purpose

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.

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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:

For the Under-Discovered Artist (inspired by the sad tenor at the bar)

I started writing this for you nearly two weeks ago but keep hesitating to post it.  I'm afraid it sounds a little too strong or too soap-boxy or maybe defensive. As the years roll on, though, I'm coming to know myself and believe that along with being a singer/songwriter, I'm a determined encourager.  Maybe, as Kris Camealy so thoughtfully put it, I'm meant to be a door-holder for other artists.  So if the title of this post caught your attention because it sounds like you, then hear these words as me cheering you on.  Because that's what I came to do.

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For whatever reason, he can focus better at the cool Irish pub down the street than at home.  So he goes out some late nights and writes.  And not infrequently he finds himself in friendly conversation with whatever interesting characters populate the suburban bar at those hours.

So as we stood waiting for morning coffee to brew, he described the group of musicians he’d passed some time with the night before.  In particular, he told me about the 62-year-old tenor plagued by discontent and frustration toward the music industry – or toward his own perceived lack of success.

Standing in the kitchen, this guy who fell for my emotional, 19-year-old songwriting self a long time ago and has supported my work in multiple ways these years since, looked at me and said how he never wants me to feel that way, like a failure.  He said he’s had a taste of that himself and would hate to see me suffer the disappointment of not reaching my dreams, to live with late-life regret.

You don’t feel that way, do you? he asked.

I considered, then said I think there are some key differences between that guy (we’ll call him “Dave”) and me.

Clearly, we both love making music.  I LOVE songwriting.  And it feels pretty amazing to see others respond to that music.  I have goals I’m working hard to reach.  BUT. In the end?  The outward “success” of my music doesn’t define me or determine how successful my life has been.

After releasing an album with my sister in 2006, we thought, “It’s so fun to just be able to be two of the many people making music!”

I do not want to be a superstar, and I don’t think anyone owes me their attention.  I do want to be a part of the whole thing, a color on the wheel. What a privilege.

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Maybe Dave fell in love with the idea of becoming an acclaimed artist, where I fell in love with the Original Artist and the idea of being a part of what He’s making.

Dave, like many hard-working people, wants to be a SUCCESS story, but what I want most is to help tell THE story.

I hate it that Dave is living with bitterness, because every little encounter that says, “Yes, it matters somewhere somehow” brings a smile to my face and deep gladness to my heart.

I know it’s hard to keep your eyes on the distance.  I totally get that.  Sometimes jealousy and sadness creep in here, too.

But when you get your vision right?  The music business becomes the person you make small talk with while your eye is really on the love of your life across the room.

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Our art doesn’t need to be widely recognized.  It needs to be deeply meaningful.

Let’s make something we believe is honest and good and beautiful and true.  Let’s grow and improve and help others grow and improve.  If awards or recognition come, okay.  If money comes through our art, so helpful.

But don’t mistake money and acclaim for an accurate measure of Good Art.  Your work can matter greatly without ever earning you a dime.  YOU matter without any social media followers at all.

I recently read A FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.  His characters talk about the idea of “the universe wanting to be noticed,” and something in that resonated with me, but it’s not quite there yet.  We DO want to notice everything we can about this intricate, marvelous universe, but not as an end but a means.  The more I notice the universe, the more intensely I REVEL in its Maker.

We’ve grown up in a world of STAR Search, American IDOL, THE Voice…it’d be pretty tough to be immune to the pressure to rack up applause.  We’re well-acquainted with the “Go big or go home” mentality.

But, seriously. WHAT in the WORLD?  I find that to be both self-centered and short-sighted.

What is BIG??

Some of the biggest moments in my own experience have taken place in obscure moments in time with zero humans watching. 

Some of the most affecting people I’ve known have the least name recognition.  

Almost ALL of the most deeply moving songs I’ve loved were never radio singles.

For crying out loud, the most notorious world-changers and culture-makers didn’t emerge from a vacuum but were themselves built on the backs of countless nameless, unremembered, thinkers/artists/scientists/leaders/teachers/parents who hacked the brush out of the way and started the conversation and whose work was every bit as important in the life of the universe.

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It’s who we ARE and WHAT WE GIVE AWAY that makes us a PART of something worthwhile.  If they remember our names 300 years from now (and they won’t), we won’t be here to care about it, anyway, so why not celebrate and honor the fact that we’re alive today and have something to share?

Why not do what brings you so much joy that you do it when you’re NOT getting paid--because you “feel God’s pleasure” when you do it?

Why not do what meets someone else’s need and sends people reeling, thinking “There MUST be a design to all of this”?

Do something that tells the truth and asks good questions and leaves a footprint on souls that won’t wash out when the tide comes for our bodies.

Do small, unnoticed things you’re good at that make a difference to your family and community.

Do it with LOVE.   Do it at a cost to yourself.  Do it in small increments, in the midnight hours, after working your day job, or the wee hours of the morning, if that’s all you’ve got.

Do it because you CAN’T STOP.  (hat tip to Miley)

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I intend to be grateful at 62, regardless of the opportunities that come or don’t come.  Regardless of which circles invite me in and which ones overlook me. And they will do both.

I can choose.  So can you.  (So can YOU!)

The Maker of the universe wants to be noticed.  I don’t want to miss my chance to be a part of that.