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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.

 

 

Forgetting the rest...

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

TEACH me YOUR paths

Guide me in YOUR truth and TEACH me

for YOU are GOD my SAVIOR

and my hope is in You ALL DAY LONG."

Psalm 25:4

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

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

Much to my chagrin, he knows my blindspots.

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

I’ve said it for years:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Where deep gladness and deep hunger meet...

It’s obvious she has the bug.  She is 6 and can’t keep from it.   Small brown fingers push the sound from the ivory and I watch her do what I do.

Play.  Evaluate.  Try a new way.  Repeat.  Build a pattern, wonder where it must go next.

She is emotive.  Sometimes loud.  Often tragic (her favorite song being Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”).

She pulls words from the air as she goes.

”Wheeeeeeeeen will you coooooooooooome, will we eeeeeeeeever be togeeeeeeeeeether agaa-aa-aain…”

Then suddenly she sweeps into a rhythmic dance number, shoulders pulsing as she pounds and sings lyrics that may or may not match:

“Jesus, you died, uh-huh, you died for us, Jesus, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah!!”

I say:  I love this, but you really need to practice your lessons now.

Swiveling toward me on the bench, her smile and eyes light up like fireworks: “But I LOVE it!!!!  It’s SO MUCH FUN making up songs!!!!”

I can’t stop my grin, overjoyed to have this in common with her.  To hear her say it out loud, the feeling I know so exactly.  It is SO MUCH FUN.

I’d choose songwriting over many things.  I’d choose a day at the piano over a day at the pool.  And I like the pool.

I'm still finishing Paula Rinehart’s book, Better Than My Dreams, which I can’t recommend highly enough to every woman I know.  In it she quotes Frederick Buechner:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness

and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I knew early on where my deep gladness was, but I did not know it would intersect anyone’s hunger.

Have you seen the intersection? Realize how you have been asked to participate in bringing food to the poor in body and in spirit?

We're like the disciples of Jesus who saw 5,000 hungry people but had no idea how to feed them.  They forgot, like we forget, that it all begins, not with what we have, but with what the Father has.

And what He has is the power (and desire) to make a feast of our crumbs.

We cannot satisfy anyone.  He will satisfy.

Our part is to run like children with the kite of “deep gladness” we feel when we do what we were designed to do.

"Just Music"

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I didn’t really think about music as “art” when I was a kid.  I didn’t think of myself as an “artist”when I began melody-making or lyric sketching.  It was just . . .music.  It was…a body part, like an eye or a foot.  Something you don’t consider parting with .  “Artists” were people with paintbrushes and sketchpads at the park.

I made music because I felt I must, but not because I expected it to be important to anyone else.

A couple of years ago, I was scheduled to write with another songwriter in Nashville…a writer who has won awards and had many more “cuts” than I have…and I was very uncomfortable from the start.   It was apparent to me after the first five minutes that we probably weren’t going to “click” or find the common plain of understanding to draw from.  More honestly, I wasn’t going to be able to write anything in that room.  After 30 minutes of watching him strum his guitar and sing, as he leaned casually back in his desk chair, I apologized for not having any ideas (bad or good), at which he grinned and said:

 “Hey man—it’s just music!”

He thought this would relax me, I guess, but I sort of felt like I’d been punched in the mental jaw.  Just music?  Seriously?  Wow.  If it’s “just music,” what have I been wasting my time (my family's time) on? If my work is merely something entertaining, to be tossed into existence without much concern or trepidation, then what can it be worth??? 

Just music.

Just a painting.

Just dance.

Just a film.

Just art.

I’ve just finished Seth Godin’s brand new book, Linchpin.   He sent it to me (and 3,000 others) to read and write about. I loved it and will definitely be writing an offical review.

But the essence of this book is that you and I can choose to be artists. 

How?

By loving what we do and actively, creatively and generously sharing it with others.  It is not only the songwriters and painters and dancers who add something unique and valuable to the world. 

It is also the Royal Carribbean cruise attendants who bent over backwards to serve and please my friend and I last week. 

It’s the electrician whose visit I will never forget because he had enough passion for wiring to light up a whole neighborhood. 

It's the nanny who doesn't merely "watch" the children, but plans excursions and creates learning experiences with them, because she truly loves her work and sees its value.

It’s my mother who has spent a lifetime making an art of hugging and loving on people just because she can.   

It’s the blogger who notices the metaphors of life and writes them into life-breathing prose, for free. (not referencing myself, but many of you!)

It’s the financial advisor who actually cares about his clients and takes the extra time to hear their stories and is willing to lose money in order to protect their interests.

It’s the 6-year-old boy who creates personalized cards and necklaces and journals from construction paper to gift every visitor to the house.

 

Who can you add to the list?

 

It matters, the unique qualities only you possess. 

It matters that you labor over your work with love and care. 

And it matters that you give it away.

 

It’s not “just” anything.

On success & celebrity...

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* My apologies for going long tonight...

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

Namely,

    1.  Success & Celebrity

    2.  Internet OCD

    3.  Fear

Tonight we'll go with: Success

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

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

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

Oh, the pain of waiting...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To walk humbly with my God.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

    One brings a song and one beats the drum

    One builds a shelter so others will come

    One starts a fire, and one grinds the grain

    We are gathered from the fields and the rain

    Strangers with one strange hope...

written in love,

cnw