children

the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

A couple weeks ago, I spent an hour on Instagram Live, talking with fellow makers about how I’ve managed to raise children, live in community, and also keep creating music. Let me start by saying I am not amazing, nor is my situation unique. It’s not at all unusual to be a working parent. I think the unconventional nature of the music business makes it seem less conducive to leading a balanced life with family than other types of work.

You may feel like you need to set it aside once you start a family, because you feel a little selfish taking time to make art, especially if it’s not generating much or any income for the family. Or you may just be so freaking tired all the time that you can’t fathom having the brain power to make something good.

Well, let me encourage you if I can? I have five kids who are now 11 and up.  I didn’t start working in music as a vocation until my firstborn was three-years-old. I was SO tired for a LONG time.

I could talk for dayyyyys about all of this, but I have songs to write! So I’ve tried to recall + summarize the tips I shared in our Live chat.

how to hear the music...

I heard the front door close behind him before I was even out of bed. I’d overslept.

Now I’m slurping coffee and lighting candles, reading from the One Year Bible. Sizzling sausage. This is the tranquil intro.

Tapping out a bass line in email responses.

I can hear the rushing water of the shower upstairs over tiny tan shoulders. Her small, high-pitched soprano sings out indiscernible words, bouncing off bathroom walls, floating through every room in the house.

A fork tap taps against a bowl of peaches in the kitchen.

The dishwasher we forgot to run last night is now swishing away at work.

Pointer pup and grumpy old cat stand off near the feeding area, hissing and growling, and my brain buzzes with the things I meant to have done this morning. With the plans on the calendar and preparations for this and that. Here comes the build.

The drowsy silence of early day quickly swells into song. This is the surround sound of our daily life.

But I remember when it was completely different. When I was 23, new in town, and it was only him and me in our little rental. When I decided to wait a few weeks before looking for work, thinking I’d spend the hours songwriting. Within a few days, I was sure the silence would swallow me up whole.

No friends. No work. No idea what to do with the songs I was accumulating. No place to be. No family around. And a painful distance between even the two of us.

Every week was blank, looming at me like open jaws of a great abyss.

A different season completely. God is conducting a magnificent symphony here. Now, if I occasionally long for something on earth, it’s rest, time, occasional silence.

But I know some of you are where I was. You don’t hear His music. Only the sound of isolation, insignificance, uncertainty. You attempt to eek out a melody, but it just keeps meandering and never seems to amount to anything.

Please hear this.

It matters that you keep breathing air into those holes. It matters that you get up in the morning and do what has been placed in front of you and use whatever has been placed in your hands.

There is no “Arrival” gate in life. You are already, today, doing the plan. If you think otherwise, wait until you achieve one of your life goals, and see how quickly you’re swept on into the next movement. The next thing. Instead…when you hear no music, make music.

This is what Love does. Find someone who needs to be sung to.

Today we will, if we leave home, cross paths with someone who needs to be sung to. What he needs may not be our “special gift.” Maybe what she is hungry for is not what we feel like giving or something that will further our own interests.

That’s okay. Sing anyway. Sing truth, with a smile, a conversation, a hand on a shoulder, a small gift, an act of service, a shared bit of time. Then you’ll begin to hear.

To live joyfully, we must stop trying to make ourselves happy.

If your own home is too quiet, if your own mind too haunting…spend less time there.

How I WISH I could go back, have my 23-year-old self hear this. How I wish my self-absorbed 16-year-old self could have understood it. How I hope to remember it today, when I am tempted to become consumed with myself and my own efforts, and I start to hear only noise.

I’m desperate to hear the layers of harmony in His song. He IS singing, you know. We’ve just got to train our ears to hear it. And watch for the build.

Like fine wine...

On Monday I turned 37.

(That's me, second from the right, the day Mandy came home.)

This is nearly impossible to fathom, because wasn’t it last week I was celebrating my 12th birthday in Kaiserslautern, Germany?  Weren’t we riding the train, my aunt and grandmother and two girlfriends and I, trying on new clothes in the closed compartment, giggling and squealing, “I LOVE everything I bought!”

The day after that, I was celebrating 18, with a houseful of friends in the suburbs of Chicago, days before leaving for college.

And then, just hours ago, I was a newlywed and waking to 21 in our first house…

I’m quite sure that was NOT 16 years ago…

And I’m quite sure that these days, in the music industry,

it is a dreadful mistake to admit your age in a blog post.

But I think it’s time we tell the truth.  We who are ripening like wine and finding our voice “late.”  :)

Listen up.  I’m going to be bold.  What I’m about to say may not be true for everyone, but it’s true for me, and MAYBE some of you babes will find hope for your wrinkly futures in hearing it.

Despite the obvious pleasantries of youth (plump skin, anticipation of first experiences)

I like these years gathering behind me.

I relish the increasing FREEDOM I feel (contrary to pop culture, I am far more free in my 30s than in my youth).

I understand now that I have something to share, and an obligation to do so…truths that have been told to me in time and experience.  And that none of the work is ABOUT me.  This is incredibly liberating.

I’m learning to live and more importantly, learning to die and let go of things that only weigh down.  This is a lifelong journey…

Learning to understand myself, and all of us,  not in terms of our talents or looks or relationships or belongings or achievements or personality–frankly, all things which can be taken away—but in Christ alone.

I enjoy increased connectedness with ALL people, regardless of age.  The numbers matter FAR less.  (Remember when you were 18 and though 24 was over the hill?)

Best of all, hunger for personal gain lessens, thirst for knowledge grows, and we realize that the nearer we get to Him, God becomes only more magnificent.

Don’t be afraid of turning 25.  Or 30 or 40 (okay, I’ll admit I’m not quite feeling that one yet) or 80.

We need more people going ahead of us in JOY and WISDOM and GRACE, clearing the path and pointing out the beauties.

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.

a voice traveling...

I hear my voice traveling down the hall towards me...songs from my record playing low volume in the dark room of sleeping daughters.  

My biggest fans share this same roof with me.  

Nothing is more humbling, moving, than knowing these little ones want me with them like this as they drift off to sleep.  That they are drawn to this music...that they know the words! 

Today we uncovered a basket of old tapes.  That's right.  I said TAPES.  As in, cassette tapes. Remember?  

I used to take my mom's little tape recorder--yes, TAPE RECORDER--and push Play and Record at the same time (you know exactly what I'm talking about) and record myself singing, sometimes talking, occasionally even tap dancing.  :)  

So today, we brought down the one CD player in the house that does still have a functional cassette tape player, and we listened to 8 yo me doing my very best Amy Grant impression..."what a difference you've made in my life, what a difference you've made in my LIFE, you're my sunshine day and ni-i-ight, oh, what a difference you've made...".  And 12 yo me talking from my bedroom in Karlsruhe, Germany, to my friend Jodi, who had moved back to the states (never mailed it!), explaining important changes that had been made to my bedroom decor, and yes, more Amy Grant impressions..."I have found the place where I can hide, I'm safe inside your arms of love...".  

And I'm thinking about things that stay.  

At least, what we create that may--very likely will--outlive us.  

I admit there is satisfaction and pleasure in the idea of this handful of people here in my home carrying my work, my compositions, around with them as they walk through life.  They will carry it beyond me and beyond the places I have walked myself.  There is a good chance my grandchildren will hear some of it, hum the tunes.

That's good.  But...I wonder...

What else am I creating?  What else are we passing on?  What else will they remember and retell?  

I hope...

I hope it's Truth and the Beauty that radiates there.  

I hope it's Love.

I hope its Joy!

I hope it's Gentleness and Forgiveness and Peace.  

I hope it's ... Humility.

I hope these are recorded on their hearts and will be sung to our great great great grandchildren and to their great grandchildren.  I hope and imagine each one of us adding to the melody, a progression, a voice, a new line of poetry, as it passes from hand to hand and heart to heart...

Of course, it isn't beginning here.  I also fell asleep listening.

I hear a voice traveling....