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.

This one's for the mothers (& all creative caregivers)...

Repost from a while case you could use a reminder. :)

Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso

Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso


I’m not the best at responding quickly, and you know why.  I know you know, because you have the same issue, which is why you wrote to me.

There are embers glowing inside you that won’t.go.out even though you have a tiny human or two (or five) to care for and really don’t have spare minutes for artistic flame-fanning.

You have a few domestic goddesses in your life and a few childless superstar artists in your periphery, and as my poet-friend Beth Ann Fennelly wrote:

“I want membership in both clubs.”

If we dedicate heart and soul and all our waking hours, we may at best become “Honorary Members” which feels sort of like a southern “bless-her-heart.”

At least, that’s how it feels most days, because you have:

1. no homemade bread on your counter, OR

2. no new song/story/painting to show for yourself. 

And that, my sisters, is why I write now to YOU.

Because you need to hear the truth.

Which is that on the first day of recording vocals for Feed Your Soul, I cried on the couch in front of my producer 10 minutes before I had to sing.

The truth is I came into the studio 16 hours after making the 10-hour drive to Nashville with four kids, two dogs and 12 stressful situations on my mind.

And also?  I’d watched the Grammy award show for the first time in years and gone to bed both inspired and utterly devastated.

Devastated, because I was reminded what is possible when artists dedicate themselves AND most of their time to their creative work.

Crushed, because even IF I have the talent & skill to make what I'd like to make, I most certainly do not have the hours or money to do that WHILE also raising a (healthy) family and participating in my local community. 

It’s not so much a desire to compete as a desire to contribute to all that beauty that leaves me sometimes aching over my limitations.

So.  That’s reality.  I fully admit it, while admitting also that I chose this full, peopled life and would choose it all over again.  Hands down, I’d take the young marriage, pregnancies, adoption, move to North Carolina, and our community relationships…all these things that made it unlikely (at best) for me to ever be in league with the Jack Whites or Florences but always & forever in league with six other members of the “Most Fascinating & Hilarious Humans on the Planet” club.

I’m saying this for you, sister.

For you, who just know you were born to make something but don’t know where to begin or how to stay awake to do it during those rare hours of quiet.  

You weigh your desire and ability out on a kitchen scale against love for home and family and “normal life” (whatever that is).

I don’t have the practical answer for you and your specific situation, but I have enough experience to say:

You can’t do EVERYTHING, but you can do SOMETHING, and that SOMETHING feels so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly matter, but it CAN and it ABSOLUTELY DOES.

You think if the WHOLE WORLD doesn’t see it or hear it, then it doesn’t really COUNT, but that’s a LIE.

Everything you make, everything you cultivate, everything you tend…it counts,

because you were entrusted with those things by Someone who chose YOU for the job and is paying very close attention, not to charts and likes but to souls.  Yours in particular.


I wrote “Held” when I had a toddler, during a time when little else I wrote was very good.  I didn’t have a publishing deal.  I was a little lonely.  But that song started to count the minute I wrote it (for my friends), not after Natalie Grant sang it.

Since then, everything I’ve written and recorded has been done in WEAKNESS and FATIGUE and UNCERTAINTY.  The songs have been written in teeny, tiny margins.  They have been few and far between, just a handful a year.  They matter to whom they matter, and that will remain a mystery to me.

And I, too, have to remind myself of what I know is true.  (“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”) We all do.

So that’s what I came to do.  To remind you what is true.

You have been given something marvelous.

You must invest it, whatever it is.

Whatever it is, it COUNTS.

YOU count.

In it together,


last words

CSC_0178Last Words

It was at that last moment I woke to the pain My face pressed into the thin skin of her neck Skin kissed 90 years by sun & wind Husband, siblings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren Skin soft as satin Remarkably tan, even in February

I hid in that space My hand stroking hers My cheek pressing hers My ribs trembling in quiet heaves against hers Only she and I in the small room of people.

I can’t remember being alone with her like this.

It was seconds, minutes - But we stood outside of time And I know she felt it all.

When I once raised up, she quietly asked: You crying? Not with surprise or alarm But with knowledge, understanding

She’s said nothing about it all, No “hospice” or “dying” or “when I’m gone” But she did sign that paper - The one that says: Let me go.   If she’s afraid, she doesn’t show it.

I tried to memorize her. She still smells good.

I searched for last words. It’s always only at the last moment A sort of panic rushes in-- When you thought it wouldn’t When you thought you were ready-- It surges like burning water rising Over the riverbed of your eyes, It finds a way out.

Yes, the salty current finds a way, But where are those last words? The ones that say what - maybe - hasn’t been said? I didn’t plan this part. Where are the words??

As it turns out, We had only these: I love you. I love you. I love you. And one secret.

But beyond words something more Took the place of eloquence, Uncontained by syllables or voice, Her blue-glass eyes, my earth-brown eyes Held onto each other and spoke A quiet goodbye.


-for Grandma Rogers, 2/26/2014

The Art of Waiting, or What Are You Waiting For?

We’ve been waiting so long. 

Maybe it’s been long enough.

 Maybe we ought to give up this groaning, this leaning toward a thing we have no way of proving.

Maybe we’ve had it wrong…

God has been quiet for a while now.


During the years between ages 21 and 31, I lived in a frustrated tension between, on one hand, earnestly believing I was made (in part) to make music that would matter in God’s kingdom and, on the other, believing the barriers too great.

So much fear, so little know-how…

Had I been misguided to spend so much time leaning my life into this passion??

I am an unlikely success story.  Maybe I’ve had it wrong…?


I know a man whose soul has been searching the horizon for purpose, struggling against the notion that he waited too long, or that maybe he has no real gift to share.

A young man feels he is floating in a no-man's land between boyhood and manhood.

There is a family who has been put through the furnace to bring home a 16-year-old daughter from Ukraine, so much out of their control.

Another family waits for financial needs to be met so they, too, can adopt a child.

This week I wept over my breakfast for friends hovering alongside their dear mother in the space between her life and her mortal death.

Our country whinnied and scraped hooves on dirt all year as we awaited the election of new leaders.

We watch the news and donate time and money, rage at the injustice and sometimes grow just a little bit cynical because nothing ever really changes, does it?

Even as we count our gifts and celebrate the beauty of the stars, don't we lament the length and depth of night?  Don't we many days abandon the Vision that has turned out, afterall, to be Too Hard, or  Unfair, or Not What I Expected?

I personally want to climb into the nearest escape hatch and head for the Land of Distraction or The Path of Least Resistance.

We have come so far in the developed world.  Arrived at a place where the notion of having to wait for anything (parking spot, dinner, sex, Wi-fi) feels unnecessary, even offensive.  Waiting by choice?  Nonsense.

We are unpracticed. We don’t HOW to wait without being either idle or mindlessly busy.  Are we there yet?   How much longer?  Why can’t we just…

The tension seems unbearable.


I think you know what I’m talking about.  Aren't you tempted to start grabbing up pieces and jamming them together?  Tempted to walk away, abandon the Dream before the Dream abandons you?

Me, too.

But let's not.  Let's not give up faith.  Let's not sit down in the middle of the track and pout.

I want to remember--even as I  await the verdict regarding the possibility of completing the album I've begun--much good happens in the space where “nothing is happening.”

People pull up chairs and wait alongside of you.  They tell funny stories to bring levity.  They climb in the ring and weep with you.  Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they get it wrong, and we learn from that, too.

But the truth is that all this mess that appears methodless, is in fact, under control.   When the Father wants that star to shine, it’s going to shine.   When He wants to enter the story, He will enter the story.  

And we will discover that the timing was exactly as it should be.


May we have our eyes open while we wait with expectant, hopeful, praying hearts.


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

                        who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

            from you shall come forth for me

                        one who is to be ruler in Israel,

            whose coming forth is from of old,

                        from ancient days.

(Micah 5:2 ESV) 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son… (Galatians 4:4 ESV)


 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation… And coming up at that very hour she [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:25-38 ESV)


A fellow fund-raising musician said to me: Isn't this Kickstarter thing hard?  We're going to get gray hair by the time it's over!

And I laughed to myself (not LOL) because it's true it's been time-consuming and forced me WAYYYY out of my comfort zone.  I am historically a bad salesperson. But I'm doing okay.  Really and honestly, this CAN work, but it may not.  Either way, I will keep writing and working toward the album.  And we will celebrate the process either way.  More on that soon!

You'll have to visit Kickstarter for details.  And please do, because we need to raise $7500 in the next 9 days to do this thing!  ;)


Digging for Roots

I flew up to Indiana on Tuesday to be with Wilma Dean when her little brother passed away.  Grandma is almost 88-years-old, and old Uncle Pete...he is still her “little brother.”

Pete was the tan-skinned, puppy-eyed boy--one of Ralph & Alma’s nine kids - who grew up to be an Indiana farmer like his dad before him, and was known as the one who chased  you down to plant big, wet kisses on your cheek no matter your age or gender.

When my dad and I drove into the town that seems barely a town, and walked into the humble funeral home whose door opens into the street, I didn’t expect to feel so much really.  I was there to support Grandma...and maybe also because some small part of me is awakening to the fact that something is being lost.

Something I was never certain about until now.

Roots were a vague idea to me, as we moved from army post to post while cousins and great aunts and uncles shared life together in the Midwestern fields.

These people who climb the branches of our family tree were part of the landscape of my childhood, but I wasn’t convinced we had much in common.  I could never keep the names or lineage straight when we visited, and as much fun as those annual family reunions with the long folding tables in Uncle Bob’s garage were, it was just one day each year or two...and I felt my siblings and I were sort of the odd ones out.  Welcomed...loved, but…visitors.

Often when we  can’t have something, we decide we never really wanted/needed it anyway.

But when I stepped into the funeral home and felt the hot grief in my chest and behind my eyes and I couldn’t stop the relentless flood, I knew it wasn’t only for Uncle Pete, or for kind Aunt Frankie, now widowed, or for young Brandon and Kinnea, who have shared daily life with their Grandpa Pete. 

It was for all of these faces gathered together, these hearts that knew my Dad when he was a boy and watched my parents fall in love...the only people left in this world who knew and loved my great-grandma, whom I also loved.

These who have followed our life journeys across states and seas and have cared for my grandparents in our absence.  Our roots really are entwined, and they are beautiful, interesting humans, and there is something good between us.

But the nine are now two.  Those kids grew up and started something, and now just two remain - Grandma and her baby sister, and what did we make of the time?  Why didn’t I know all their names?  What stories were left untold?  What will happen to the tree when the last of the nine have gone?

I am not afraid.  But I am struck that the connection, however fragile, does actually matter.  To ME.  I did want it, afterall.


I have looked for them in a spiritual sense, allowing the warm body of believers around me to be my extended family since I left home.  There is that.  The Church.  Good roots.  Faithful branches that hold.

And maybe that’s all you’ve got.

Or do you feel you have nothing but parched roots and broken branches, because your family is gone or they are here but torn in some way worse than absence, and you don’t realize there might just be a way to find siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents yet...

Be encouraged…

It’s really never too late to start a family.

It’s not too late to start digging for roots.

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...



FINDING the rest...

Dear Friends, I haven't really found a clever way to share this bit of news.  Something will probably occur to me right after I click "Post."  :)

In just over two weeks - 24 hours after returning home from our last Christmas concert- Toby and I are taking the kids and heading down to Central America for several months this winter.  That’s right…several months!  Various factors and desires and circumstances converged to lead us to the decision to just do it.  Recent exhaustion and a battle with anxiety have caused us to look forward to this "hard stop" even more.

And to realize that God does indeed lead us in particular directions for reasons we can’t foresee.

We have long hoped to give our children an experience life outside of our American culture, to allow ourselves the chance to do some studying that will enrich our respective works, and to learn the Spanish language (one of our children being from Guatemala makes this extra important to us)

And simply... time to be undivided, reading, praying and seeking wisdom and direction for our life and work.

So when people ask: What will you DO while you're there?...

The answer is NOTHING…and EVERYTHING.  Trading hurriedness and multi-tasking and constant preparing, for a time of exploring and listening, studying and cooking, praying and resting.

And if you're wondering: Are you doing mission work down there?

The answer is No...and...YES.

We're taking a break, but not a vacation in the traditional sense.  It's not a "mission trip," per se, and yet ministry will happen, with us on both the giving and receiving ends.

We are eager and uncertain.  I expect I’ll weep and sleep on the flight - from fatigue and relief from all the hurdles we'll only finish crossing the minute we take our seats.  We may get sick when we get there, simply because we haven't the time to be sick here.  :)

Life is gorgeous and full, and we are so grateful and have no complaints, other than our own failure to manage our time well.  Changes have come without us taking the time to re-sort our priorities.  For the past year we've moved at an unsustainable pace, and a "hard stop" (a phrase I learned from Ann Voskamp) is needed.

So what does this mean for the music?

We are releasing a new album, How Emptiness Sings, in the spring, and will hopefully return from our travels with a clearer picture of how we can continue to share the music while still balancing the other parts of our life well, and not be reduced to panic attacks. :)

While we're away, things will be happening to gear us up for the album release and to allow me to stay in touch with you.  We will be online, and I’ll keep you posted here on the blog.  Should have some amusing stories to pass on!

As Nicole and I prepare to go on the road for a couple of weeks, I realize the next time I post here may be after we get off the plane!

THANK YOU for your encouragement and support and for sharing the music.  Knowing that God uses this flawed work from my seriously flawed hands is what makes it all worthwhile.  He is faithful.

with Love and Joy and Gratitude,


p.s.  I got to participate in a live recording of some unique Advent music with local NC can find it here!

Forgetting the rest...

*I feel the need to add this morning's reading to this post as a reminder that there is one place to go with these questions, with our needs.  And that the answer to self-driving busy-ness is not self-focus of a different kind.  It is only in re-directing the eyes of our hearts to the Giver of Life that we find any rest for our weariness: "Show me YOUR ways, O Lord

TEACH me YOUR paths

Guide me in YOUR truth and TEACH me

for YOU are GOD my SAVIOR

and my hope is in You ALL DAY LONG."

Psalm 25:4

He loves me, and he knows me.  He knows me, yet he loves me.

My better half has a way of seeing through the chaos and the tales I've led myself to believe…for better or worse.

Much to my chagrin, he knows my blindspots.

He sees the inconsistencies in my reasoning.  My seeming inability to trust, to relinquish control.  My addiction to work and anxiety and perfection and impossible commitments.  The resulting impatience I have toward the people I love most.  The constant running of a mind that has forgotten how to rest.

I’ve said it for years:

My greatest fear is not having enough time, in a day, in a life.

I love and I long to live love the way God does, and…I know it’s often not about anything but…I.

Every day feels like a battle against the clock.  Passion propels an exhausted body and large family relentlessly onward because the kids need clean clothes and healthy food and the church needs contributing members and the neighborhood needs community and the world needs saving and music and friendship and compassion and if not me, then who?

(It’s okay.  You can say it.  It's true.)

This isn’t noble, selfless living.  This is driven living.  It may be sincere, it may be love; but it’s also a false belief that everything and everyone depend on moi.  That God might not be quite up to the task, or may not have the army he thought he had.

Don't I sort of want to be hands and feet and every other part of the spiritual body?

Isn’t that just a bit egocentric?  Prideful?  Willful?

If it is, what then is the answer?  Scripture makes it clear that self-sacrifice is not a bad thing and that righteous suffering is part of the job.  And shouldn’t we wring every bit of ourselves out for the treasures of a permanent kingdom while we’re here in the midst of such spiritual and physical hunger?

Perhaps we are meant to do the work we are doing.  But differently.

Or…perhaps we are meant to do the work in seasons and not all at once.

I honestly do not know.  I only know we were made for the work and the rest.  And I. don't. know. how.

I write this here as confession.  I write it “out loud” because it’s embarrassing, and that probably means I should admit it.  I’m writing to ask if you’ll pray for me.

And, as I write anything, I write hoping we find ourselves less alone.

What can we give to the King?

A couple of years ago I read Noel Piper's beautiful little book titled Treasuring God in Our Traditions, in which she offers insight into the ways we celebrate holidays and other occasions throughout the year. Inspires us to pause and consider why this tradition and not that...

One practice we've adopted in our home since then (which is probably my modified version of hers) is to hang "shepherd's pouches" on the mantle during the days/weeks of Advent.  In place of stockings, these simple but shimmering cloth gift bags (Target!) are used by each child to collect his or her "gifts for the King."  

We first talk about our desire to give gifts of love to those we care about - on birthdays, especially.  But...

How do we give to an invisible being?  

Then we read Jesus' words: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

So.  This is how we give to the King.  We love and care for others.  Tangibly and intangibly.  Sacrifice. Service.

Yes.  This is how.

So this way of loving at this time of the year begins with the children considering together and choosing a person or a group to which they'll donate coins and dollars earned.  Maybe a local shelter that feeds & clothes bodies and souls. The adoption agency which brought our son home to us.  

This year, a catalog from Samaritan's Purse arrived, and the kids have enthusiastically turned its pages (helpful in its plentiful supply of photographs which accompany giving options!), choosing individually what they'd like to give.  

$35    One month of meals, lodging, healthcare & education for an orphaned child

$75    Basic necessities, shelter, counseling for a child rescued from abuse

$10    Treated mosquito net to cover a child's bed

$14     A dozen chicks to provide eggs for a hungry family

$18    Contribute toward a portable water purification unit for a community

$40    10 New Testament Bibles many more...medical care, training and education, food, water...(shocking how much can be accomplished with so little - less than one restaurant meal here)

It's not about this particular organization, or this particular tradition - there are many beautiful ways to share.

But - cultivating a spirit of self-sacrifice is hard for us anyway - harder still for children during this season and in this consumeristic culture, who are marketed to constantly.  We've found that even the visual reminder of the shepherd's pouch being in view, front and center, during these weeks helps us to maintain focus.  

But, as I heard someone say a few days ago: In our practice of social justice, we must not forget the Source.  The reason.

And so...imperfectly, we remind ourselves that the magnificent event we celebrate on December 25 began with Someone's fierce and determined desire to love a faraway people.