life

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.

Sky, People, Road

 

Driving home around the edge of the city, I balance these three at once...the sky at sunset, the cityscape ahead, and the lane I'm driving in. I’m aware that most of life is this, holding the three together and allowing what I understand of them to shape my course.

The fantastical cloud formations out here in the midwest remind me that transcendent moments are here for those who want them, and helpful, and I do believe in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In beauty that can’t be contained or quantified. In reality that is marvelous within the scope of our comprehension and without. In mystery that invites us in and opens us up.

Land, water, sky.

Daffodils, low tide, black holes.

The universe, mammoth and outward-moving, swallows my small self and her ambitions and concerns. We are unique, and also...there's nothing new under the sun. My life makes its mark and is absorbed.

And still we keep wanting to make that mark, don't we? However temporary, because we can’t shake the sense that Love expands our experience of time into something eternal.

"Eternity in a grain of sand." That makes all the sense in the world to me.

But front and center are the ones we love, the structures we inhabit, and the communities into which we gather ourselves. I love my people. I love them so much I think I might split in two.  Always and ever in my line of sight.

Friends and strangers.

You can hardly find 10 square feet on earth not filled with the songs of our aspirations, expectations, disappointment, celebration, worship, doubt, our hilarity. Can you imagine hovering just beyond our atmosphere and waving a microphone slowly over the earth, like Ed Sheeran enjoying the sing-along voices of his audience? 

I hear Dr. Seuss saying, “Oh, the voices you’ll hear!” Oh, the stories. Oh, the anguish. Oh, the laughter.

And now and then, silence.

But here I am. On this particular road beneath the whirring wheels of my car. I might see as far as I want to see, but I’m still very much right here on the edge of Nashville at this precise moment, heading in the direction of a small brick ranch on the east side. I’m mappable.  And so are you, wherever you are. Planted. Rooted, or trying to be.

We're obligated to make a choice and take a next turn. Live the one life we've got. Obligated might be too strong. Privileged?

The sky becomes a gift not by giving us an excuse to escape and stay gone. Its good is in giving us a sense of awe, perspective, and humility. In teaching us to pay attention--here on this very unfiltered piece of earth. It's the artist's job and the universal privilege of all of us humans.

I'm thinking aloud. I'm not sure what it all means. I guess I'm just still looking for how to best hold this one life, all the parts of it, together, and not let my vision be obscured by worthless things.

I'm trying to find my way to make something of my road that connects with people and points us to the sky, and back. 

 

 

cheers to getting older!

cheers to getting older!

So since I just happily celebrated another birthday, I want to share some good news with you, my friends.

Even in years of hardship, even in the moments I recognize deeper lines in my skin and fewer open roads in my future, I have not yet wanted to return to a younger version of myself. Revisit some great moments? Perhaps. But I'd insist on taking modern-day me along.

I find that life is always turning over, and the moment something is lost, something else is gained...

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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things I Learned in 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 11.51.08 AM Thanks to Emily P Freeman for challenging us to look back on this year and not focus on what we did not do, but on what we learned in the process of living and loving and working. There could be 25 or 50, but 10 is enough to make public - and all I have time for today. :)

Hope you are inspired to reflect and share, as well. Life is learning!

Things I Learned in 2014

1. My “place” is not my prison. Prison is fear – of staying, as much as going.

I wrote this post about how averse I’ve felt to staying put and how fearful of being boxed in or confined. After growing up in a military family with frequent moves, I’ve now been in Raleigh, North Carolina, for 18 years and am finally ready to embrace this place as mine. Doesn’t mean I refuse to relocate or that we’re done having adventures or that I’m laying down to die. Just means that for now, I love my little city and am calling it “home.”

Same goes for my other places – in music, in friendships, in family.

2. Our home-made coffee is better than Starbucks. It’s San Francisco Bay French Roast, and we order it in bulk through Amazon. You’re welcome.

3. Writing for other artists with bigger platforms is a way I can serve.

It took me a while to enjoy co-writing and appreciate writing music that wasn’t 100% me. I’ve learned to love the act of helping other artists whose voices and audiences are very different from mine to say what they want to say in a way that works for them.

4. I no longer like Texas Bon Bons.

Still grieving this one, as it was our family’s traditional Christmas treat. Suddenly I find them too sweet, too rich. What is happening?! However, persimmon pudding with ice cream continues to satisfy.

5. People enjoy seeing other people try new things.

I’ve tended to think people “need” or expect me to keep doing the sure thing or being the way they first found me. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Not so. You may lose a few “fans” by trying something new, but you’ll gain others. And the people who really love & get you in the first place will always cheer for you being truly you & you being courageous.

6. My husband is a way better independent thinker than I am.

He asks really good questions that often terrify me because they challenge the status quo and challenge my comfort and threaten to not please others. I’m learning it’s okay for us to admit there are things we don’t know, things we may even have been wrong about. It just means we get to keep listening and keep learning.

7. It only takes one big blow to plant distrust.

Since the postal lady missed the stop sign and sped out in front of me, resulting in the total loss of both my Suburban and her mini-van, I find myself eyeing every car at every side street and traffic light, expecting someone will break the rules and hurt someone. It’s helped me to better understand the people in my life who have been abused or disappointed by others and now struggle to expect good.

8. I really, really love my neighbors.

I already knew this, but waiting at the school bus stop this year together and caring for each other’s pets and having neighbors rush out and wait with me after my accident, bringing blankets and offering to pick up my kids from school…just makes my heart grateful beyond words. Also, we have marvelous neighbors not from our hood, but from elsewhere in our city and church, who make life so much better.

9. The Enneagram personality profile is more helpful than Myers-Briggs.

I’ve said if the M-B is like seeing yourself in a mirror across the room and recognizing your general shape, the Enneagram is like looking at your face in one of those awful close-up make-up mirrors where you can see all your pores and hyper-pigmentation. It’s helped me understand my motivations and vices, as well as strengths and virtues. (I’m a Type 9 – Peacemaker, married to a Type 8 – Challenger…makes life interesting!)

10. December isn’t as terrible as I have thought.

In fact, I actually enjoyed it this year. Since I had children, I think it’s felt like a cruel month of yet more work and expectations I can’t possibly meet. This year, with our critters in school, I was able to have enough hours of solitude to be a healthier version of myself and to breathe more deeply. Having them in school has also made Christmas vacation much more appreciated and wondrous.

And I understand now that the lights and festivities help us traverse the longest, darkest nights of the year, so that by the time we take down the tree, every following day brings more minutes of daylight.

11. Okay, 11.  One more came to mind while I was in the shower, where all good ideas are born...

Following an impulse to love beyond expectation speaks loudly.  When my husband's grandfather died in W. Virginia, my dad drove 6 hours to be at the funeral with us, despite our protests that it really wasn't necessary, we knew he loved us, etc.  He wanted to be with us to celebrate Grampy and that was that.  The family has talked about it a number of times since, how much it meant. It would have been TOTALLY FINE to not come, none of us expected it or even "needed" it.  We didn't feel slighted by those who didn't attend. Did we feel loved by his presence, though? Most definitely.

It was just one of a number of times I witnessed that kind of love this year, and it inspires me.

Love to you all.

Here's to 2015 and increasing Light in our days, in our hearts, in our world.

cnw

From Frederick Buechner:

Thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, thou long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.

Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adored, be born again. Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, thou blessed one, with healing in thy wings.

Savior, be born in each of us who raises his face to thy face, not knowing fully who he is or who thou art, knowing only that thy love is beyond his knowing and that no other has the power to make him whole. Come, Lord Jesus, to each who longs for thee even though he has forgotten thy name. Come quickly.

Amen.

How to Stay: a sense of place for the tent-loving nomad

FullSizeRenderIt was a morning in May, and we were having breakfast in the lobby of a Hampton Inn.

We were on our way to Grandma’s funeral, and Toby and I started talking about my grandparents’ house – how the house would be sold soon, which felt heavy to me – he sympathized -- and then he was talking about planting oak trees in the backyard of our North Carolina home for our great-grandchildren – and I felt myself growing weirdly irritable – grumpy that he was thinking so far out and would want to– I don’t know --- “lock us in” to staying in North Carolina (I love North Carolina, by the way) – agitated that he would want to spend himself on something that (duh) won’t be realized because we won’t even be in that house by then…I mean, didn’t we spend our first long drives looking through maps and planning to try it all?

Within minutes, I was in tears over my dry factory-muffin. Clearly, there was trouble in River City.

By the time we were back in the elevator, I knew my problem was this thing called place, and my issue was that I didn’t believe much in “permanency” or “long-term plans” or physical home, and I thought we were on the same page about this, what if we want to try something new in a couple of years, why would we want to just be in this one house forever, how can we possibly know that, and I’m getting claustrophobic …

Sometimes we respond to not having something (home, intact family, spouse, children, talent, "success," looks, money…) by deciding we never wanted it in the first place. We say, “That’s for other people” or “Yeah, it’s just never been important to me.”

But maybe I do believe in roots & permanence. Maybe I’m open to going, but could also enjoy staying, and possibly I raged against it not because I didn’t want it but because I didn’t see the point of wanting it and found it foreign and, frankly, terrifying.

As army brats, we didn’t grow up thinking of home as a particular spot on a map but as us -- wherever we were. We didn’t stay in one house or continue in the same schools or vacation in the same spots. It was a wonderful, love-packed and adventuresome childhood.

When required to list a “permanent address,” it was always the little brick house in Beech Grove, Indiana, owned by Howard & Wilma Rogers, we listed. It was the place – along with Aunt Linda’s house -- we did return to every year except the four years we lived across the ocean. Those years, Grandma & Grandpa & Aunt Linda came to us.

This was the place that my parents and siblings and I kept and was kept for us, with its tiny plot of green and storm door and yellow kitchen and small bedrooms and concrete basement and homegrown green beans and memories of snow. And what I perceived as our one place – the one place we could bring our children “home” to -- was about to be taken away, and there would be no more going back.

Suddenly place mattered very much.

And so it began, my conversation with God about naming my places and stepping into them with my whole self.

boat

I’m not just talking about geography. We can be restless in lots of areas & prone to wanting something new/different/better. We like to live with one foot in, one foot out, with a bag packed "in case." We resist feeling too attached or too dependent or worse, controlled.  Or, on the other hand, we do our thing apologetically, loitering around the edges, because we don't believe we truly belong or are "good enough" to be there.

But these places that have been given to megeographically in my neighborhood and city and the world; relationally in my friendships, family of origin and the hearts of my children and my husband; vocationally in the world of independent music and the world of Christian music; and spiritually in the Church, global and local – are MINE, and in them, I DO BELONG.  

My assignments, like my Dad’s, may in the end be temporary, but I want to try to live in them like a citizen.  Or rather...like a civilian.

Sometimes it's hard to celebrate the uniqueness of our own places and be happy in them.

It's risky to let ourselves feel deeply about things that can be taken away or can take away our sense of freedom. It is.  Even as I write this, I feel a bit of dread and resistance and know there will be many moments when it’s right to say “yes” to uprooting.

But for now, my naturally nomadic spirit is going to try to leave the tent for a house of brick and mortar.  See what comes of it.

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*Decided to include the video for "Everything Moves But You" since this post may have shed new light on the lyric:

you CAN do a lot of things...

“You don’t HAVE to do anything, but you CAN do a lot of things.”

She was 16-years-old and said it with a comical grin, referring to my dilemma over whether or not to feel obligated to patch a small hole in my favorite skirt.  She’s a free spirit.

I have never been as free as I want/could/should/will be.

Her hair changes shape and color frequently.  Her opinions are strong, independent and well-supported.  She sees through people and things.  She was intimidating to adults when she was only 14, though she was almost always laughing, smiling, and teasing.

She had no idea that such a small, impromptu comment would linger and replay in my mind over the years. She probably had some idea that I have never really believed it.

What I've really believed is:  “I have to do a lot of things, and I can’t do just anything.”

I'm not talking about thoughtlessly following every impulse without concern for motives or how our choices affect others.  I'm not saying it's a bad idea to seek wise counsel...on things that matter.  In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes:

"Freedom is the freedom to live as persons in love for the sake of God and neighbor..."

But good grief, we put a lot of silly expectations on ourselves (and others) that have nothing to do with love...or anything.  We value things that have no value.

Apparently, I do not need to ask anyone's permission to wear that old skirt or to change my hair.  In fact, no one really cares, not even my husband, who says: "I don't care if your hair is long or short as long as you stop talking about it."

You do not need your friends to agree with your choice in music or college or parenting style.  Go ahead. Do your own thing.

I don’t even have to choose one approach to writing or one genre to work in or one way to interact with people.

I can be free to think my own thoughts without apology, make up my own mind and even CHANGE it later.  We can be free to (gracefully) disagree with each other.

How great is that?

In her song, "Conversations," my friend Sara Groves sings,“The only thing that isn’t meaningless to me is Jesus Christ and the way He set me free…”.

Because of this, I can wear the skirt with the hole and leave it that way.  Or fix it.  Or toss it.  I'm free to not think about it, to not waste a second worrying about what someone might think.

There are very few things that truly matter. Who I am is safely rooted in the fact that God loves me because He loves me.  With all my holes and tears.  As is.  Since that's secure, I have nothing to prove, nothing to earn, nothing to lose.

Because we ARE free; we should act like free people.  You don't HAVE to do anything, but you CAN do a lot of things.

 

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.

Monterey: holding it together

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“I’d like to hold those moments again Turn them over like stones in my hand Before they fly…”

We’re sitting on the Monterey pier waiting for burgers and clam chowder.

I asked Toby to bring me to this town even though it would make our drive from LA to San Francisco even longer, because it’s one of those thumbtacks on the map of my childhood I haven’t had the chance to return to yet. We were so close, it was too good to pass up, so we followed the GPS to La Mesa Elementary School and called my mom to get our old address.

As it turns out, our apartment building – where I learned to read and learned the truth about Santa and begged to keep my pet snail - has been torn down, replaced with stucco duplexes, but the uphill path (much longer in my memory) to the school is still there. I walked in front of the school, looked through windows, and Toby patiently listened (and at least pretended to be interested in) the 15 or so memories I hold from the year I was five.

So 45-minutes later, we’re in the little restaurant when I look out the window and say: “I don’t really like coming back to these places.”

He’s surprised. “Why??”

“I mean – I want to go, I feel compelled to go, but after the excitement there’s… melancholy.”

And before even I see it coming, my face is in my hands and I’m having a full-blown breakdown in this little burger shack. He’s reaching out, unsure of what to say, and my throat is closing around the words.  All I've got is a whisper. “It’s just…it was a good childhood. And...I want good things to not end anymore.”

A deep sob rises up and nearly doubles me over, and my chest hurts, but as the waiter comes with drinks, I muster enough self-control to quiet down.

I chalk it up to last night’s lack of sleep, the day’s earlier conflict, hormones. All true.

But also true is that I’ve always had a sense of being a person in pieces, parts strewn across geography and time. Of being a whole person, but not belonging. Or…belonging in too many places, leaving little to just be right here.

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The artist – and the army brat - tends to think this inner tension makes him/her unique, but the older I get, the more I kind of think most of us human creatures feel this way, at least on some level.

We aren’t all here.

Contentedness we have to work at. Searching across fences comes naturally.

And the love - the deep, wracking attachment to the fragments & faces, good and bad, along the road – it’s there beneath the surface, threatening to erupt & send a mushroom cloud of crazy into the sky.  Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with all of it.

(Answer: Write songs.)

Rarity makes a thing more precious, so we treasure the moments as they pass knowing we won’t meet again. My little guy said the other day: “It’s so weird. This minute is gone already. It’ll never happen this way again.”

"My mother seemed older at my age but I'm just a baby 'cause the years behind me are a handful of days I am 26 and 17..."

I’m not stuck in the past. I’m stuck on the people. Stuck on the joy affixed to specific moments like a stamp on an envelope.

I don’t want to go back. I just want to be able to hold it all together.

The food arrives. I ordered too much. My plate is overflowing, and I pack most of it into a box to take with us as we get back on the road.

 

 

What we have to lose...

*With a new post in the works, but unfinished, sharing this one from the archives again. Go get'em. :)Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 10.54.53 PM

Steve Jobs died.

And a few days after that, I wept as I drove home from Tennessee.

Because of Steve Jobs? Not exactly…but sort of.

I’d just started down the long gravel drive, my parents waving in the rearview mirror, shouting their love…and suddenly all these years of being alive here together were also disappearing in the rearview mirror, and I faced ahead of me the likelihood of traveling on without them one day.

As she’d leaned into the truck for a last hug, Mom had said: Sometimes I wish you were still my little girl.

And as often happens, I stayed quiet while my heart said: Me, too.

I am not actually a worrier or a dweller on death and mortality. I do spy heaven on the horizon. But we all know time moves too quickly when you’re having fun, too slowly when you’re waiting.

My parents will turn 65 soon, and as amazing and energetic as they continue to be, they aren’t exactly the same as they were at 42. And 42 is the age they have been in my mind for the last 23 years.

Earlier in the week, I’d picked up a magazine from the big farm table in their kitchen and read this quote from Steve Jobs: “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

And I thought: Maybe he's right.

I’d spent several days writing, meeting, and recording in Nashville. When I’m there, I’m both invigorated by the city’s creative energy and also a bit intimidated and out of place with the industry side. I told Nicole: When I’m writing from home, it’s like a hot tub. Dealing with business out here feels like climbing out of the tub and into a pool of sharks.

Sometimes, I just want to pull away...keep myself and my work in safer places where I don't risk rejection.  Where I don't have to deal with fear and insecurity.

But I read that quote in my parents’ home, and I gave myself a little talking-to that went something like this:

Okay, listen, you. You're going to die.

You may have a few brief years before your parents stop feeling strong enough to get on the trampoline. A few quick years to be brave and share the music that grows in your soul. A few fleeting years before your little ones grow wings and fly.

A few years left. At best.

So, seriously. SERIOUSLY. What exactly do you have to lose?

Do you really want to spend even one day whining or holding back because someone might not approve? Certainly, since the dawn of time humans have faced far bigger hurdles, greater resistance.

Stop looking for permission.  Love your Maker.  Love people.  Make the Greatest.Work.You.Can make...in Him and for Him. 

What do we have to lose?

Even as I ask it, I know the answer.  For me, what I have to lose is your esteem.  I have been a life-long approval junkie, now happily on the mend, but not wholly rid of it.

I write songs to communicate with other humans, but I write also to imbed more deeply in my own soul the truths I know I'm in need of.

I wrote this for Allison but also, as it turned out, for me:

"There's no way to earn what you've already got...nothing to lose when you're loved from the start..."

I have all that I need.  I really do.  And there's nothing I can do to make Him love me more, nothing to make Him love me less.  If you know God through His son, this is true for you, too.

Let's boldly love and boldly make,

and let's repent of the moments lost to self-pity/self-consciousness/self-preservation,

because tomorrow we may die and all we'll have is what we've given away. (a truth found in a long ago Ann Voskamp post)

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for the reminder.

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At the time of this original post, I mentioned how Emily P. Freeman's book, Grace for the Good Girl had spoken to me.  It's awesome.  Now, in real time 2013, Emily has a brand new book out called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live.  I had the privilege of reading it in advance, and can heartily recommend it to you struggling creatives (You know who you are)!

Another book, a classic, on my short list for artists is Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

Everything Moves (but you)

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

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

He's trying it on.

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

(sigh)

We've spent a lot of time here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything moved.  And we knew it.

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

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

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

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

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

shooting to the sky: life without chains (and other metaphors on anxiety)

I've been thinking about you...

You waking with anxiety, curling up at night with anxiety, and carrying her wrapped around your middle like a boa constrictor.

Squeezing out life with not enough time, not enough talent, not enough money, not enough friends, not enough...

I know it personally.  The pet who continually tears up your furniture and attacks your friends but you can't quite figure out how to get rid of it.

Or a quiet disease...

sap-the-life-out-of-you while you’re standing there smiling and running to the next thing and saying yes to one more activity and making a million disclaimers for your dirty floors and wondering why no one is responding to your witty Facebook post and thinking we really just need more ________________ and when I get the job and what if this doesn't work and trying to do better look younger sound smarter sort of plague.

When did we start thinking it is no big deal to spend days with our breath held?   When did we start saying, it's part of me...? When begin thinking it proof of a purposeful life?

Who taught us to live in knots?

There is a different way... people waking up in simpler spaces, not self-reliant but inter-dependent, not saving the world but loving a neighbor.  Working for food, but not gasping for breath.  Fewer options, greater peace.

You think I’m idealizing, maybe.  Maybe this is a different place and we just have to be this way?

I know that's what I believed, but I just don't anymore.  Not because I have any illusions about small Central American countries having it all figured out. They do not.  But because I'm becoming disillusioned with the functional belief that  GOD is to be admired more than worshiped, talked about more than known, acknowledged but not relied on...that we can be about His work without being WITH Him.  That really, on the plane of daily work and decision-making and accomplishing, it all depends on us being as close to perfect as we can muster.

But...What if He is GREATER than we have believed Him to be?

What if the God who was alive and holy enough to make Moses' face glow in the dark is still alive and holy?

What if I actually NEED him...in a desperate way in this ordinary untragic moment?

What if I admitted I'm like a HELPLESS baby and can't walk 5 feet without running into an idol, apart from Him?

I remember Samuel, coloring at the table in San Isidro del General, singing:

I’ve got the whoooooole world in my hands,

He’s got the whooooole world in His hands,

I’ve got the whole wide world in my hands…

Hmm…like mother, like son...but all we really have in our hands is what we've been given to hold today...daily bread.

How do I begin to release my imagined grip on things?

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!  Save me from the poison of ego-rooted insecurity, prideful independence, control-grasping exhaustion, people-pleasing idolatry…misplaced affection..!

I am prone to bending my knee at the wrong altars.

You too?

He compassionately shines light:  He…the only god that will ever love me back.  And how little I need that which I thought I might die without!

The more that creeps into my really-believing consciousness, the more I feel I might just shoot straight up into the sky, leave the gravity of these chains behind.

And yes, I've used more than my share of metaphors in one post, but that too, for today, is part of the process. :)

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.

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.

Sea

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

Sea

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

Afterall, it’s good to be home.

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

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

She has no need of me.

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

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

It’s easy to stay put.

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

It’s heavenly to float.

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

Transported by the tide.

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

And I realize— It’s home to be alive.

Feel that sting?

Little Samuel points to the “boo boo” on his forearm, scrunches up his face and says: It stings, Mom.  Feel it.

I don't understand as he presses his wound against my forearm, holds it there.

His eyes fix upward on mine, searching: “Can you feel that sting, Mom?”

Oh.  I realize.  He believes he can transfer the physical pain, share it by touching skin to skin…

And I so want to say: Yes!  I do feel it exactly!

But even though I know what he is talking about, even though I deeply love and care, even though we share blood…I can only share his suffering so far.

I wish we could fuse minds and hearts…experience each other’s joy, pain, memories.  Sometimes life feels so…solitary.

So much of our lives are experienced apart from other human beings, even the ones in our homes, beds.

Only God knows the exquisitely unique joy you felt when you realized you’d fallen in love for real...or the burn inside your heart, throat, when you were betrayed...the falling feeling when you heard the doctor's prognosis...your insides alight when the lightbulb went on in your mind and heart...my loneliness that day I ate my lunch hiding in the bathroom stall in high school.

God knows...

And yet…it is enough.  Creator and Created are in sync.  We are never actually alone, even in our thoughts.  The Created are fully known.  The Created are fully loved.

The Created can touch wounds to our Maker’s heart: Feel that sting?

And He says: Yes. I feel it exactly.

Talking to yourself is a good thing...


Maybe your list isshorter.  The things you have to constantly retrain your mind to believe.

My friend Vaneetha once said to me that we need to stop listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves, which was revolutionary to me and linked arms with two other ideas I’d recently heard: 


I can change the way I feel (gradually) by changing the way I think.


We are fed a load of you-know-what at just about every turn.

 

In the New Testament book of Romans, it says we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Which means...we have to feed and train our thinking, deliberately, if we want to be changed people. 


A filter of knowledge and understanding will alter the way we see life and God and the world around us.


IMG_0739
 

So here is my list...a handful of the things I talk to myself about fairly often.  I would be very pleased if you’d add to the list.  

Please note:  These are intentionally “you” statements.  I write in 2nd person here, because these are the ideas I feel compelled to share today, not because I do not believe Statement #1.  J  I firmly do.

 

1.       You are not what life is all about.

2.       You are part of a fantastic story.  You are not the story.

3.       You are never “the only one who…” .

4.       You are more “needy” than you think you are.

5.       You are more “needy” than you want to be.

6.       You are as “needy” as the “neediest” person you know, maybe more.

7.       You are more beautiful than you realize.

8.       You are loved.

9.       You were planned.  Custom-designed even.

10.   You seldom get what you deserve.

11.   You would not want to get what you deserve.

12.    You do not need almost any of the things that you want.

13.    You need one thing that you often don’t want.

14.    You will not reach a plateau of “blissfully content and happy” here in this lifetime.

15.    You will find real joy only when you stop pursuing your own “happiness.”

16.    You will find joy in gratitude and servanthood and in relationship with your Creator.

17.    You were hard-wired to worship.

18.    You are always worshiping some thing, desire, idea, or someone, usually unconsciously.

19.    You can be forgiven.  You have already been forgiven.

20.    You can forgive.

21.    You can have an attitude of forgiveness toward someone who hasn’t asked you to forgive them.

22.    You can choose to love someone who does not love you.

23.    You can choose to love someone who does not love you well.

24.    You can choose to do the work of love even when you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.

25.    You are prone to making wrong assumptions about others and their motives.

26.    You will get old and wrinkled if you stick around long enough.

27.    You will not have great success with anti-aging creams.

28.    You are not perfect.

29.    You’re not fooling anybody by pretending to be perfect.

30.    You will fail often, and it’s good that people see you do it now and then.

31.    You can feel lonely even after you’re married.

32.    You can feel content with very little and discontent with much.

33.    You won’t be as cool as you’d like to be.

34.    You’re better off not trying to be cool.

35.    You do not need the approval of human beings. 

36.    You will not be measured against other people in the end—for better or worse.

37.    You are responsible for your choices.

38.    You can choose many things. 

39.    You have been given MUCH.

40.    You have been given much, so that you may thank God and give generously.   

    

    Your thoughts?






Imagine the Possibility...

IMG_0598
 “All things are possible for those who believe [in Him].” Mark 9:23 

Were you encouraged to imagine the possibilities? Did they hold a mirror to the brilliance of God in you, take you to the window and project onto the night sky the potential impact your particular Creator-infused you-ness would have on this world? 

 Was the story told to you of your true origin? How you were carried by and delivered by mere mortals--those beautiful, hard-trying, broken individuals you call “Mom” and “Dad” or “birthmother” or “birthfather”— yes, this is how you emerged into time and space. 

 But I mean the first part, the real beginning of your story…how you were conceived, thought of, waaaaay before that, by a radiant, immortal, wholly intact, wholly loving, good and just Being… 

Because if you didn’t hear that True story--or if you did but decided it was just too beautiful to survive adulthood--then you might not know that there are enormous Possibilities. 

That your parents might have failed you in countless ways but could not take away the Possibility or Purpose. 

Or…that life will at times be crushing, and you can lose everything, but not quite everything, because Possibility and Purpose stand.

There is no person, no circumstance, no matter how much power they seem to have, that can undo this crucial fact:

You are here because the Creator imagined you 

 and wrote you into the Great Story.


Long before your arrival date, already, he had prepared a work for you. You may find different names for it (the work) as you travel along. You may change your mind and change schools and change disciplines. 

But Possibility walks beside you and waits for you to see. 

Imagine healing...forgiveness...restoration…gratitude...joy and generosity. Imagine doing the hard thing in order to find a new way. 

Imagine the Possibility of embracing a story that seemed to good to be true but is actually the only story that makes any sense of the chaos here.

miracles...

When something life-giving falls from us who are riddled with want...a word of kindness or sympathy...an inconvenient act of generosity...isn't it a miracle?  

If something touched by our trembling fingers grows gold and winged, soars ... finds entrance to another human soul...isn't it a miracle?  

When a child looks you in your tired eyes and reaches a small hand, adoring...

    Isn't it...miraculous?

When a friend hears the pained confession, 

    and stays...

When we find ourselves swept off our seats in laughter, even though...

    Is it not the most welcome kind of miracle?

When work comes along, finally...

When the work is completed...

When an improbable friendship is born...

When we find a fragile opening to forgiveness...

When something lost is found...

    something broken healed...

something caged released...

When one creature carries and nurtures another in the caverns of its own body...

When the crocus smiles from snowy earth

    and strangers share a meal...

When brothers and sisters pave new ways...

When suffering sweeps over and still we see light and truth and love and hope...

When the artist creates...

When the creator loves...

When the lover saves...

And the savior lives...

    may we be moved to see the marvels of things in motion here

    the miraculous, gorgeous possibilities which rise from the ashes of "reality"

    providing what is needed for Life.