’d choose a day at the piano over a day at the pool.  And I like the pool.

I'm still finishing Paula Rinehart’s book, Better Than My Dreams, which I can’t recommend highly enough to every woman I know.  In it she quotes Frederick Buechner:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness

and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I knew early on where my deep gladness was, but I did not know it would intersect anyone’s hunger.

Have you seen the intersection? Realize how you have been asked to participate in bringing food to the poor in body and in spirit?

We're like the disciples of Jesus who saw 5,000 hungry people but had no idea how to feed them.  They forgot, like we forget, that it all begins, not with what we have, but with what the Father has.

And what He has is the power (and desire) to make a feast of our crumbs.

We cannot satisfy anyone.  He will satisfy.

Our part is to run like children with the kite of “deep gladness” we feel when we do what we were designed to do.

last week, through the lens...

at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC...

Andy's mando...

Hitmaker Billy Montana with lovely wife, Donna

Dale Baker seeks refreshment pre-concert

Christa, Dale, Nicole, Billy, Jamie, Andy

Austin's David Lutes performs in our family room...

Three days later, we considered moving the furniture back in.

Smallest boy makes a splash in his first meet...

and seeks a little personal space after...

brown shoulders on a lapping girl...

where every good day begins...

I begin by seeing.

I begin by seeing (I'm a visual learner).  Feeling waves roll in, scales fall, the earth shift slightly underfoot…how have I lived this long and not known this?

A secret overlay becomes visible and wheels turn…scaffolding is erected on the interior walls of the mind, frames hung, phrases chalked alongside, and I start the climb...

In tenth grade, a skinny, self-conscious girl, I sat at our hand-me-down piano and felt things I couldn’t identify, longings I couldn’t name.  We had moved back onto American soil as I entered 9th grade.  I hated most everything about our new home.  Mostly I hated everything about myself, and managed to feel both invisible and painfully conspicuous all the time.

Maybe that’s where the first song came from.  Maybe I couldn’t write about the experience of a sad teenage girl, because writing it seemed even more boring than living it.  Instead, I imagined a conversation with a homeless flutist on an unnamed street, who talked to me about his life – the losses and disillusionment.  (The flute wasn’t silent, so I’m not sure how that ended up in the lyric.)

Back then I wasn’t thinking that the homeless street musician might reflect something of my own experience.  Not consciously.  Later, high school and college literature classes showed me how to search beneath top layers and seek out subtle connections between people and circumstances.

Now I make an effort to listen and watch.  That’s where the writing begins for me.

I begin by seeing.  What a mountain has to do with faith…what medicine and children have in common…how my grandmother and I are one…why repentance feels like dying but makes us free…

*And you?  Tell us what you see?*

living in time...

Great songs are born when they are born.  Great books are read and digested slowly.  The tide of spiritual understanding ebbs and flows to a rhythm we can’t force.  There is a time for working the earth and a time for letting it rest.  Relationships and households require awesome amounts of time and energy.

Email, telephone, doorbell break in and disrupt flow.  Children need, always.  My “lizard brain” (www.sethgodin.com) sabotages my creative efforts.  The mere knowledge that I’m responsible for preparing and recovering from three meals a day can cause panic.

Where is the time, Lord, to do what You ask of me?

My pastor one day says, “God gives us enough time to do the things we are called to do.”

I’m comforted.  I think, maybe the things I manage to get in are in fact, those things I’m called to do.  And the things that never happen – the songs I don’t write – just weren’t meant to be.

One thing I know: I don’t want a rushed life.  I don’t choose to be hurried.  I won’t be a sighing, frowning, huffing person complaining about “the busy-ness.”

At least, I don't want to be...

So I set, and reset, my eyes on things unseen, things invisible, undying and of infinite value—and in that I’m better able to create space for us to live beautifully moment by moment.  I won’t achieve perfection this way, but I hope to walk in peace.

I like that idea – holding eternity in a temporal world.

All That You Need...new song

All That You Need Christa Wells

You work to be loved You love to be known You know how to hurt You hurt on your own But your soul is a desert

You’ve dried up the pools That’ve kept you alive They were never intended For long-term survival Your soul is a desert

But your eyes are an ocean flooding over the levy Storms keep on coming before you are ready Oh, and they’re taking the whole place down to the seed Til all that you have...is all that you need

We circle the sun Turn in and away But the sun keeps burning Always the same Oh, the sun keeps burning

There’s no way to earn What you’ve already got There’s nothing to lose When you’re loved from the start Oh, the sun, the sun keeps burning

But your eyes are an ocean flooding over the levee Storms keep on coming before you are ready Oh, and they’re taking the whole place down to the seed Til all that you have is all that you need

All that you need, all that you need He’s all that you need

There's no way to earn what you've already got Nothing to lose when you're Loved from the start

you can do a lot of things...

“You don’t HAVE to do anything, but you CAN do a lot of things.”

She was 16-years-old and said it with a comical grin, referring to my dilemma over whether or not to feel obligated to patch a small hole in my skirt.  She’s a free spirit.

I have never been as free as I want/could/should/will be.

Her hair changes shape and color frequently.  Her opinions are strong, independent and well-supported.  She sees through people and things.  She was intimidating to adults when she was only 14, though she was almost always laughing, smiling, and teasing.

She had no idea that such a small, impromptu comment would linger and replay in my mind over the years. She probably had some idea that I have never really believed it.

My functional belief has been more like:

“I have to do a lot of things, and I can’t do just anything.”

I'm a follower of Jesus Christ, and I’m not implying we should follow every impulse without concern for our motives or the effects on others.  Freedom doesn't equal self-indulgence.

But wow, we put a lot of bogus expectations on ourselves (and others) that have nothing to do with the pleasure of God.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10, NIV)

One of the works to which I’ve been called is the creation of music.  Simple.  At the same time, I’ve been entrusted with a rather large family, as well as church and neighborhood communities.   You have been entrusted with works, good gifts, and responsibilities.

If you'd take a second to name them and then scroll down your mental list of expectations you put on yourself within each category...my guess is that most of us have too many things on that list.

We bury the beautiful, simple purpose (simple: make music, share music) in extraneous details and become passive participants in our own daily lives.  We aren't choosing anymore. We're swept up in a current of amplified priorities and task lists that come largely from what we think the rest of the world thinks we should be or do.

Because of the current, I forget to play the piano...

I forget to look my family members in the eye and listen...

I forget to give thanks...

I forget to laugh...

I forget that God is sovereign over my vocation and that drivenness is not a fruit of the Spirit.

I forget that as far as this life on earth goes, the present moment is really all we have.

Here's the truth.  There is no one right timeline for bringing a baby home, or releasing a record, or posting a blog, or running a half-marathon.  I don’t have to choose one approach to writing or one style of music or one way to interact with people.  We don't have to make anything happen.

There is no “right” house size or style of decorating.  It doesn’t matter whether my mother likes the color of my walls (LOL sorry, Mom) or whether my countertops are formica or granite.  There is no condemnation for having zero functioning towel rods hanging in my house.  It.doesn’t.matter.

In her song, "Conversations," my friend Sara Groves sings,“The only thing that isn’t meaningless to me is Jesus Christ and the way He set me free…”.

Because of this, I can wear a skirt with a hole in it, and leave it that way.  I'm free to not think about it.

I am free to do (or not do) a lot of things.

Book Giveaway!

**IF YOU RESPONDED TO THIS POST, WOULD YOU PLEASE SEND YOUR MAILING ADDRESS TO:toby@christawellsmusic.com ? We'll get your copy of the book in the mail to you -- Thanks so much!

I've talked about this book before and now...Artist/Author Ron Kelsey has graciously sent me 50 copies of his book, Reflections of Generosity, to give away!   Sgt Kelsey began writing these essays while serving in Iraq, and developed a vision for using art to encourage healing, restoration and peace within the military community and beyond.

I plan to deliver 40 locally to active duty military families. I would love to mail out 10 copies to some of you!   Comment on this post for a chance to receive one of these lovely softcover books.  (Winners will be selected at random)

I was privileged to participate in the opening of the first ROG art exhibit at Ft. Drum, NY, last August, and also at the book release at IAM Encounter 2010. The song I wrote in honor for the event will be available for download in June at the launch of the new Reflections of Generosity website.  It's been a real privilege to get to know other contributing artists and see Sgt. Kelsey's vision continue to grow.

Read more about Reflections of Generosity here.

Also, if you missed the free song download earlier this week, scroll down to the last post...

This Old Dress

My favorites are 6-year-old skirts from TJ Maxx, one of which has a gaping hole in the top layer, soft t-shirts, and a dress from Old Navy whose elastic is stretched to the point of irrelevance.

I’d wear them every day if I could get away with it.  (I nearly do.)

The idea is to not feel seams or fabric or cinched waists.  Freedom Fashion.

Aren’t you, like me, tempted to make a whole life out of seamless, worn out threads? Free from irritants, or challenge,  or the discomfort of the untried?

Just think of what we could have avoided already…

trembling, red-faced auditions, failures, and rejections,

friendships that demand  that extra bit of patience or effort,

churches that challenge us to turn our theology, our souls, inside out,

painful conversations, confrontations, confessions…

There are songs we would not have writtem.  And dreams we’d not dream of dreaming.

Because the beauty of stretched skin demands a cost, yes.

But the beauty of stretched skin is a roomy radius of motion that makes the old comfort feel like a paralysis.

We thought we were free when we felt no rub.

But freedom is found in the ability to stretch limbs, reach high,

move joyously without (or through?) fear.

To dance life.

It involves some boundaries and many blisters.

But blisters soften.

And even an old dress was new once.