For the Under-Discovered Artist (inspired by the sad tenor at the bar)

I started writing this for you nearly two weeks ago but keep hesitating to post it.  I'm afraid it sounds a little too strong or too soap-boxy or maybe defensive. As the years roll on, though, I'm coming to know myself and believe that along with being a singer/songwriter, I'm a determined encourager.  Maybe, as Kris Camealy so thoughtfully put it, I'm meant to be a door-holder for other artists.  So if the title of this post caught your attention because it sounds like you, then hear these words as me cheering you on.  Because that's what I came to do.



For whatever reason, he can focus better at the cool Irish pub down the street than at home.  So he goes out some late nights and writes.  And not infrequently he finds himself in friendly conversation with whatever interesting characters populate the suburban bar at those hours.

So as we stood waiting for morning coffee to brew, he described the group of musicians he’d passed some time with the night before.  In particular, he told me about the 62-year-old tenor plagued by discontent and frustration toward the music industry – or toward his own perceived lack of success.

Standing in the kitchen, this guy who fell for my emotional, 19-year-old songwriting self a long time ago and has supported my work in multiple ways these years since, looked at me and said how he never wants me to feel that way, like a failure.  He said he’s had a taste of that himself and would hate to see me suffer the disappointment of not reaching my dreams, to live with late-life regret.

You don’t feel that way, do you? he asked.

I considered, then said I think there are some key differences between that guy (we’ll call him “Dave”) and me.

Clearly, we both love making music.  I LOVE songwriting.  And it feels pretty amazing to see others respond to that music.  I have goals I’m working hard to reach.  BUT. In the end?  The outward “success” of my music doesn’t define me or determine how successful my life has been.

After releasing an album with my sister in 2006, we thought, “It’s so fun to just be able to be two of the many people making music!”

I do not want to be a superstar, and I don’t think anyone owes me their attention.  I do want to be a part of the whole thing, a color on the wheel. What a privilege.


Maybe Dave fell in love with the idea of becoming an acclaimed artist, where I fell in love with the Original Artist and the idea of being a part of what He’s making.

Dave, like many hard-working people, wants to be a SUCCESS story, but what I want most is to help tell THE story.

I hate it that Dave is living with bitterness, because every little encounter that says, “Yes, it matters somewhere somehow” brings a smile to my face and deep gladness to my heart.

I know it’s hard to keep your eyes on the distance.  I totally get that.  Sometimes jealousy and sadness creep in here, too.

But when you get your vision right?  The music business becomes the person you make small talk with while your eye is really on the love of your life across the room.


Our art doesn’t need to be widely recognized.  It needs to be deeply meaningful.

Let’s make something we believe is honest and good and beautiful and true.  Let’s grow and improve and help others grow and improve.  If awards or recognition come, okay.  If money comes through our art, so helpful.

But don’t mistake money and acclaim for an accurate measure of Good Art.  Your work can matter greatly without ever earning you a dime.  YOU matter without any social media followers at all.

I recently read A FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.  His characters talk about the idea of “the universe wanting to be noticed,” and something in that resonated with me, but it’s not quite there yet.  We DO want to notice everything we can about this intricate, marvelous universe, but not as an end but a means.  The more I notice the universe, the more intensely I REVEL in its Maker.

We’ve grown up in a world of STAR Search, American IDOL, THE Voice…it’d be pretty tough to be immune to the pressure to rack up applause.  We’re well-acquainted with the “Go big or go home” mentality.

But, seriously. WHAT in the WORLD?  I find that to be both self-centered and short-sighted.

What is BIG??

Some of the biggest moments in my own experience have taken place in obscure moments in time with zero humans watching. 

Some of the most affecting people I’ve known have the least name recognition.  

Almost ALL of the most deeply moving songs I’ve loved were never radio singles.

For crying out loud, the most notorious world-changers and culture-makers didn’t emerge from a vacuum but were themselves built on the backs of countless nameless, unremembered, thinkers/artists/scientists/leaders/teachers/parents who hacked the brush out of the way and started the conversation and whose work was every bit as important in the life of the universe.


It’s who we ARE and WHAT WE GIVE AWAY that makes us a PART of something worthwhile.  If they remember our names 300 years from now (and they won’t), we won’t be here to care about it, anyway, so why not celebrate and honor the fact that we’re alive today and have something to share?

Why not do what brings you so much joy that you do it when you’re NOT getting paid--because you “feel God’s pleasure” when you do it?

Why not do what meets someone else’s need and sends people reeling, thinking “There MUST be a design to all of this”?

Do something that tells the truth and asks good questions and leaves a footprint on souls that won’t wash out when the tide comes for our bodies.

Do small, unnoticed things you’re good at that make a difference to your family and community.

Do it with LOVE.   Do it at a cost to yourself.  Do it in small increments, in the midnight hours, after working your day job, or the wee hours of the morning, if that’s all you’ve got.

Do it because you CAN’T STOP.  (hat tip to Miley)


I intend to be grateful at 62, regardless of the opportunities that come or don’t come.  Regardless of which circles invite me in and which ones overlook me. And they will do both.

I can choose.  So can you.  (So can YOU!)

The Maker of the universe wants to be noticed.  I don’t want to miss my chance to be a part of that.



Sorrow's Flower: Masterpiece Project 2014

1167237_529469640453237_88041736_o It's a unique place, but i's not geography.  It's community.  A safe place where teenage artists can practice and wonder and collaborate and worship.

We work hard and laugh a lot and commune in a way that leads to deep, lasting friendships.

It's what I myself didn't have as a young artist living "on the fringes," struggling to find people who understood the way my mind worked & longed to express itself.

Masterpiece is what I wanted but didn't know to want in those days.   We want to feed the souls of young artists & encourage them to be hungry for excellence & truth.  We want to learn together the secret of seeing and how to find cosmos in chaos and what sorrow's flower might look like.

I've written other posts about Masterpiece, so I'll let the images speak here.

Look around you.  Who do you know that might need a place like this for a week this summer?

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Jealousy & Her Rival, Community

*This is for a couple of young artists who asked me about jealousy amongst artists & how to find community in art-making.  Maybe for you, too? Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 10.11.40 PM


So you were sitting there trying to enjoy a performance when all of a sudden something ugly starts to wake up inside you and you find you're staring at the stage and the performer with less delight than dejection, more jealousy than joy.

You're feeling insecure about your work.  You feel underused...overlooked...uncertain.

If it goes on long enough, you start to get really good at finding fault with those "more successful" creatives.  You get critical in an attempt to protect your own sense of worth.  But it doesn't work, because instead of fueling better art in you, it makes you bitter, brittle, dry.

You weren't meant to be this way, and you don't WANT to be this way.  You WANT to be generous and cheer others on.  But you don't know how.

The first track on my album Feed Your Soul is called "Vanity Vanity":

When they passed me over like a penny on the sidewalk

I wanted to roll into the gutter

I wanted to listen in case they talked

Oh, little darlin', you've got a problem

Better treat it before it's too late

Vanity, vanity, how'd you get your hands on me

Goin' to the doctor who knows my sin

And he'll show me what I've got and take me to the river to get clean

Nobody likes to feel passed over.

You have gifts, you're pretty sure, but have no earthly idea what to do with all those songs/screenplays/ideas/drawings.  Or you're trying.  But your thoughts and motives are confused, and you don't want to admit it to anyone else, because it's ugly and everyone else seems above it.


I don't have answers or a prescription but I've been ugly inside, too, and I've often felt like a big zero.  And when I heard someone say to pray for those you do not feel love for, that it would change things, it sounded a bit pious and quite impossible.  But I tried it anyway; I prayed for a fellow artist I didn't know personally, whose success felt, for whatever (no good) reason, like a threat to my own.  Prayed for her to be fruitful and heard and to get better at her work and find more open doors.  I don't know what happened to her through that, but my heart, like the Grinch's, grew 10x bigger.  I found it impossible to ask on her behalf and still resent her.

Doing your thing.

My friend, Aaron Rice, says: "Stay in your lane," and I think that's a brilliant way to say it.  It doesn't mean you can't try new things.   But it means we have to stop looking at what others are doing and get to work.  I really believe we're meant to SHINE in unique, inimitable ways.  The more I take that advice, the more lovely and useful I am.

Giving thanks.

Like prayer, giving thanks has the power to protect us from envy.  Maybe only Mom & Dad care about my music, so I thank God for them.  Give thanks for the coffee shop that opens its platform to the unknown artist.  Thanks for the life story that gives way to song or story.  For the weakness that makes me dependent.  For the older man who tells me how that lyric reached a cobwebbed corner of his heart. I learn to give thanks for my own voice, as unimpressive as it seems to me.



When we moved to North Carolina, I was at a total loss for artistic community, knowing no one and finding few musicians to intersect with.  Art-making can be very isolating, even though music should ultimately be collaborative.  We spend a lot of time in our own heads, and it's easy to feel like the only weirdo in your town (or house).

There are more of us out here than we think.  We have to watch for kindred spirits and create spaces that will draw us together.   A lot of times for me it's meant volunteering myself and my time to creative efforts, however small they may feel.  It's given me the chance to spend time with others who are at least interested in seeing artful things happen, whether they are artists themselves or not.

Some suggestions? You might...

*Volunteer with an arts camp for youth

*Say “yes” to local opportunities in community & church

*Reach out online via email or websites or forums

*Share your work online and let others find YOU

*Share art with often overlooked communities of people

*Participate in conferences for creatives (International Arts Movement)

*Support touring indie artists who come through town. 

*Host a house show, provide a meal and a space for them to rest.

*Join the Nashville Songwriters Association 

*Be willing to travel for opportunities to meet/share/work

*Search the web for like-minded artists & reach out.

*Find artists you respect & ask how you can support them.

*Host a meet-up at a local coffee shop for area songwriters & musicians.

At the end of the day, we need each other.  We really do.  We make each other better.


There's no room for jealousy or isolationism.

There IS room for all of us at this party.  Even me.  Even you.

Especially you.

And this last picture?  It has nothing to do with this post except to say maybe we also need to take ourselves a little less seriously now and then. ;)



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 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.


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.

To the young writer...

(Photographs in this post were a gift from my young reader/listener/writer friend Abby Ang.  Enjoy Abby's words here.)

*Adding here to my original post, based on an interaction with a lovely young lady I hope to one day meet.

She wrote: At each stage of this journey, it seems the more productive I am...the more I battle the lie that my contributions are worthless. But, I know that is not I keep on keeping on...trusting that God will use me (and my work) in a way that will somehow bring him glory.

I wrote:  When I was your age, I tried not writing for a period of time, on the advice of an older songwriter.  He said, "If you're not sure if this is what you're meant to do, try  NOT doing it.  See if you can. "  :) Clearly, I couldn't stop for long!  And I hope you won't, either...always remember that though there may be many others in that place [songwriters], working toward a similar goal, there is only one you.  No one else has had your particular life experience and seen it all through your set of eyes.  You do have something to add, and if God has gifted you musically/lyrically, you have something to add to the world of art & music.

And a couple of relevant book titles I recommend:

Walking on Water (Madeleine L'Engle - just read it, it's a classic) Linchpin (Seth Godin - secular, inspires the artist to break the rules & be uncompromising) At the Crossroads (Charlie Peacock - deals with history of "Christian music" & examines what it means)


I’ve recently received several letters from young songwriters. You have something to say, and music is the language you speak, but you are uncertain where to take the work. I understand exactly how you feel, so...

I thought I’d jot some thoughts here to speak to you, and any others who also wonder.

It’s strange to suddenly find oneself in a sort of “older sister” role.  Odd to find that in the midst of all your own uncertainties and your own quest to understand how to really create something good, the “little sisters/brothers” knock on your door hoping you have the secrets.

And honestly, I can talk about words and writing all night, but business…not my favorite topic.

Strategy hasn’t played a part in any opportunities I’ve had before now.  And while I'm trying to be smart about things, I don’t tend to do things the way you’re supposed to do them in the “industry.”

So here, dear young writer, are my only words for you tonight:

What’s it all about for you? You have to find that answer…who are you writing for, and why?

Do you need to make a living from your writing?

If you do, you can do some googling and get tips on where to begin.  They’ll tell you, rightly, to first really make sure you’ve got what it takes, skill-wise.  It’s not an easy thing to get your songs cut by established artists, so your songs are going to have to be not good, but GREAT (and that’s defined by the market/genre you’re writing for).  And you’ll find tips on what to do and what not to do…don’t send in unsolicited material, don’t pay anyone to “publish” your stuff, don’t write 5-minute songs for pitch, start co-writing, etc….But lots of people write about that side of things, so I will not.

But, if you don’t have to make your living from your writing, then why bind yourself to that set of rules? You have all the freedom in the world to create something new.

Why not

stretch yourself, and your listeners…

Pay attention & deconstruct the music you love

find out what makes it work,

Be honest in your writing

write fearlessly,

use fresh, strong language…

Refuse to write what has already been written.

Take enough time to write each song the way it needs to be written,

(like a mother should heed the differences between her kids)

and rewrite,

but call it “finished” when it is.

(Gentle side note:  There is no divine inspiration behind any song in the way there was with Scripture, so let’s not say anymore that God gave us this or that song…it’s too often an excuse to not consider revising.:))

Be brave and put it out there...if singing isn't your strong suit, find someone else to deliver the music so that it can really be heard for what it is meant to be.  Start where you are...don't try to play it for industry people before you play it for "real people" in your own community, besides Mom and Dad.

Get old-fashioned in your thinking.  Consider the traveling musicians pre-record label.  Bring a song as you would bring a gift to small gatherings.  Post a song for free online and let people respond.

Write what is TRUE, and learn to WRITE IT WELL, and there will be people who want to listen.

And when they listen, and they get it, those are the people to listen to.  They’ll tell you what rings.

Not everything has to be heavy or serious.  We need to dance and laugh out loud as much as we need to cry.

Maybe the worst mistake we make is to define “success” by the numbers of people who know our name or our work.  Of course, we want witnesses to the work.  Of course, it feels good to be understood and validated.

But if we believe our work is made legitimate by being popular, we have bought a LIE.  I was no less valuable as a teenager because I was invisible and unpopular, but I believed that.

It’s a false story.  When we swallow it and live in that context, we have jumped tracks.

Real art has OFTEN been unpopular and Jesus Christ is not popular and we are not here to be popular but to be human. The gospel wasn’t pretty but it’s beautiful.  Because it’s true.

That’s the story we need to live and breathe and WRITE.

These are the things I have to constantly remind myself.  Because I like to be liked.

I know this isn’t what you’re looking for.  You’re afraid there won’t be a place for you in the world of art, that you'll live and die and no one will care about your songs. You want someone to give you 3 steps, or 7 tips.  But honestly.  I have no idea what work you were put on the planet to accomplish…I just think that the career path is not the point, and money is not the point, and fame is definitely not the point.  But creating something really good and pleasing to the Creator is.

Google those other articles and do those smart things.  But let those things support the art, and not the other way around.

I hope we cross paths one day, and that my soul is awakened by some bit of music you deliver into the world.  :)

With love and hope!


more from the studio: Tom calls tracks to life (& snippets of 2 new tunes)

A minute or two of some car convo on the songwriting process, followed by some in-the-studio eavesdropping. The two songs you'll hear portions of on this clip are: The Best Thing (inspired by this post) and Kingdom Coming (on our response as Christ-followers to physical & spiritual poverty around us...I'll be writing more about that in the weeks to come).

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.

You're invited...

 Masterpiece Invitation

Masterpiece is incredibly close to my heart. 

I was once a very lonely teenager, despite being in the middle of a large and loving family. Although I didn't yet identify myself as being an "artist," I didn't identify with other established groups at school, either. I didn't play a sport and was pretty shy--didn't volunteer for student council or anything like that. And I had no idea why my music-making should ever really matter beyond my own pleasure. 

If the intimate environment of this week-long summer camp had been available to me then...a place where I could be mentored by adult artists of faith, where I could get to know other young people who were wired towards the arts, and where I could find encouragement as I practiced the various art forms...I cannot begin to tell you what that would have meant to me. 

But if you come to be with us on April 17, some of our students can tell you firsthand. If you are in the Chicago area, please come. I'll be there, along with internationally renowned calligrapher Timothy Bottsand author/art historian Daniel Siedell (God in the Gallery).  

If you aren't able to join us, please watch the video promo I posted last week, and tell a young artist in your life about this tremendous opportunity.


More of what matters...

Yesterday I shared a brand-spanking new song with our church body, Christ Our Hope.  It's called "Everything Moves But You"--I had written about the elusive quality of our dreams and all the things we want more of.  Later in the afternoon, I drove to Durham and had the extreme pleasure of making music with Wade Baynham and Dale Baker for the Emmaus Way worship service.  We sang about love.  

And we sang about the deep Love of Jesus.  

By day's end, I was exhausted and...exhilarated.  It is an enormous privilege to be given opportunities to collaborate and create and share artistically.

About 16 months ago, I was walking on a beach in Jupiter, Florida, thinking about the music I was preparing to share with a precious body of Jesus-followers there.  

I walked alone by the waves and prayed.  And somewhere inside that 20 minutes, I felt a distinct compulsion (for lack of a better word) to record the songs I'd been writing during the previous months. I'd been considering the possibility, but only tentatively.  I was reluctant to ask that kind of sacrifice from my family without any plan or an outside group backing the project.


I addressed God directly, and said, "Well, you're gonna have to tell Toby."  :)

The next afternoon, in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, Toby brought up the idea and said something to the effect of: Yes.  You have to do this.

I had no idea what I would do with the project when it was finished.  (I had done next to nothing with the Rogers/Wells Project in 2006.)  I'd been very comfortably songwriting and not performing (except on occasion) for quite some time.  But I had a sense of God assuring me that I really didn't need to know what was next; I just needed to do this thing.  

That is what "trust" means, afterall?

Well, that was 16 months ago.  The past year since we finished recording "Frame the Clouds" has been an adventure, and I've been forced out of most of my comfort zones, which is, of course, a great way to grow as a human being. ha-- It has stretched me and delighted me, and I believe this is true:

I'm being given more of what matters and must work to cut away that which doesn't.  


More knowledge of my own strengths and weaknesses.  

    More clarity on where I belong, where my songs resonate.

    Newfound comfort in my own skin...with my voice as a singer and writer.

More willingness to risk failure.  More willingness to risk "success."  

    Greater interest in other people and their stories...More gratitude for my family and friends. 

More excitement about music itself and its God-given capacity to provoke change.

    More peace with my own unconventional relationship with the music business.  

    More pleasure in working as an independent artist.

More Awe of God.

    Heightened awareness of inequities on earth and of my own undeserved abundance.


And Less...

I'm sorting, as I'm sure you are, constantly through my inner "mess."  Cutting out the damaged...and the damaging.  Following the questions and uncertainties.  Realizing bad habits, mixed motives, spiritual idols.  Waste.

Isn't that great??

It's important work, this sorting business, and to know I'm not the only one at it really brings me some kind of joy.  

I imagine us sitting on an old front porch after dark.  Warm summer air, stars hung high, and we're shucking corn and singing about our weariness, crying and laughing over the the days behind and the prospect of tomorrow.  Isn't that something?

More community.  More Truth.  More Christ.  

The only thing we can pursue that will. not. move.  

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.  

"Just Music"


I didn’t really think about music as “art” when I was a kid.  I didn’t think of myself as an “artist”when I began melody-making or lyric sketching.  It was just . . .music.  It was…a body part, like an eye or a foot.  Something you don’t consider parting with .  “Artists” were people with paintbrushes and sketchpads at the park.

I made music because I felt I must, but not because I expected it to be important to anyone else.

A couple of years ago, I was scheduled to write with another songwriter in Nashville…a writer who has won awards and had many more “cuts” than I have…and I was very uncomfortable from the start.   It was apparent to me after the first five minutes that we probably weren’t going to “click” or find the common plain of understanding to draw from.  More honestly, I wasn’t going to be able to write anything in that room.  After 30 minutes of watching him strum his guitar and sing, as he leaned casually back in his desk chair, I apologized for not having any ideas (bad or good), at which he grinned and said:

 “Hey man—it’s just music!”

He thought this would relax me, I guess, but I sort of felt like I’d been punched in the mental jaw.  Just music?  Seriously?  Wow.  If it’s “just music,” what have I been wasting my time (my family's time) on? If my work is merely something entertaining, to be tossed into existence without much concern or trepidation, then what can it be worth??? 

Just music.

Just a painting.

Just dance.

Just a film.

Just art.

I’ve just finished Seth Godin’s brand new book, Linchpin.   He sent it to me (and 3,000 others) to read and write about. I loved it and will definitely be writing an offical review.

But the essence of this book is that you and I can choose to be artists. 


By loving what we do and actively, creatively and generously sharing it with others.  It is not only the songwriters and painters and dancers who add something unique and valuable to the world. 

It is also the Royal Carribbean cruise attendants who bent over backwards to serve and please my friend and I last week. 

It’s the electrician whose visit I will never forget because he had enough passion for wiring to light up a whole neighborhood. 

It's the nanny who doesn't merely "watch" the children, but plans excursions and creates learning experiences with them, because she truly loves her work and sees its value.

It’s my mother who has spent a lifetime making an art of hugging and loving on people just because she can.   

It’s the blogger who notices the metaphors of life and writes them into life-breathing prose, for free. (not referencing myself, but many of you!)

It’s the financial advisor who actually cares about his clients and takes the extra time to hear their stories and is willing to lose money in order to protect their interests.

It’s the 6-year-old boy who creates personalized cards and necklaces and journals from construction paper to gift every visitor to the house.


Who can you add to the list?


It matters, the unique qualities only you possess. 

It matters that you labor over your work with love and care. 

And it matters that you give it away.


It’s not “just” anything.