2017 + a book review

First of all, Happy New Year!

Yes, yes, we are 30 days in. But writing here on the blog hasn’t made it to the top of my list before now, so I haven’t said it yet! 

Our first Christmas in Nashville wasn’t half-bad, though we had deep moments of homesickness for our family of friends in North Carolina.

I entered this new year with a mix of emotion: heavy-heartedness around the events shaping our world and culture, and yet a persistent hope that we are fully capable of doing better, of drawing closer together for things that matter.

I woke up with fresh ideas brewing for songwriting, potential projects and collaborations that excite and challenge me, that hopefully will see the light of day and feed others in some meaningful way.

I carried over the awareness that the best way to push back against quiet despair is with loud thanksgiving, so I remind myself of the monumental gifts I still enjoy every single day.

I also started 2017 with an armful of new books - poetry and fiction and memoirs - that help me wake up every morning and think new thoughts.

Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, and Seth Godin were all under the Christmas tree. I don’t usually read just one book at a time but have them all right there on the wicker chest coffee table, and I pick up whichever is calling me at a given moment.

Here’s something from Mary Oliver’s Upstream that spoke to me as an artist:

"No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not.  Still, there are indications.  Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen.  It likes the out-of-doors.  It likes the concentrating mind. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker."

It’s amazing really. The power of a single poem to transform my outlook at the start of the day.  Thank you, Wendell, Mary and Seth for your good and life-giving work.


And then I occasionally am lucky enough to get free books from author friends or publishers who are looking for book nerds to potentially review or endorse a new release. Because of that, I’m getting to read an early version of Tsh Oxenreider’s At Home In The World (more on that in the near future!) and Erin Loechner’s Chasing Slow.

I don’t know Erin personally, but I wasn’t shocked to discover that she is friends with Tsh Oxenreider - one of my favorite bloggers, thinkers and online pals - and has been working with Tsh on the Simple Show podcast.

I’m not gonna lie. The first thing that drew me to Erin’s book was the cover. Yes, I might sometimes be that shallow. It was just so clean looking. Modern. The layout & design of the hardcover is very cool, very different. She’s a designer, after all.

And also, I like the word “slow” (almost as much as I like the word “quiet”)

Erin is a former art director/stylist. She’s a wife, mother, writer, designer. But most helpful to the rest of us is that her story has had some major challenges to face, which has given her added depth and insight and relatability. Well, it's hardship AND that she’s from Indiana. A midwestern girl who just happens to spend time in Hollywood and be featured by HGTV and the NY Times. Since I attended college in Indiana, I pretty much have to like her.

I’ve seen a lot of writing about “slow living” the past few years, because obviously we’re bad at it. We’re trying, though, and all of us have at least one bee-keeping friend and have tried to grow our own basil. We walk when we can and play games with the kids and celebrate simple moments on Instagram. But we all know it’s an effort in these times when you CAN do/be/see/try/accomplish so much.

So I appreciated reading Erin’s personal story of working harder and harder, to get...where, exactly?? That’s the thing I’m personally realizing: How little we stop and question ourselves on just about anything. We follow whatever crowd we identify with and react emotionally and do-by-default more than we think we do. (At least, I do.)

Foreclosure, bankruptcy and family losses helped Erin see that what “everybody” wants was not actually what she wanted. A Pinterest-perfect house isn’t necessarily a heart-safe home. And work success doesn’t equal life-success.

Though it’s not the only less-is-more story, it is Erin’s unique story, honestly and vulnerably-told, and a good one especially for female friends who struggle with perfectionism and a my-life-looks-plain-next-to-hers inner monologue. Also a good one for the young, creative crowd finishing school and ready to find an exciting place in the world. Erin’s husband is a filmmaker and they spent their first married years in L.A. pursuing work in the arts.

Click here to order your copy of Chasing Slow. Or here.

Well, here's to a new year full of making - music and art and words and moments, stories that light up our small and big patches of the world.

It's an honor to be on this journey of making with you.

Love, Christa







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...

The Book Basket...

So little time, so many great books. 

People often ask how or where I find time to read. Normally, I squeeze it in late-night…almost every night, no matter how the evening was spent or how late it is, I read by flashlight before falling asleep. Honestly, it’s my little treat, right up there with morning coffee. 

In case you're looking, here are a few from my recent stack: 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)

"On the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terribly elegant."

This philosophical piece of fiction, translated (very well) from French was so delightfully fresh and interesting. The beauty of the language was itself worthwhile, and I’m keeping it handy to spur some song ideas. The chapters alternate between the voice of a homely residential concierge and a suicidal 12-year-old resident of her building, both of whom possess far more intellect and sophistication than anyone realizes (which is the way both characters want it). Enter elderly Japanese tenant...This would be a great book club book…if I were in a book club. 

Deep Church (Jim Belcher)

"When we become more humble in our beliefs, we are willing to see that our own denominatins or traditions do not have a corner on all truth..."

My pastor handed this to me to help answer some questions I’ve had concerning the traditional church and the emerging/emergent church movement. The author has spent time in both circles, has real friends in both, and is now pastoring a PCA church in California. He proposes there is a third way, and the possibility of real, peacemaking dialogue between the two camps, and is attempting to shed light on some misunderstandings. Excellent so far. 

Better Than My Dreams (Paula Rinehart)

"The struggle is a door, and inside God waits.  If you are willing to walk through the portal, you find what you could not experience deeply any other way."

My friend brought me an autographed copy of this book by her counselor and friend, Paula Rinehart, who lives here in Raleigh. This book is for every woman who has been disappointment in life and needs to hear how she can meet God in the gap that exists between her ideals and her reality. Very well-written but accessible, easy to read. 

Little Bee (Chris Cleave)

“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl."

I’m in the middle of this painful, eye-opening story of a Nigerian refugee whose life intersects tragically with that of an upper-middle class British magazine founder/editor. Chapters alternate between the voices of the two, and although the actual events are fictional, it stirs up new awareness of the violence we all know really is out there and prompts examination of our own willingness to sacrifice for others.

*Note: Contains bad language & R-rated situations.  Since writing this post, I've become less enchanted with the book because of an adulterous relationship that has become too much in the foreground.  

Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton)

"All denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it."

Not a late-night read…I have to do this one early morning or while traveling. Started this a year or two ago but didn’t have the “bandwidth” for it at the time. Now I’m chewing it slowly , underlining and pondering. It requires a lot of mental attention, but is so provocative. If you’re doing crosswords to stay sharp, maybe try reading a paragraph a day of this book instead. 

Little Dorrit (Charles Dickens)

"Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day."

Like Chesterton, I find Dickens requires more of me than I can typically muster at 11:30pm with a flashlight. But since my little girl gave it to me last year for Mother’s Day, I really want to read it. And Dickens is always worth the effort in the end. I’m not that far into it, but so far so good. 

Love Walked Among Us (Paul E. Miller)

"Being loved gives you the freedom and resources to love."

We have been doing a study based on this (See Jesus) and also attended a seminar with its author, Paul Miller, a couple of weeks ago. It’s so simple and so profound, and gets you to really pay attention to the marvelous way Jesus had with the people he encountered. What we know but haven’t really paid attention to in so much detail is Christ’s intentional “incarnating” with people…seeing, feeling and then acting in a balance of compassion and honesty. In the workshop, we each sat in the “hot seat” and let the group observe our interactions. It’s shocking how unaware we can be of our own failure to balance the two.

Encountering Truth at Encounter 10


I left my camera and my Flip in my suitcase when we left thehotel on Saturday and again on Sunday.  Can you believe that?  New York City and no pictures or film to recall the occasion.  Boo hoo.

I left home in the Saturday morning dark and met Mom at LGA, because she had flown from Tennessee to join me. The first hour we spent weeping in the food court over shared stories of horror and grief in places like Haiti and Rwanda.  Over other people’s stories and work and writings.  Despite the differences in our appearances, we have always had this in common.

We felt like country bumpkins navigating the subway, but safely arrived at the International Arts Movement’s annual Encounter conference at Cooper Union's Great Hall.  The Hall lives up to its name—someone told me 11 presidents, including Abe Lincoln, have spoken in that room.   It was my honor to perform two songs as accompaniment to Sgt. Ron Kelsey’s release of his book Reflections of Generosity: Toward Restoration and Peace, published by International Arts Movement. 

One of the songs, simply titled “Song of Blessing,” is pretty special to me, as I wrote for the opening of the ROG exhibit at Fort Drum in special honor of the 10th Mountain Division.  This division is specially trained to fight in harsh terrain and weather conditions and is one of the most deployed divisions.

Lyrics were inspired by the Soldier’s Creed and the motto of the 10th Mountain Division: Climb to glory. 

Song of Blessing (for the 10th Mountain Division)

by Christa Wells

May your feet find the road that’s narrow and sure

May they carry you home, when you’ve finished your work

May the light shine upon you,

All around you, in the moments

When the darkness would like to take you in

May the quiet voice inside you

Keep the truth alive and guide you as you run,

It’s gonna be a hard run


Take care of your heart

Take the long way,

If that’s where peace is born

Take beauty from the ashes

Let the beauty rise up

That’s where hope comes from


May you hold your head up, and shoulder the sky

May your chorus be sung as you follow the fight:

That you will go into the hills and

Face the fearsome bitter cold

You are a guardian of freedom in this place

That you will stand until it’s over

You will make the climb to glory, you will climb

So high


Sgt Kelsey is graciously sending me 50 copies of his book, and given me permission to give them away.  First dibs will go to active-duty military—please send your  service member friends (from any country) here to request a copy!  It will be encourage and inspire.

Because we arrived Saturday afternoon, we only sat in on one session, but the three other speaker/artists we had the privilege of hearing from in that session were remarkable.

David Sacks is a photographer who absolutely blew my mind.  The exquisite beauty and insight of his work and his humility of spirit were both inspiring as he discussed the idea of giving away your art in his talk: Philanthropy and the Arts.

Etsuru Sotoo is a Japanese sculptor working on Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece the basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  Listening to him speak about the freedom he enjoys as an artist by choosing to “look in the direction in which Gaudi looked” and which can be experienced, as in marriage, “precisely because of the boundaries,” was very provocative. 

Jeffrey Overstreet is a novelist and award-winning film reviewer, who was an absolutely riveting speaker (and dinner companion).  The title of his talk was something like: "How then shall we tell the story?"  

As he turned the slides and quoted stories that had carried him through childhood, it was obvious how they move him still—he became choked up as he spoke of them—and how passionate he is about his work. He focused a great deal on film, and while it’s likely that not everyone in the room agreed with him on every point (he pointed out numerous contradictions in the way people of faith often respond to certain films and books), I’m confident each of us was provoked to consider more thoughtfully the concept of truth-telling in film and books. Fascinating.  I will be consulting his film reviews in the future.

The earth is filled with such talent, such intelligence, wit and originality. 

I encountered human beings this weekend who bear witness to this, and I revel in yet more evidence of a talented, intelligent, witty and original Designer.