christa wells

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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35 Hours

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A few minutes ago, I shared this on Twitter:

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It's true. Art encourages us to forge friendships and learn from people we might ordinarily assume we have nothing in common with.  Music has made me feel more connected to the rest of humanity - thus, less alone - all my life.

A couple months ago I wrote about the song and idea behind "Panning for Gold," and the new work I was thinking about as I wrote was this upcoming EP of cover songs I'm working on with producer Ben Shive.

Austin Kleon, whose book Steal Like An Artist I highly recommend, writes:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere.  All creative work builds on what came before...You are the sum of your influences.

He also quotes Goethe:

We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.

I was shaped and fashioned especially by the sounds I soaked in during my teens and early 20s, and I believe they are worth celebrating.

If you're not convinced that bringing a new voice to old songs can be worthwhile, I heartily recommend these fine examples by Sleeping At Last, or this one by Greg Laswell.

We still have 35 hours to go on rounding up backers for this project.  Will you consider joining the team, even if you can only manage pre-ordering the download for $5?  

That's not too little!  We want you in this with us.  And if you would bring a few friends along?  The more the merrier!

In case you missed these on Twitter or FB, here are a couple teasers from last week's show in Raleigh. The band and I had a blast re-imagining these favorites from The Smiths and REM.  Not saying these are definites on the album or that these would be THE arrangements, but maybe you'll get a taste of the possibilities.

Thanks. Thanks for being here with me.

-cnw

FEED YOUR SOUL - Release Day!

christa wells feed your soul album I may start crying if I’m not careful.

I mean, we actually did this.  Nine months ago, I trembled my way into a Kickstarter campaign and asked for help making another record.  Who am I to ask so much from  others?  But I did.

Songs and substance were beginning to well up again, and there didn’t seem to be a way to get them out on my own.  This simply would not have gone forward at that time without a communal effort.  And you guys stepped out of shadows with so much joy & gratitude (!) it took my breath away.

And here we are.

Today was the official birthdate of “FEED YOUR SOUL,” an album of 12 new & original songs that begins with vanity & self-sufficiency and ends in authentic love & community.

I did not know where I was going with these songs at first.  I didn’t know how they would fit together or what umbrella they might belong under.  They terrified me, honestly, and I was often certain they were miserable failures.

But you’ve begun to take them out of my arms and carry them with you.  And I’m finding out from you that the course was right after all and the work worth the labor pains.

So, world, I humbly present “FEED YOUR SOUL,” bashfully placing it at the foot of the mountain of good things.  Hopeful it belongs there.

And if you agree it was worth the effort...maybe you'll tell somebody?

Two Ways to Show Your Love:

  1. Itunes/Amazon reviews & ratings…It really helps an album to have lots of good words written about it.  If you have 5 minutes…?
  2. Give a copy or copies away…to your neighbor, co-worker or blog-readers

The world needs music-lovers as much as music-makers.  It never escapes me how much I need you.  Humbly grateful you’ve chosen to be here in this moment with me.

Love,

christa

What to Expect When You're Expecting

If I asked you how many people are in labor at a given moment, you'd tell me Google says approximately 490,000 babies are born every day around the world, so at least that many women are in labor as we speak.  And I would say the number must be far higher, because I'm not thinking only of human babies carried in their mother's wombs, but also of the kind of creature you yourself have been carrying and the thing I have been carrying. The visions and books and songs and ministries and inventions and everything else that begins with that sudden spark and heartbeat and eventually grows limbs and lungs within us and waits to see the light of day...

Forgive the feminine metaphor, because it is most certainly not a gender experience, but as I approach this new stage of my recording project, I keep coming back to it.  Mainly because I have felt so keenly aware of struggle in the process this time around.  My brother-in-law said my visual artist sister is the same way in the weeks preceding her art shows.

The past few weeks I'd deem the painful "transition" stage where it was time to let the work move from my head to worktape and then allow others to enter the room.

I'm writing now in order to take note of that, so next time one of you can kindly refer me back here and my own words will bring the comfort of, "Oh, yeah, that's right.  I felt like that before, and look how great we all turned out!"

At some point in our lives will undertake the development and delivery of something, and we'll feel the weight and pressure and terrible fear mixed with thrill and delight of participating in originality and co-creation with the Maker.  Most of us will question the legitimacy of the conception or the sustainability of the idea and later will second-guess our direction.  We'll have to measure and weigh external input against our own instincts.  We'll find ourselves off-track, at times self-indulgent.

Eventually, we get down to business and welcome the help of other kinds of experts who believe in what we are carrying.  (It's not the Messiah, but we are hoping to see some resemblance.)  And when you know you're getting close to putting a face on the idea, all the sleepless nights seem (are) worthwhile.

It's okay to be scared now and then along the way.  It is a big deal to give birth to something new.  It doesn't matter that 490,000 babies are being born today.  That number doesn't diminish your ONE baby in the slightest.  THIS one is yours.

It's okay to say it's hard.  It is.  It helps, though, to remind yourself "What to Expect When You're Expecting" - every pregnant woman knows you need reminding what is going to happen when and how it's going to feel.

You might be developing a new course, adopting a child, training for the foreign mission field, brainstorming the start of a new church ministry or support group, outlining a new book, starting a small business.  Labors harder in many ways than physical.

What are you carrying?

Or if you're feeling rather barren?  This may not be your season bear a new thing, but it might be exactly the season for you to come alongside and support someone who is feeling the good weight.  Talk them down from the cliff when they need it.  (ahem - Many of you have done that for me recently.)

Maybe we are always to have our feet in one of those sets of shoes?

As for me and this making a record thing, I've rounded the bend, and the doctor has been called in. :)  Let the fun begin.

How to Love Your Independent Artist: Pt. 1

 

FIRST OF ALL.  I’m already loved.

Loved well.

Each of you I’ve had the pleasure of meeting or hearing from over the years since I made the bold move in 2009 to take my quaking body up to the piano in front of real people have done nothing but encourage and uplift.  I haven’t yet been able to think up an adequate “Thank you,” but I always feel it.

So, I’m not writing this because you have failed to love me well.  Quite the oppositeBecause you care, I think you might appreciate a peek behind the curtains into the life of fairly odd creatives like me.  Because you care, you want to understand our hearts, joys and struggles.

As you may know, I was really strictly a songwriter for several years, having abandoned an early desire to perform, due to extreme performance anxiety.  It was only after a false start in 2006 and a more legitimate launch in 2009 that I really entered into this world independent artistry.  And my path hasn’t looked very much like the majority of indie artists, Christian or not, because of my particular life & career circumstances.

Still, there is a sense of brotherhood amongst us who determine to keep making music with or without the sometimes-helpful, oft-constraining scaffolding of a record label.

 

SOME THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS (3 of 7):

 1.    Behind every hour onstage, there are roughly 6-60 hours of work offstage.

There are a million kazillion things independent artists spend hours learning and applying, with writing & rehearsing often getting the shaft.  Many of us handle our own booking, planning, band-management, book-keeping, product inventory & shipping, website maintenance, blogging, etc. and are hard-pressed to get to the creative work we are passionate about.  This is a real struggle, as many of us have other day jobs and/or family, as well.

Prior to 2009 I was surprisingly clueless about this side of the music business and recall thinking: “That’s a pretty great gig!  Even if they only make $100 for a house show, that’s not bad for 2 hours of fun, fulfilling work.”

It IS a pretty great gig, getting to do what you love.  But needless to say, I’ve been enlightened about the hours.

2.  We aren’t always sure we should be doing this, but we can't seem to stop.

 

  • Is anyone even listening?
  • Do our musical & lyrical efforts seem to resonate?
  • Can this really be financially feasible?
  • How much should we model ourselves after label artists?  How much should we model ourselves after full-time indie artists?
  • How free are we to write what we really want to write, even when it doesn’t match current radio trends (Christian or not)?
  • Is it possible to stand under stagelights and keep a right heart and motives?

Ultimately: Is this of enough value to really make it worth the sacrifices of time & money?  Am I on the right path?

We return to these questions, but ultimately we LOVE MAKING MUSIC & we don't know how to do much else. Don't WANT to do much else.

3.  We're looking for our place within the art world.

 

Even if we’re sure we SHOULD be making art, we continue to ask:  Why?  What exactly is MY particular purpose & place?  Where do I fit?

Nashville, New York, Atlanta, LA…or Raleigh, NC?  Coffee shops, house concerts, music festivals, arenas, conferences…?  Americana, pop, folk, Christian, rock, bluegrass, country…?  Am I speaking to people who share my faith or to people who do not?  Is my natural audience teens, young adults, 35 year old moms, other artists, radio listeners, theologians, former hippies…?

It’s demographic, but it’s more than that, a sense of calling.

Artists: If this is a question you are struggling to answer, I would suggest you start with a little inventory of what you really know about yourself.  This is a spiritual exercise, I think, if we acknowledge that we were in fact designed by Someone for a specific purpose & workOur passions and gifts and personalities point toward that purpose.

For me, these are some things I know:

  • I am compelled to put words and music together in the most honest way I can to uplift and challenge myself and others,  reflecting life and truth.
  • I deeply desire balance in all things.
  • I have an insatiable thirst for wisdom and understanding of the Maker and humanity, and the relationship between the two.
  • I love to be taught and to teach.  (much to the chagrin of my family members)
  • The joy of writing for me is in finding beautiful, inventive ways of painting pictures, not in being safe.  At the same time, communication is important to me, so I want the songs to be accessible.
  • If something does not interest me, or if I do not believe in it or feel its purpose or respect the approach, I cannot muster motivation. The possibility of song being a hit is not enough to make me care.
  • I enjoy creative independence and collaboration, but do not want to feel controlled by a “machine.”
  • I have a family and a local community, and it’s important to me to be present & faithful to both.  This means I have to strive to be a good steward of my time & resources.

All of the above have shaped the path I’ve taken and continue to take regarding music.  If I say "no" (an important word for all humans to use wisely) to a request or opportunity, it's because whatever it is doesn't quite fit with all of the above.

You have your own list, right?  Artist or not.

 

ARTISTS, feel free to chime in below.  I'm presuming to speak for all of us, and I'm sure I'll miss something.  MUSIC LISTENERS, would love to hear from you, too.  Do you have an artist in your life & you're not sure what to do with him/her?

Because of the length of this post, I'm dividing it.  Look for "HOW TO LOVE YOUR INDEPENDENT ARTIST: PT. 2" next week...  

 

Oh, Your Love - for mothers and their children

Thinking about motherhood this week, as I watch the kids make secret plans for Sunday. Aware of how this phenomenon called parenting alters a person.  As she pushes her child away from her body and into the world, she begins the work of teaching him how to separate from her.  Slowly but surely, she prepares him to leave.  And at the same time, she learns to how to push herself towards him and his needs, away from her own.

Sometimes it doesn't work out that way.

Some of you feel you have no mother to celebrate, even if she is living. Some were wounded and betrayed by her. Some have just been born into motherhood and are terrified of the responsibility.

We have this in common, all of us having been born to a flawed woman in need of grace.  If you haven't found something to celebrate in your own mother, perhaps this song will be a peek into the possible. A hallway of hope for the children who come into your life, to be mothered by you in some way. After all, everyone needs mothering.

My own mother?  She's just beautiful.  If you've met her, you know what I'm talking about.  She will never claim any talent or physical beauty, though it's there.  But time has taught her how to shine in the most marvelous way.  This woman knows how to love.  In fact, she doesn't know how not to...she doesn't leave a grocery store without hugging a cashier.  It's what she was born to do.  And the love of the Maker through this little redheaded woman has sent out millions of ripples across the waters of humankind since 1948.   She is leaving a legacy of love.

I'm so grateful.

This is a little something I wrote this week and late last night, Aidan said he'd work a little FLIP video magic for me.  As you can see, we are a very high-tech family.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

*TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES WITH YOUTUBE VIDEO POSTING.  To view, click HERE. :)

Oh, Your Love (Christa Wells)

I know that you knew

You raised us to leave you

Raised us to run with a torch in our hands

I know that you knew

What your love would do

Sent us out sailors with the wind at our backs

 

I know that you gave

Without keeping record

Except to be certain you had nothing left

I know that you gave

Til it hurt though you never

Admitted anything but the joy and gladness

 

Ooh, your love always carried us

 

I know that you followed us

Late in the darkness

Pulled up the blankets, covered us in prayer

I know that you followed

Our paths to independence

With a great deal of patience and a little bit of fear

 

But ooh, your love always carried us

 

I know that you see us

The way we were back then

You can’t let go, you can’t really let us go

But I hope that you see how

You took those little children

To the light that leads us all to our true home

 

And ooh, your love always carries us

Oooh, your love will always carry us

 

I know that you knew what your love would do

Your family loves you.

 

 

Trying My Own Wings

I’ve been learning freedom on a long, slow curve. Emphasis on slow.

I believe that when we meet God…when He makes Himself known to us…the cage door is thrown open, we are given power to live BEYOND.  Beyond ourselves, beyond the temporal, beyond the visible, beyond…

So why are so many of us still sitting here on our perches, behind bars?  Do we not have good, strong, functional wings?  What's keeping us nervous, fearful, glued, caged?

Myers-Briggs...So Interesting

The inner workings of human temperament…so utterly fascinating to me.  So utterly NOT fascinating to him, my better half.  The minute I whip out a casual reference to someone’s Myers-Briggs personality type, there is a decidedly audible exhale and eyes flicker to something happening outside the window.  (Of course, that’s because he’s an INTJ and he has better, more pragmatic things on his mind, so many things to be improved in the world!)

But I have a strong desire to understand people, including myself.  Understanding helps me to love.

What's Wrong With Me?

When I entered the professional songwriting world a few years ago and began working collaboratively for the first time, I didn’t understand why it felt so hard for me and so easy for others.  Not hard skill-wise, but hard emotionally/psychologically. I couldn’t seem to enter my writing space while sitting in the room with a total stranger and two hours to come up with a “hit.” I didn’t like many of the songs I co-wrote.  I didn’t like the cavalier, formulaic approach I saw.  Truth and beauty matter very much to me, and I am not interested in having my name on something I don’t really care about, no matter how much money it could make or doors of "opportunity" it could open.

But everyone else seemed to know how to get it done.  What was wrong with me?  Why couldn’t I lighten up?

I thought:

...I’m too serious...My songs need a day at Disney.

...I overthink and second-guess and miss great opportunities.

...I’m too picky.

...I’m unreasonably unwilling to sacrifice the aspects of life that must be laid aside in order to do this creative work well.  I’m also unwilling to sacrifice music to make time to do anything else really well.

...Maybe if I were more intellectual…

...Maybe if I were LESS intellectual…

...Maybe if I considered the market more…?

...Consider the market less…?

...Maybe if I were more dramatic…

...Maybe if I were LESS dramatic…

...Maybe if I reached out more, spent more time online, were more outgoing, followed this or that strategic trend…

And there were more lists for the other arenas of my life.

Unique, But Not the Only One

Recently, I read some texts dealing with work and personality type in the book Do What You Are.  Although I'm already doing the work I was born to do, it was highly encouraging to read profiles of other INFPs - how they approach their work, what is important in their work environments, and how they determine the value of their efforts.

My internal response was:

Oh!  OH!  Wow!  There is a name for this!  There is a whole truckload full of people who operate this way, with similar strengths and flaws, and we have others like us!  We aren’t DOING this, we are merely BEING who we were wired to be.

Maybe…Just because we are all dogs doesn’t mean we are the same breed?

Songwriters are not all of one breed?

All humans/parents/children/women/men/fill-in-the-blank are not of one breed!

One body, many parts!  And for those who are hands, not all hands look alike!  Those who are voices, each voice is one-of-a-kind!  Distinct works “prepared in advance” for us to accomplish.  This is not about justifying immoral or harmful behavior with “that’s just the way I am.”  This is about celebrating the individual traits that make each of us a uniquely designed creature…and also a unique contributor to our vocational/avocational fields.

Of course, all of this only further illuminates what we have already been told: our worth and beauty originate in the life of Christ whose Light overtakes our darkness and makes us radiant.  The Gospel, and not Myers-Briggs, is bread and water for the healthy, fully alive soul.

You are FREE to SHINE in the way HE makes YOU shine. :)

The Job That is Yours

I was reading Bedtime for Frances with the kids and love how Father tells Frances that everyone has a job to do.  Even the wind has a job: to go around blowing the curtains at night.

I think I’m figuring out what my job is…and what it is not.

There are certain songs it is MY job to write and deliver to certain people – it may be a small audience, but those songs are my job and not Adele’s job.  Adele cannot have my job, and I cannot have hers.

Try that on?

“________________ cannot do what I do, and I cannot do what _________ does.  And that is fine, fine, fine.”

Beautiful even.

Slowly, slowly, creeping through the open cage door, trying my own wings…

Everything Moves (but you)

With small pangs of heartbreak, I allowed him to turn 6-years-old.

Twice that day he leaned close and whispered: I'm six.

He's trying it on.

He's turning, we're all turning; officially exiting "Chapter of the Small Child."

(sigh)

We've spent a lot of time here.

Years ago, when I tossed my graduation cap high in the air along with 500 other high schoolers, I seriously couldn't beLIEVE the moment had ACTUALLY arrived.  I'd dreamed about it for so long but sort of thought I'd keep dreaming and never really get there.

Before that, I'd spent all my growing years as the daughter of an army officer,  relocating every 1-4 years, living in 12 different houses before I'd finished high school.

Our North Carolina-born&raised kids can't fathom that, recently asked if it was as terrible as it sounds.  Honestly, no...it wasn't.  (until high school!).

The thing is, when you live in the military, you EXPECT to move.

You are always aware that your life - as you know it - is temporary.

When I was six, there was no thought of staying anywhere.  And the people in your community?  THEY don't stay either - also moving in and out, so you're all in the same boat.  I'm sure the experience of a military WIFE is a whole different story, but for us kids...it was what we knew and expected.

The anticipation of relocation shaped relationships, but not always in the way you might assume.  We were pretty quick to dive in, declare our "best friends."  Bobbi Jo, Jennifer, Jodi, Jennifer, Leslie, Merri, Megan, Jeff, Monica&Jen, Laurel...cherished friendships.  Hearts broke at year's end when the movers showed up, but in the meantime?  Let's play!!

Everything moved.  And we knew it.

Everything still moves, on a swift current that lets us touch beauty just before it wrinkles, enjoy a few minutes of good health before the bad, feel the weight of wealth in our palms before it is spent, relish a full house before an empty nest...life before death.

We anticipate, we release. Over and over and over, every day.

If these are the things we trust to keep us afloat, we will find our very selves swept downstream, because they are not meant to stick around for long...only to stretch and point toward the unseen, which will not be taken away, will not be destroyed by moth, rust, or old age.

So...I let him move on, my last little downy head.  He moved on to age six, and tomorrow he will move out to some other life away from his mother.

And she will grieve for a time, but she will not be swept away.  Because what she holds onto is the Unmoving Love that holds onto her.

The Writing Room

Must.Write.Now.

It’s a bit obvious when the songwriter in this house has stayed away too long from writing, because she starts getting just a LITTLE bit grumpy.  A TINY bit irritable.  Easily IRKED.  Not by political leaders or financial crises or even by semi-big deals like being behind (again) on emails or (chronically) filing paperwork.

It’s much less rational than that.  Where there is no solitude, there is much loud exhaling at the very presence of human beings.  People and their people-y things, like shoes…hunger…chatter.

It’s not pretty...

So...for the well-being of my family: to writing I return.

...

Where have all the good ideas gone?

The writing road is often a thrill-ride attempt to grab all those great ideas that hover in cartoon bubbles around your head before they pop.

"Except when it's not."  (Dr. Seuss)

Sometimes I honestly wonder if maybe I’ve written my last good song, because: Where did all the ideas go?!

They arrive through books, blogs, sermons and (yes) conversations (those people-y things).  Soak...write...soak...write...soak...

I’ve been soaking for a while now without the wave rising up.  These past couple of weeks, I sense the swell coming but something isn’t quite there.  And I’m beginning to think it’s not always about the idea…

.......

What’s the Problem?

Sometimes it’s about trying to write in a way that’s akin to taking a quiet bath in the middle of Times Square.  And the billboards and traffic?  My own brain.

Maybe we fall into Consciousness and can't get up?   Maybe the noise of a thousand tiny people in our heads telling us how to be and sound and watch out for this and don’t do that gets in the way of us carving out something fresh and true?

I forget to light the candle of Intuition that has always led the way …

Any writer can break down a great song for you and tell you why it works…AFTER it’s written.  More often than not, we're not actually thinking about those things during the process.  Occasionally, a listener will point something out that looks like great crafting, and it’s a delight to hear, because I had never consciously worked it out.

We practice, study, listen and pack all the structural tips in the back closet of the brain.  But the really natural, poignant writing happens in The Writing Room.

...

The Writing Room

The Writing Room is not a physical place but a mental Safe Room, where almost everything the writer needs lives.  Stacks and drawers of metaphors, images, memories, stories, poetry, vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme line the walls (if you’re messy like me…maybe yours is more orderly).

Self-consciousness is most definitely NOT in the room.  Self-consciousness takes up lots of space, distracts from and suffocates art.

On a great day, the process is vertical, spiritual, intuitive. In that space we are free to focus every fiber on serving the song at hand. In that space, every syllable matters, every melodic nuance is measured and shaped, but it happens not in a lab but on a birthing table.

Like any good birthing room, the baby is delivered after hard labor in a safe and relatively serene environment.  And she looks a little like her parent and a LOT like a brand new thing that never existed before.

In the Image of the MAKER...with Ann Voskamp!

*Friends!  Thanks for spreading the word about this little retreat.  We SOLD OUT in 4 DAYS!  Wow.  Please add your name to the waiting list if you missed it (you never know) - and stay tuned.  We are working on the possibility of adding another date for this retreat in the next few months.  Maybe we'll see you there? :)

Dear Friends!

I've been so excited to share this news with you...it's been in the works for months and we have finally landed on specifics enough to invite your participation.

If you have been around my Twitter feed much over the past year or two, you are aware of my great affection and admiration for Ann Voskamp, Canadian blogger/writer (although she would first list wife to Farmer and mother of six).  Ann writes vividly, poetically, and with profound depth about faith, life, and living gratefully.

Across the miles, Ann has become a dear friend to me.  The title track of my new EP: How Emptiness Sings originated with one of Ann's marvelous blog posts -- Soulcoustics: How to Hear God in the Dark.  This will be releasing in March, and we've hoped to join forces in some way, her speaking and me singing about the music that comes from the hollow places.

Together with Nicole Witt (another name you know by now), we began envisioning a weekend of women gathering to celebrate the Creator God and the ways we can image Him in artful living.  The gathering will be deliberately small (75 women).  During our overnight time together at Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, NC, we'll listen in quiet, make music, pray, share meals and words of encouragement, and celebrate the countless ways God has borne His creative spirit into all of us "makers."  The date has been set!  June 10-11, 2011.

Join us?

You don't have to be one who calls herself an artist, or a seller of any product.  You may express beauty in the kitchen or an office or in your garden or a classroom...If the idea of reflecting His beauty in daily living connects with you in some way...you are welcome and invited.

Click the Green Button for more... Register for In the Image of the Maker Retreat in Sophia, United States  on Eventbrite

NOTE: Registration opens Valentines Day.  :) Because we need to provide the retreat center with numbers at the end of March, we are closing registration at that time, so don't wait!

Making the EP: Part Uno

As you may remember, I was in Nashville again a couple of weeks ago, this time to lay down the vocal tracks for the 7-song EP I've been working on.  These months have been so full, I actually didn't even have all the music together when I arrived, nor did I feel super solid about the songs I did have.  As I am not a speedy songwriter, but a linger-over-it-for-days-or-weeks kind of writer, I really was just trusting that God would bring the music in time.  And He did (no, I don't say God writes the songs, but He definitely inspires the good ones).  I've never done it this way, but I have to say the two songs that were written that week just might be my favorites on the album. Anyway, here are some of the highlights of the first day or two.  More installments in the coming days.  :) (You'll have to double-click the link, bc embedding isn't working today!)

Christa Wells: Making the EP, Part Uno

A Thousand Things: Live from Outeredge Stage

Inspired by two very special ladies (Angie Smith and Beth Edwards), as well as John Piper who wrote that in every thing He does, God is doing a THOUSAND things.  Sometimes, just telling your story can start a chain reaction, and we may have no clue what's going on...

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.

Masterpiece Project 2010: Frame the Clouds

I want to tell you about Masterpiece Project 2010.

Our theme this year was “Frame the Clouds,” and you’ll just have to believe me when I say I did not have anything to do with that. But I was humbled, so grateful that the concept resonates with others.

The staff at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  We are songwriters, musicians, graphic designers, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, pastors, dancers, and counselors.

We are all passionate about our art forms and passionate about the work of God’s kingdom.

In particular, we are passionate about encouraging young artists to be fearless in their faith and in their work.

We all feel inadequate in one way or another.

We wonder what’s next in our own lives.

Above all we believe there is a big, big beautiful true story happening and that it is our responsibility to participate in the telling of it.  By making art.  And by living in love with God’s art.

The students at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  They are songwriters, musicians, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, dancers, novelists, cartoonists, designers.  Public-schooled, private-schooled, home-schooled.  Funny, dramatic, shy, mysterious, hardworking, uncertain, open.

They feel inadequate and wonder what’s next.

But above all they suspect they have something in common with other storytellers, past and present, across the globe and in the next cabin.  Some small part of them, at least, believes they have been given a uniquely powerful way of representing God’s True story.

In one little week in the rural midwest, we are together and changed.

We, together, have listened, walked and talked, written, collaged, and played, danced, cooked, and cleaned.  We've sung prayers, read the Word, and represented a Creed.

We tried to frame the clouds.

And yes, we even built a giant iPod.

*The following was copied (with permission) from a Facebook "Note" posted by one of our campers:

"When we were released by the kitchen staff the people who were helping and I were sitting around a table and someone asked if I had any of my drawings with me and I did. I showed them the one I was working on and I ran back to my cabin and grabbed my three boxes of my drawings and brought them over to the gathering area. I opened them up and gave them up for viewing. This is something I do not do often, generally I am not comfortable with groups of people looking through my art for whatever reason, but I knew it could be appreciated. Now there was a little crowd of about eight or nine people chattering and oooing over my art. Now this was unique being that I have drawn them and made up my mind whether or not I like them or not. There was stuff from a couple of years ago to present and some of those pieces are somewhat embarrassing to me but much to my surprise people were pointing out things in my art that I never saw and were explaining how much they enjoyed them. Compliment after compliment kept coming about drawings that I had nearly forgotten about. It was an encouraging moment and something I remember clearly. In that moment I knew that I was in the company of friends..."

Sea

I realize I’ve been away from this writing place several weeks, and I’m tempted to feel guilty for not following my own weekly regimen.  Especially since watching Julie & Julia last night.  But then I remind myself that I am, afterall, a songwriter who does some blogging and not the other way around.  So…thanks for sticking around when you don’t have to and when nothing new is showing up for weeks…

Sea

We don’t live near the sea. In the three years since our last visit I’ve thought of it little, Content with grass and pines, gardens and topsoil.

Afterall, it’s good to be home.

Now that we’ve returned, I’m humbled to know: Neither my absence nor lack of remembrance Affect the life of the sea.

She exists without us; Her magnitude is not even slightly diminished. Waves roll in From places under the sun we’ll never lay eyes on. Her roar continually fills our ears-- A “white noise” that surrounds us all and depends on no electrical outlet.

She has no need of me.

But watch those children slice and kick the foam, Squeal as she slams their shins in play and We turn backs to the crash, try to keep upright, Even as we laugh at the fall.

I was pleased for a while simply to feel sand sink underfoot Stand guard at the shore and count heads.

It’s easy to stay put.

But when the time came, I grabbed board, and friend, And we waded against the push Leaned hard Into the current Got ourselves deep and Removed. We felt privileged, Small and strong. I thought we might stay out there forever.

It’s heavenly to float.

And a momentary pleasure. The sea doesn’t ask approval But swells and swallows according to her own purpose And when she lifted and catapulted our bodies We could not but submit We could only lay down and close our eyes As we rode galloping water steeds all the way Back to the shallows.

Transported by the tide.

Wild wet-haired creatures rose up laughing, whooping, exhilarated-- Dripping, sand-scuffed, ecstatic.

And I realize— It’s home to be alive.

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.

IJM: 5 Weeks for Freedom - Nashville

(Me, IJM Staffers Daria Wilson and Amy Lucia, Sara Groves)

I've been hearing about International Justice Mission for a while now, primarily in association with my friend Sara Groves who has been a passionate supporter and contributor to IJM.  Interestingly, we had just recently talked about IJM and the possibility of my contributing at some point, when I got a call from the coordinator of the Nashville 5 Weeks for Freedom event, asking if I could participate.  This was just a couple of weeks ago, and the event took place on Saturday (July 10).  It seemed meant to be, and I was excited to be with them and learn more about their work.

I am still shocked by the numbers and the stories...more slaves today than during the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade (four centuries!)??!!?  How is this possible?  Why don't we hear more about it?  Young children (like yours and mine), women (like you and me), tricked and trapped into brothels, violently abused every night.  Widows and their children forced off their own land, left to wander without provision or shelter.  This is happening.  Right now it's happening.

There are laws in place, laws that prohibit slavery.  IJM's investigators, attorneys and social workers are entering into the gap and not only rescuing and rehabilitating the victims, but going after the source of corruption and bringing oppressors to justice.  They are currently at work in 13 developing countries around the world and have brought thousands of people out of slavery It's no small thing.

There are lots of ways to be a part of this good work.  You don't have to be famous or rich or available to travel.  Check out the numerous possibilities...all you really need is to care enough to act.  To do or share what God puts in your hands to do or share.  In the face of tremendous need everywhere in the world, we can become paralyzed and do nothing, since we can't do everything.  Doing nothing can't be an option for people who have been given everything that is needed for Life.

By the way, a super easy way you can join in right now:  Grab your phone and TEXT "FREEDOM" to 20222...$10 without even having to put a stamp on an envelope.  Could we together ask 100,000 people to do that once this summer?

(My sister Mandy played & sang with me.)

I gave a few songs and it's not enough to save even a small village. But if we pass out the bread God has entrusted us with, can we not trust God to make it matter?

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.

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.