hope

New EP!

New EP!

One week ago I released a brand new project called Velveteen. (Get it digitally HERE + physical copies HERE). I’m pretty excited about this collection of songs, because I wrote them not from other people’s stories but from my own. I could never have foreseen either the tragedy or the gifts that are coming through the tragedy, but they are both real. 

Sooner or later, like the Velveteen Rabbit, we find ourselves in the middle of a fire...

You Are My Defense: behind the song

IMG_0660

"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.

IMG_0696 (1)

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.

IMG_0705

 

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

IMG_0699

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."

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 8.11.56 PM

 

how to do this one day...

rowancreek Like you I berate myself with “I should” when it comes to whatever is not easy or highly pleasurable.

“Easy” are mindless chores done halfway before getting distracted and starting another mindless chore.

“Highly pleasurable” includes drinking coffee, reading, walking, napping on Sunday, laughing, watching an episode of The Good Wife or Brooklyn 99, or songwriting.

Hardest of all is sitting still in a chair to write actual sentences of any kind. It’s no small feat to make sense of all my constantly swirling thoughts, which is why I admire you long-form writers, authors & bloggers so much.

But I know, I know. It’s good to remember how to write whole thoughts in whole sentences and share them with real human creatures who care. So yes, occasionally I force myself to sit down and write on the blog, and I’m always glad I did and always feel like I experienced a kind of accidental therapy.

Well, one of my sisters did the unthinkable the other day. She broke what I thought was an unspoken agreement between us by quoting one of my song lyrics back to me (one of my Mom’s favorite pastimes, btw).

She reminded me of the third verse of “How Emptiness Sings” which begins:

I haven’t been asked yet to walk the hard road,

but still there’s a sense of deep loss in my soul…

Until she said it, I don’t think I’d really acknowledged it to myself because I’m really quite good at finding silver linings. But honestly, the road our family has been on over the past several years?  It's been hard.

Lots and lots of love and grace and other good things that bring joy. Yes.

And the road is hard.

None of us is physically ill or dying, which I remind myself of constantly and which keeps things in perspective.

But there have been some pretty major losses, predicaments, grief, uncertainty and exhaustion as our story in some ways suddenly failed to play out the way we imagined it would.

I like problem-solving, but these problems are literally beyond me, and I find it very easy to “lean not on your own understanding” because I HAVE none.

So what’s a fixer to do when the thing won’t be humanly/easily fixed?

When it’s almost comical how so many things are breaking or shifting around you?

When your ideas about your future have shrunk to the size of this one day?

sky

Well. I guess you do this one day. One breath at a time...

And I'm finding these four things have become essential to my waking hours:

     Thanksgiving. Because neither you nor I have reached a point where there isn’t the smallest thing of beauty left in reach.

(deep breath in...long exhale...)

     Begging. Ask like a desperate man (because you are) for things to come right again. Ask God to make Himself undeniably known & make things right. Even if things come right in a whole new, unexpected way.

(deep breath in...long exhale...)

     Seeking. I read everything that speaks to the questions of my brain & heart and solicit wisdom from mentors & friends. Emotions are valid and great, but I need a constant inflow of truth to keep them from wreaking havoc.

(deep breath in...long exhale...)

     Planning. And I mean a very small & immediate plan. What can I do TODAY? Usually what I can do is show up & show love for my work & my people.

(deep breath in...long exhale)

One day.  

Just do this one difficult, HOPE-LIT, living day.

You might have to laugh or cry your way through it, or both at the same time (which feels strange and awesome). That's okay.

No one gets through life unscathed. No one needs to do it alone. No one is beyond hope.

We can do this one day. The mindless chores and the highly pleasurable and, occasionally, a few whole sentences.

 

2014. Hello. Let's Go!

2014 I hang my hat on this peg each and every year and laugh with delight at the chance - again! - to wash the chalk off the board and say, "Here we go!"

I'm one for adventure mainly when in the company of the phobic or the homebody. If that's not you, and you're trying to force me to the high-dive, I'm fairly comfortable saying, "I'll wait down here" if I think you won't be angry/disappointed.

That's what this random marking on the calendar is for, in my mind. The chance to shed scales and weights and tired excuses and say (mainly to self):

Yes, I can be quite different, thank you very much. By the grace of the God who empowers and makes possible, I can see new sights and taste new tastes and touch what I've never felt before. Watch me.

Who cares if the exact details shift a little as we make our way into February and March?  It's not about perfection. It's the principle of the thing: We're not giving up. There is REAL HOPE for us beyond these precise goals, so let them serve to lead us into adventure and a real life of worthy risks and irrational hope.

And, yes, accomplish those goals, if you must.

Rather than sharing my personal resolutions (boring), here is my list of high hopes for you. For all of us, really.  In 2014.  Here's to more truth & beauty made visible through us in 2014.

In 2014, I hope you will:

Image 9

Image 8

Image 6

Image 4

Image 1

Image 3

Image 11

Image 10

Signing out of 2013 with an ocean of love & gratitude for you.

cnw

 

 

For the Invisible...SHINE

FxCam_1368890519472

I would sit in the car before school and obsessively rub more black liner beneath and around my eyes.  “Why do you do that?” my cute, sporty sister asked.

Because I’m ugly.  Because my eyes aren’t pretty and nothing is right about the way I look.

“Why does your sister dress like that?” someone asked her.

Because she has no idea who she's supposed to be.  Which version of herself is true.  Because she's drawn to a kind of beauty she doesn’t see here in these horrible school walls, and she doesn’t know how to be like you. 

My own small bedroom walls & closet doors were papered with magazine images of idyllic scenery and girls in wacky & fanciful ensembles really only worn at photo shoots and not in real life.  Those images were the backdrop for my imagined life (read: escapist).  I didn’t have money, so I spent hours modifying the clothing I had into something that resembled the girl in my mind that resembled the way I felt on the inside.

“Why are you so bizarre?” my Mom asked (who is now appalled she ever said that – she’s awesome).  “Why is your room such a disaster?”

Because I am a disaster.  Because I’ve been the A-student you don’t need to worry about, but I want you to worry right now, because my mind is dark and I’m deeply sad.

During lunch hour, I hoped fervently for one or two familiar faces to be easily spotted in the cafeteria.  If not, I carried my salami sandwich to some quiet corner of hallway and kept my head down.  At least one or two pep rallies were spent behind a locked stall door in the bathroom.  Pep rallies were the worst.

I literally ached to be noticed, even as I hid behind shyness and long skirts and hair and eyeliner.  I dreamed of that moment where one of those confident, popular boys would walk out of a John Hughes script, see the skinny, strangely-dressed girl and believe she was a mystery worth risking his teenage societal status on.

I hid inside music, and the music hid me.

There were good friends & mentors & safe spaces along the way, but it’s easy to experience and remember that young season in light of the place where we spend the most hours daily and feel the most judged.

We moved when I was in 5th grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, and 11th grade.  We’d moved plenty before those years, but it wasn’t a big deal until middle school.   Everything is harder during the teen years, and moving between different cultures without having the financial means to conform make it harder.

Almost every day for the first 3.5 years of high school, I crawled into the shower at 6:30am, sat under the hot spray and meditated on how miserable the next eight hours would be.  After school, I cried on the couch, begged my poor mother to home school me.

Please, please, don’t make me go back.  I hate it. I hate it. Hate. It.

We’d lived in the D.C. area just a few weeks when I waited in the lunch line, a scrawny 14-year-old recently returned from four years overseas, and heard three older girls behind me commenting loudly on my hair and clothing.

“Why is she dressed like that?  Look at her shoes!  I guess she thinks she’s cool.” (laughter)

Did you know it’s entirely possible to feel both invisible and conspicuous all at once?   Invisible, immaterial, irrelevant, unnoticeable.  Conspicuously wrong, unattractive, unfashionable, resist-able.

Why I am telling you all this?  It's not a pity party.  Really.  This was a long time ago.

It’s because I see you.

You're like me.

I feel compelled to write this down, the same way I felt compelled to write to creative mothers a few months ago.

It's for the invisible.  The ones who are reading this now and are quite sure I’ve been spying on you, because this all sounds a little too familiar.

You stand outside the circle, whatever that means.  Seemingly locked out of what looks like joy and you have no inroads. You see no similarity between you and the beautiful, interesting people strolling, laughing their way through life.  

You don’t know your own talent.  Or you have an idea of it, but no one else is convinced.

You look inside and find nothing brave, only fear and anger and jealousy and sadness. You want to get out of this place.  No other destination is in sight, but you’re hopeful there’s something, some bright place of belonging, out there.

I understand. And there IS.  There is a Place of Belonging in the Person of God.

Those words are not a consolation prize.  That’s the kind of TRUTH that will lift you right off the ground if you let it.

I didn’t come to give advice, but I’d be failing you if I left that unsaid.

People ask what I’d say to my younger self, and I don’t know what might have helped that girl. Maybe hearing the story of someone who walked that road and went on to lead a semi-normal life?

Maybe a couple of songs written/recorded by the same girl a few years apart?  The first a snapshot of that time taken just a few short years after.  The second a bit further down the road when things can be recalled without as much sting.

Time changes lots of things, and if your eyes are open, time will change you for the better.  Awkwardness shall pass (well, mostly) and wisdom will take the pain of those crappy years and shape you into a stronger and more sensitive, more seeing, human than you would otherwise be.

You’ll be one to notice and believe others are worth the risk.  You’ll write a song or a book or an email you wouldn’t have.  You’ll be the friend or the parent or the (fill in the blank) you couldn’t have been without the memory of loneliness.

I wish.

I wish I had embraced uniqueness instead of carrying it around like a necessary but unwanted load of bricks in my backpack.  I wish I had found the way to thinking about myself less and about others more.

I wish I’d listened to truer voices.  I was never invisible.

I could have been SHINING all along.

So can you.

"Invisible" - Christa Wells/Mandy Rogers - A Rogers/Wells Project

 

"SHINE" - Christa Wells - Official Music Video 

 

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.

Exactly.

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!  ;)

 

how to hear the music...

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

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

Tapping out a bass line in email responses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please hear this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like fine wine...

On Monday I turned 37.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like these years gathering behind me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what it means to be "Held"

(This was originally a "page" on my former blog...since I don't yet have a place for it in this new blog format, I thought I'd share it again as a "post.") I'm sure I have it documented somewhere, maybe on a piece of notebook paper, but I can't recall it.  I do know it was several years ago--several years before Natalie Grant released it--when I first heard the stories which prompted the lyrics that became the song called "Held."  Because I am still being asked the background of that song, how it came to be, I thought perhaps I should write a little something about it.

I could talk all day about the three women whose lives I so greatly admire, who so inspired me and continue to mentor me in one way or another.  But for now, I'll briefly introduce each one and tell you how they participated (unknowingly) in this song.

Patti

Patti had been a widow for less than five years when we first met.  And she was only about 4o-years-old.  With three young daughters.  My first encounter with Patti's family was when I heard her then 10-year-old daughter sing...wow.  Her raw talent and beauty were stunning.  We soon met her other two daughters who were equally remarkable and we thought: How is she doing this??  Patti had only had a year to prepare for her husband's death.  And her husband, by the way, was young, tall, handsome, strong, athletic, intelligent, devoted and successful.  How does this happen?  Toby and I fell in love with Patti's family instantly...here was a woman who had lost her HUSBAND, the FATHER of her very young children and she was still LIVING.  She was transparent in her grief and questions and struggles and she was determined in her faith.  She shared her heart and her story with us over dinner, coffee, in the swimming pool...I particularly remember her talking about the idea of us "giving" everything over to God, except for some unspoken "sacred" parts of our life.  We mean to say: "Of course, you won't ask this of me."

Vaneetha

Vaneetha was already a survivor before the tragic death of her baby boy.  She had contracted polio as a baby and spent her childhood in hospitals around the world.  She continues to live with the effects of the disease, but when I met her she was (and still is) a beautiful, vibrant wife, mother, friend, leader.  A handful of months after we met, but before we became real friends, her infant son, Paul David, died from a heart defect that had been treated at birth.  Paul was doing remarkably well and had just been celebrated at a church-wide baby shower, when he died unexpectedly in the night.  The first verse of "Held" refers to Vaneetha and her son, Paul.  She has always spoken to me about how knowing sorrow has allowed her to also know joy...and about the strange reality of feeling God's presence most keenly in the moments of deepest grief.

Sherry

Sherry is my mother-in-law.  She had mentioned her daughter Erica to me at different times, but I remember one conversation in particular when she talked about Erica's birth and death in detail.  She spoke through tears about the pain of carrying a child to term and then having to let her go without even getting to take her home from the hospital.  She told me about the still, small voice that spoke to her in the delivery room, saying: You have to choose how you will carry this loss after this moment.  You can choose bitterness.  Or you can choose to let me wrap you up in peace that can't be explained and that will lead to hope.  You can choose to trust that you are not alone, and that everything you suffer here will someday be redeemed.

This conversation with Sherry eventually helped write the third verse.

Other words from these women became the second verse, taught me that no person of faith since the beginning of time has ever lived without suffering.  In fact, they said, those who are students of Jesus have been promised that we certainly should expect pain and suffering in this life.

BUT.

But.  In the middle of that heartache.  At every lonely, dark, lost moment...the Truth.

That in those moments, even then, especially then...we are held, held up, held together, by the the One who has walked here and knows the pain, and who also holds all of time, every story, my story, your story, the Greatest Story in his hands.

Every word was chosen with loving care, because I didn't write this song for a market, or a record label, but for those three women.  I wrote it and recorded it with my old 8-track and made a cassette copy for each of them.  Before I even had a publisher.

What has become of "Held" has meant a whole lot to me.  It has meant something to many people--maybe to you and your story.  And it has meant a great deal to Patti, Vaneetha, and Sherry--to see their stories used to minister to so many others is an affirmation that John, Paul David, and Erica lived and died for at least this purpose...there is so much we can't see or fathom.  But at least this one beautiful, healing thing exists because of them and is part of their legacies.

Life yet, and more life to come...

***Please take a minute to visit Tara & Troy Livesay and be invigorated by their marvelous, marvelous work in Haiti.  I promise you will be SO glad you did!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

So here I am.  My soul knows there is something golden even in the face of so much sadness, but my hands have to sift through the debris, bleed, and maybe touch death, before I find it.

    It's Haiti, in heaps of rubble and ruin.

    It's my 21-year-old neighbor who slipped from this world yesterday at 10:20am.

    It's the 17-year-old in Indiana whose brother shot him to death last week.

    It's the everyday, ordinary sorrows being suffered right here where I am and there where you are.  

And I can write a thousand songs about a thousand things happening in this one thing...I can believe that and do...and still, I want to shout: 

    WHY!?!

I'm a prideful beast.  But not too proud to admit that I don't have these answers. "Trust and obey" is easier sung than done and I want to grab God by the hem of His royal robe and demand an explanation, or better yet, an undoing of it all.

I hate hate hate the brokenness here.

And maybe…in such moments, with skin broken and lips parched, that very hatred of all that is wrong and misshapen here is itself…a hope?  Doesn’t our discontent whisper a claim that you and I recognize as true?  

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

                           Hath had elsewhere its setting,

                                 And cometh from afar:

                          Not in entire forgetfulness,

                          And not in utter nakedness,

           But trailing clouds of glory do we come

                          From God, who is our home…”

 

                                                            --William Wordsworth,

  “Intimations of Immortality”

 

...that chaos and fragementation were not a part of the original design for this place or for us.  That there is something more, and we were born to remember it. 

 

But it takes a whole lot of sifting. 

 

And when, after what must be years of search and recovery, from the bottom of the destruction, our ears discern the muffled cries of life--against all logic and human expectation--our fingers will move feverishly and find that golden, breathing, intact something we had barely dared hope for, but had known all along:

 

There is life yet, and more life to come.

 

 

January: why I love it

It's true.  I've come to love January.  Some people get it, others are feeling a letdown after the Christmas holiday highs.  And I admit that I came to love January after moving south where the sun makes frequent appearances in the dead of winter (although this year is turning out to be much colder than usual).  

Still, the beauty of this time of year exists even in Chicago (where I began this week, supporting Nicole as she made a new recording of "Witness"). 

January is...

New.      Hope.      Clean.      Open.      Spare.      Simple.  

Christmas decor comes down, and the house feels a new spaciousness.  I am motivated to clean out things accumulated and paint a wall or two.  The calendar isn't (yet) cluttered, and sometimes I just like to look at it and enjoy the empty.  

If you think about it, it makes sense:  If Christmas is Hope entering, then January should be Life Transformed by that Hope.  

I want to be transformed.  From the inside out.  

The visible, external displays of change in a new year are reminders of that, I suppose...and lift spirits, even when the cold is not yet lifted.  

But not empty, feel-good-for-the-moment hope.  Last year at this time I wrote about daring to be a fool.  Living with courage.  Swinging the bat.  All of which has not been in my nature.  The transformation that began January carried through 2009 - not in my own strength - but through the propelling spirit of God breathing wind behind my back, diminishing the face of fear.  You have also been a part of that story.  And I am not the same.

The promise of spring is in my veins.  Far off yet, but guaranteed.

Hope and Peace to you, my friends.  In with the new!

love,

christa