community

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.

pilgrimage

Last night I arrived home from Masterpiece Project 2017, an arts camp for teens where I spend one week each summer facilitating a songwriting studio for 10-15 students. Each year has its own theme which we explore together via a camp-wide collaborative project. This year’s theme was “Pilgrimage.”

Through film and song and words and drama and photography, we talked about Journey. The path. The detours that turn out to be the path. Internal conflict. Interwoven paths. Reflecting back and imagining what might be ahead.

It’s resonant from where I stand in this middle part of life, with the accumulation of days growing behind me and still craving more adventure. I can actually count decades now, and say things like, “Remember 20 years ago when Princess Diana died?”

But even this one day, today, was its own micro-pilgrimage from waking with a neck-ache and no agenda to this very moment where I sit in the dark on my back patio, listening to dogs bark and crickets chirp. I have a small glass of red wine and a bit of dark chocolate I was too tired to eat last night.

The in-between hours of daylight included a 90-minute, unplanned conversation with my daughter in this same spot, where we talked philosophy and faith and relationships. There was a trip to the Y where I was surprised by tears (mine) on our way in, and sat instead on the side steps to the building. My daughters found me and sat with me, too. We traveled across town to a church I’ve wanted to visit and were soothed a while by the gentle tone of the pastor’s voice and the truth on his lips. We ventured into Panera to feed our bodies and Target to acquire tools for the upcoming school year. And now here I sit, reflecting.

Today and for the past week I’ve fought hard to stay present and emotionally-armed as I am reminded at every turn of a painful detour in my life. My friend said a week ago: “The detour is the path.” It’s been bouncing around in my head ever since.

And making me angry, too. I mean, some detours could be avoided, right? Some detours become necessary only because people are selfish and put up roadblocks that affect everybody on the road. Right?

Yes.

So what? Here we are. What are we going to do about it? Here I am taking this unexpected route, a route I didn’t see on the map, and have no knowledge of or interest in. Taking this route is going require re-arranging and will make me miss some beautiful things I’ve looked forward to. I’m tired and my pack is heavy and the view ain’t that great.

This detour hurts. A lot.

Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Sara Groves sang in "Painting Pictures of Egypt": The future looks too hard and I wanna go back.

It's so true it hurts my heart to even listen to it. You get it.

But you know what?

We're doing it. We’re moving along. We woke up this morning, and we put some clothes on our bodies, and we said, “Okay, now what?”

Life is story, and in all great stories, the protagonist only grows when the writer allows them to walk through a fire of some kind. We develop, BECOME, more real, more fully human, when our surroundings become suddenly unfamiliar, and we feel out of sorts even in our own skin.

I adore my little back patio, but sitting here doesn’t make me stronger. You don’t read about patience and magically become patient. You live stuff that makes patience necessary, so you get better at it.

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I don’t have anything new or revolutionary to say, just still teasing it all out, this idea of being a pilgrim in progress towards something Marvelously Other than what we’ve seen.

I’m a whiny pilgrim. I'd like to watch “Gilmore Girls” and sleep on my special, chiropractic pillow and have all my favorite people live closely in a town of tiny houses near the beach. Because that’s my small mind’s best attempt at conjuring a picture of heaven. (I'm pretty sure it’s close.)

I foolishly sang, “I haven’t been asked yet to walk the hard road,” knowing it was a matter of time. I don’t want this stupid hard road. Neither do you. But I know this: A road is a means of travel and connection.

The hard road is not a grave.

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There are no roads to nowhere when you’re listening for the voice of the Maker like a whisper on the wind. When the route gets washed out in the mudslide, we (God + us + our loving people) will innovate another way. We will. We’ll feel sorry for ourselves for a minute. And then we’ll get up, clear some debris and innovate another way.

It'll sometimes feel like hiking barefooted off-trail on rocks, but it won’t feel like we’re doing it alone. Not if we pay attention.

And we’ll make up some decent songs along the way.

Keep going, little pilgrim...there’s beauty around the bend.

All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

Patreon: TuneTribe 2.0

Well friends,

It's climbing toward 80 degrees today here in Nashville, and I'm sitting by the window working through my list like you probably are. My head swims with ideas and anxiety and gratitude and excitement.  I've been working hard the past couple of months to plan the next thing(s) in terms of music. And things are cooking!

A couple months from now, I'll release a new single, a new video and a new EP! I'll also begin the funding process for a full studio album, tentatively slated for a January 2018 release! The process of creation takes energy and gives it back, and I can't tell you how grateful I am every day to do this work.

Working in small margins means you have to get creative, and being an independent artist means community is everything. In an effort to take better care of this tribe and give my closest members what they've asked for, I've launched a Patreon community.  

What is this Patreon, you say? 

Patreon is a subscription-based platform. Subscribers are called Patrons. You can be a Patron for as little as $1/month.  I love & appreciate the word "patron" more and more. A patron of the arts! That's what you are! How does it feel?

Where TuneTribe members received one new song demo per month, Patrons will get that plus more, if they choose. Video blogs, monthly postcards, behind-the-scenes photos, artist journals, and anything else we together decide on.

I'd love for you to check it out and consider coming along for this. It brings me such joy to interact with you, share new work and hear your thoughts!

Get the scoop by clicking here: PATREON

If you've read this far, you are truly THE best, and I love you. :)

Hope to hear from you soon!

always love,

christa

You're wrong about your age.

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I felt old when I was 25.

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

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

At the ripe age of 25.

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

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

That eagerness to age didn’t last.

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

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

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

UGH.

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

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

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

It is not.

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

Listen.

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

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

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

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

Still in your youth?

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

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

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

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

How great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you know what?

photo credit: MaryAlice Joyce

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

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

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

 

Are you doing the work that is yours to do?

Are you doing it with joy & care?

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

 Is your work meeting someone’s need?

Are you still here, breathing in your mortal body?

 

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

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

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

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

You were BORN LOVED and SHALL REMAIN SO.

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

That's what I think.

cnw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Songwriting Life

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.56.55 AMSo I sat down and wrote a few lines and tried for a melody, but nothing memorable came. Returned to familiar key progressions, fiddled, stared out the front window at the road, then stood and went back to the oven to check the roasting zucchini.

That was one day.

I sat on a piano bench in a room with community and coffee, and we couldn’t stop smiling, at the inspiration and flow and our own jokes. One sang and tried out a lyric while I played and nodded and a third dropped in spontaneous fiddle parts.

That was another day.

My laptop is open and I’m listening to someone else’s songs, in awe of the instincts and choices. Google title for words, put the tune on repeat and let it fill up the room, while I inwardly cheer that someone thought of it.

I don’t even try for something of my own that day.

Last month, all alone, a song came right up out of my skin. Maybe it had been coursing through the veins for quite some time. Maybe it was waiting for me to take it seriously, take it to dinner, ask the right questions. Love at first sight, we were made for each other.

That was a good day.

But every day…

I make, and I am made.

I sing, and I am sung to.

Together, we listen to the stories, we open doors, and we hold hands.

We laugh for no reason late at night, stand close with tears in our eyes, remind one another to look at the illuminated road rather than the lightning*.

This is the secret truth: the music doesn’t stop, not for one unseen second of our days.

You are a writer, and you are also a beloved character on the pages of another writer’s masterpiece.  A favorite part of the melody in another writer's song.

EVERY day.

So am I, even on the staring-out-windows days.

 

 

 

*Taken from Eugene Peterson's A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION, where on page 30 he paraphrases Elie Wiesel on the stories of the Hasidim.

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

JEALOUSY

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.

Prayer.

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.

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COMMUNITY

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.

Hey.

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. ;)

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far-from-home Christmas...

I’ll admit I wondered.

Can it be Christmas if there is no bread pudding?  Will we feel the awesome joy & delight & anticipation if we have few decorations and no family and neighbor-friends.  If we don’t attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service? If I have no piano?

Without parties and shopping and glowing fireplace, will the “coming” be glorious?

When we decided to arrive in Costa Rica before Christmas, I was up for the adventure, but definitely uncertain what it would mean for the kids and for me as far as our emotions related to this great season of celebration.

Last night we were invited to attend a special Christmas worship service at a small church in Cartago, a city about 20 minutes from where we are staying.  Our new friends, Tony and Anna Grace, graciously drove out of their way to transport us and watched over us the whole night.

They meet in a large, windowed room on the corner of a city block and when we arrived, the folding chairs were quickly filling with people, the tables with dishes of yellow rice & chicken & black beans, and the air with recorded music as the worship team got situated on the stage.

We sat toward the back and waited eagerly.  It’s a very strange experience to be enveloped in words and conversation and music and yet be completely unable to understand any of it.  To be wholly dependent on the kindness and ability of others to translate or attempt your language.

(We haven’t run into many fluent English speakers, which is very good and challenging for us!)

The team of musicians, men and women with shakers and electric keyboard and guitars, led a medley of Christmas songs, almost all familiar tunes, from Silent Night to Grown-Up Christmas List and we listened and swayed and joined an occasional line of harmony.

When the pastor, a tall and gracious gentleman who had come out to greet us at the street, stood to preach, I was all ears, straining hard to understand some little bit.

What I recognized and understood were not the sentences he spoke, but the power of the gospel in his voice.

The Name. Jesus… Jesus… Jesus.  Regalo…

And I listened to the singing and the preaching and thought:

These are His people, too.  I have family here.  And some day there will be no language barrier between us.  One day the only thing that really matters will be the only thing.

Long ago God crossed invisible borders and entered our country speaking a new language called Hope and Rescue, made this language accessible to every human in every land through the power of His Spirit.

It was a glorious coming, and will always be so, whatever country we inhabit and regardless of décor or tradition.

It doesn’t need to be contrived or conjured because it really, truly, actually IS.

There is no fear that Christmas won’t find us when we are far from home (as we all are), because Christmas is not a feeling but a Person, and He found us years ago.

May your last week of waiting be full with the joy and gladness of being found, wherever you are...

love,

christa

In the Light...

I dread the dark.

Not the eventual setting of sun at long day’s end, but the days, weeks, months, when the sun begins to rise later and later and leave us earlier and earlier until finally, we come to expect a hasty dusk near the same time neighborhood children hop off the school bus.

I battle the shadow of heaviness, sadness during winter months. It’s a weakness, and if I lived further north I might have to invest in one of those “light boxes” that cost a fortune but keep people afloat in extended darkness.

Of course, I’m ready for long pants and campfires and leaves flying. A break from the sauna days of summer. Thankful for an artist God who gives refreshment and delight from one season to the next.

Winter just isn’t my personal favorite.

Mornings may smell like coffee, and we'll curl up cozily for early morning reading. But as hours go by, if the sky stays gray…I miss the light, and my internal brightness fades.

I think again of Sara Groves’ song, “You Are the Sun”—

“I am the moon with no light of my own, still you have made me to shine…and as I glow in this cold, dark night, I know I cannot be a light unless I turn my face to you.”

In May, my doctor told me I was deficient in vitamin D, which our skin absorbs from direct sunlight (primarily).  The body needs to be in the light to be well. And in the summer sun, our skin glows a healthy pink and gold.

Isn’t it also this way with the spirit?

Weren’t we created for spring? Aren’t we citizens of a country where there is NO darkness and everything is illuminated?

Deep down, do we understand that darkness is the absence of light? Darkness means...something is missing.

The other side of this thought-train is that our Creator left us trails and trails of beauty to discover and celebrate during the long months of waiting the return of the sun.

And the very Holy Spirit of God is here in the waiting with us. Our Comforter.

Last night we took our butternut squash soup (tastier than you might think) and candles to the back deck after nightfall. I watched as the faces around the table lit up golden behind the flames. Prayer, laughter, retelling of stories read, filling of stomachs.

And I think: This is how we stay bright during the long night.

We gather together, break bread and always always always keep the candle of Truth lit in the center.

We must always keep the Savior and His love and his sacrifice and forgiveness and faithfulness and His one-day-returning-like-spring right there in the center of our togetherness.

A flashlight isn’t a flame. Positive thinking isn’t a flame. Health is not the flame. Money is no flame. Beautiful acts of kindness are not the flame. Pleasure isn’t the flame. Even community itself is not the flame.

But He who was and is and is to comeis worthy of gathering around.

Every good thing we put in the center of the table in His place will leave us cold.

But HE...will make His face to SHINE upon us and be GRACIOUS to us...through every dark day from now til spring.

forgiveness...beginnings

* In the interest of full disclosure, most of this post is me reflecting what I gleaned this weekend from the fantastic speakers.  The last portion, in particular, is credited to Josh Harris' talk, "Forgiven to Forgive" available for download soon. (get ready...this might feel like a sermon...)

In a quiet hotel room in Reston, Virginia.  Mid-afternoon and I’m alone and it’s quiet and I have hours before I need to be back downstairs.  I’m grateful for this slice of solitude.

I was asked to come here because of “Weightless.”

There are intersections in life and work that we could not orchestrate if we tried…

For example, after pitching “Weightless” unsuccessfully to other artists, I decided to include it on my “Frame the Clouds” project.  Several of the songs were infused with ideas I had come to understand through study of The Peacemaker (Ken Sande), and in 2008, just before recording, I attended the Peacemaker conference in Florida.  A few months ago, blogger extraordinaire Tim Challies somehow heard the song and posted it on his site, along with a CD giveaway.  As I addressed a package to one of Tim’s winners, I recognized the name of Molly Friesen, a leader at the 2008 conference, and mentioned it in my note to her.  Months later, I received a phone call from Peacemaker Ministries inviting me to come and share “Weightless” and lead worship at the 2010 Peacemaker Conference in Washington D.C

There are things we cannot orchestrate, but God can.

The 550 people who have come together here are ambitious.  Their beliefs are radical.  They have strange visions of mending things long broken, not only so we can sleep at night, but so that GOD will be GLORIFIED through our everyday conflicts and so that the WORLD will notice.

“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…”

Is LOVE what we are known for?

Broken families, marriages, churches, race relations, partnerships, friendships…are we known by love, humility, peace?

Several years ago,  when I began meeting with my pastor and several others, to read and discuss The Peacemaker, we dug deep into biblical reconciliation, and I was shocked by how much I did not know.

What does repentance look like?  What does forgiveness require?  Is it all really necessary?  Isn’t it enough to try to forget what we’ve done, what has been done to us…move on?  Why does “sorry if you felt hurt…” seem to only make things worse?

The stories we’ve heard this week of people who have found the way to forgive heinous crimes and injuries committed against them and their loved ones...parents of murdered children...survivors of terrorist attacks...adult children of violently abusive parents... are astonishing, beautiful--and devastating to the heart that wants to justify bitterness.

Seriously…HOW?

What about Joseph, whose brothers literally threw him away, severing him from his childhood, his home, his father…?  What on earth would compel a man to love and provide for the people who tried to destroy him…to release them from his wrath when he had the power to make them pay?

The answer, of course, is: Nothing on earth.

Nothing on earth would compel him to love like that. Nothing on earth would compel me to love like that.  No strength or anything of ourselves will compel us to LOVE LIKE THAT.

It's supernatural…born of God...nonexistent apart from Him.

Many books have been written about forgiveness.  Many words spoken this weekend alone.  I can’t capture it in a blog post.  But I understand now where that journey begins.

Not surprisingly…it begins where ALL life begins.

At the point where our path intersects with a cross on a hilltop, in another time, on the other side of the world...this is where LIFE, our real Life, begins.

At that intersection--where His Son hung by hands and feet, bleeding, ripped, alone and condemned--God reached deep down into a pit of filth reeking of death...

and pulled me out.

pulled you out.

even as His son hung dying...

washed us like a mother does her newborn,

and took us home.

Life begins there.  Our true delivery.  And our forgiveness of others begins there with us revisiting our birthplace, retelling the story:

I was found in filth.

I was found not AFTER I came to him sorry and cleaned up, but before that.

He chose me dirty.

If I'm sorry and cleaned up, it's because he loved me.

When I even start to fathom the enormity of what I’ve received without one iota of merit…then I (as Josh Harris said so much better Thursday night) will be like a buried-in-unrepayable-debt criminal who’s just come from the throne room, having received a pardon she neither expected nor deserved.

At the intersection of guilt & forgiveness, tears of joy and gratitude prevent me from seeing quite so clearly the sins of others and wrongs done to me.

Instead, maybe: “I don’t even care what you’ve done; do you know what just happened to me?!”

It's not the end of the story...your story may read more like the gentleman who told us how he waited years and years to forgive his father for massive childhood abuse, then another 20 for his father to accept his forgiveness on his deathbed...

But unless we begin, we have no idea of the possibilities.

Well, I've carried this a long time

In a well-hidden bundle on my back

But I've realized forgiveness is weightless

So I'll leave my burden on the track...

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.

So.

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...


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.  

On success & celebrity...

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* My apologies for going long tonight...

Dear friend, so many things I've suddenly wanted to write you about. So many unrelated things on my busy little brain.  I won't hit you with them all at once, but here's a short list.  

Namely,

    1.  Success & Celebrity

    2.  Internet OCD

    3.  Fear

Tonight we'll go with: Success

It's a very strange thing to have to "sell" one's own work, whatever sort of work it is.  

If we find ourselves at a place (finally) where we value our own work enough to want to share it with the world beyond, and hopefully, support ourselves financially, we have to face this beast called "self-promotion."  So awkward.  So uncomfortable.  

But (eventually and with some prodding) we do it.  We put it out there and we wait tense and unbreathing for some positive sign of being well-received by someone other than our mother.  

Oh, the pain of waiting...

    (p.s. If I have ever made you wait for a response to your artistic efforts, I sincerely apologize.  I     know how bad that feels and don't wish you to feel it.)

And when acknowledgment comes...how sweet it is.  Like a water mister at Six Flags on a July day.  Joy. Relief.  Excitement.  Hope!  

It makes possible the next effort. Who of us continues to be brave without being lifted up now and then?

But then...how many accolades are necessary in order for us to take ourselves, our own work, seriously? To give it weight?

Someone said enthusiastically to my friend, also an independent singer/songwriter: "I hope you make it!" 

Of course - it's an expression of love and support and it should be received as such.  (Let's not be easily offended.)

But I do wonder if these words we utter aren't also a subconscious indicator of just how saturated we are in a consumeristic and celebrity-driven society?  Don't they sting because they betray the doubt that's already there in each of us, under the skin? 

The voice that says, "This - what you offer - doesn't really matter."

Afterall, this friend is actively working in the profession of her choice, creating new musical art every day, carving out a living doing what she loves, contributing to the community.  Is this not "having it made"? Do we really need to be featured on MTV or win an award or become a household name before we can feel legitimate in our work, in our very life?  

When pressed, I'm sure few of us would argue the point, and yet it slips out: I hope you make it.  

And then there's the fact that each of us who decides to step out and show something we've created must face that inner ugliness that does actually desire fame and celebrity, or at least, the praise of men.  It's there, under the skin, just a little bit.  

    Because then I'd be a "real" artist.

According to the Christian faith (which is my faith), that's not what I'm supposed to be after.  In fact, just the opposite. I'm supposed to want Creator God to be great - and me to become less.  

I'm supposed to desire balance and right perspective in my life.

I'm supposed to love others as I love myself and desire their good before my own.

To walk humbly with my God.  

How in the world do we self-promote and also voluntarily become less??  I do believe it's possible to grow a thriving business, or to make a living from one's work (yes, even art), and still "become less" spiritually speaking. 

I'm just saying...it's tricky business.

There are hierarchies which become established among artists, and arrogance and insecurity both. We want to be part of certain circles, and pride often follows the connections and acceptance and praise.  It's not pretty.

I'm saying this here because...I want no part of it.  I want you to want no part of it, because we don't need another celebrity.  Let's instead build a community that reminds each other of the truth that we are just that: a community of people, each with something to share at the table.  Doesn't matter what it is.  

I need what you offer, even as you need what I offer.

A few months ago, Matt Bronleewe and I wrote a song called "Sunrise" (not yet recorded).  This is how it begins, and this is my conviction:

    One brings a song and one beats the drum

    One builds a shelter so others will come

    One starts a fire, and one grinds the grain

    We are gathered from the fields and the rain

    Strangers with one strange hope...

written in love,

cnw

    

a day for drumming

Sundays we start early, to worship, to make music, listen and learn, celebrate with a diverse group of friends gathered under one roof.  Once a week.  

I wish I could say my family members and I rise with the song of birds, and the kids rush downstairs saying, "Can we go now, Mother?  We're ready and our shoes are polished."  (Actually, that would be a little scary, I guess.)  

No.  

More likely, one daughter is wearing her younger brother's shoes because someone has "stolen" hers. The other daughter probably has forgotten to brush her hair, and the parents don't notice until seated in the sanctuary.  The boys...well, they're easier on the prep side of things, but had better be chewing gum on hand once the sitting still part begins.  

We are that family you regret sitting behind.  :)

So, it's not a Norman Rockwell painting, afterall.  But the setting aside one small portion of our week--adults and children--to gather with other believers, centering our focus together towards something beyond and greater than ourselves, reminding ourselves...that matters.  It's more than a ritual or tradition, though it is also that.  Even in those fidgety moments toward the end of a sermon, we and our kids--we believe--are taking in something that will stay.  Our spirits are being provoked toward a knowledge of purpose and truth and love that surpasses ANYTHING else we will encounter in this world. 

Food.  Necessary spirit food.  

Yesterday afternoon, following church and lunch (and my weekly nap)...we walked down the street to the home of our neighbors (scientist/artist wife & drummer/beekeeper husband), who were hosting a drum circle.  We brought two extra kids and a rather wild assortment of broken percussion instruments and djembes, several years old.  

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Another family was there, too.  We sat on chairs and pillows; baskets of noisemakers passed around. One person set a rhythm, and it fell to the others to listen to the pattern and then join.  We sat in a circle and beat rhythms--which is, by the way, quite therapeutic--until after some time (an hour?), the final and best "song" was beaten out.  

It may seem a strange way to pass the time...something better left to the children.  

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Not so. 

Food...necessary spirit food. 

To gather, circle, and center around something that is bigger than any one of us. Beyond and other than me. More beautiful than my solitary song.