Tag Archives: Nichole Nordeman

The Remaking

It’s been an interesting week for me artistically.

I’m listening to three songs from Nichole Nordeman’s long-awaited new project, The UnmakingThe basic theme is that sometimes God tears down all the things we build and leaves us standing there, wondering what to do next. Then He rebuilds in ways we never could have imagined. As she says in a promo video, “This was a song I wrote in great hopefulness, after a season of great hopelessness.”

I’m reading Jenny Simmon’s new memoir, The Road to Becoming, about how she lived this exact experience: how her years of touring with the band Addison Road literally blew up when an RV with everything they owned caught fire and burned to the ground. (There’s more to it than that, of course, but that was the straw that took out the camel).  She admits that a year of things breaking lead to her becoming the worst possible version of herself, after which a friend said, “This is the best night of your life, because Jenny, you are about to see God be God.”

I’m thinking about Ryanhood’s CD, After Night Came Sun, and how pretty much every song on that album speaks of this same agony – dashed dreams, disappointment, wondering what on earth to do next and how to keep believing in God.  And how Princess Peach loved one song on that album, the one where they shout out in the middle of the chorus, “I’m falling apart!”

Amidst all this, as I’m remembering the seemingly endless ways my own life ended between 2009-2014, all I can think is, “Holy sh*t! Did ALL the Jesus-ey artists have our lives RUINED during those 5 years? You mean it wasn’t just me?!?”

It’s incredibly comforting not to feel so alone.

Steve and I are on the other side of this season now, THANK YOU JESUS.  (I say that not in a pious, “I always knew he’d come through!” way, but rather with the grateful fatigue of someone who thought she was taking a gentle 2 mile hike but ended up wandering across some stupid mountain range until way past dark, and is sort of astounded to have finally made it back to the parking lot.) We have a new home, new jobs, new cherubs, new hope in what God can do when all that’s left is ashes and rubble and empty wine bottles and tears.

As I listen to Nichole sing, and read Jenny’s words, and remember sitting up late one night talking to the Ryanhood guys in our kitchen when they were in town on tour with their new album Start Somewhere, I’m encouraged about the second part of the story. How part of the REMAKING that follows extreme carnage is ART: Stories told through paragraphs and lyrics and pictures. Puzzles with all the pieces fit together, revealing and reminding us of how God works: that if new hope has not arrived, it’s not the end. This can be hard to believe, and even harder to live. The Remaking happens despite us, not because of us. I guess it’s like yesterday’s post on forgiveness: we can block it, but we can’t make it happen on our timeline. All we can do is stand there and wait. I don’t understand it, but I’ve lived it. And so I spend my days writing about what that looks and feels like so that maybe, like Nichole & Jenny, Ryan & Cameron, my story might be another little flashlight helping others who are struggling to believe in the possibility of our impossible faith.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, tells us something about overcoming, how it happens “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.” Jesus acts, we tell the story.

That I can do.

Confession: Right Now I’m Bad at Sad

My friend Melody pointed out this morning on Facebook that this week marks both the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, and Holy Week…in other words, it’s time to revert to waterproof mascara.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around these big things right now. I’m caught up in little things – joy over how THIS DOG has finally figured out how to walk on a leash; frustration about the squirrel that ate through four inches of wood in one night to have her squirrel-ettes in our soffit; questions of whether installation of a ceiling fan in our tiny bedroom might reduce the need for an air conditioner this summer.

Such minutia. I mean, who cares about dogs and squirrels and sleeping temperature in a week where we commemorate the brutal murder of innocent people?

I guess I do. I want to be better than this – to be deeper, maybe. To cry some more. But I doubt that will happen this year, because I don’t have it in me. I think I need more distance from the raw, brutal loss to be able (or even willing) to mourn. It won’t always be like this. But this year, it is. I will cook (bake?) my first ham for Easter dinner on Sunday, and welcome our family around our table. But we won’t be holding a service for Good Friday. Maybe next year, but not now.

I was all set to feel horrible about this. Until I re-read this chapter from Nichole Nordeman’s book, Love Story, posted on her new blog. I grabbed my copy of her book and skipped to page 192, and let it remind me that the point of THE story is life, not death.

It’s a dog that was thrown from a van and abandoned in Tennessee, who now walks proudly through her Boston suburb like she was born here.  It’s God restoring me to a home where I get to figure out how to be hospitable to people I love, and less welcoming to pregnant rodents.  And it’s the anticipation of summer warmth after a long, cold winter that felt like it might never end.

This week, I’m focusing on the rest of the story: how after he was murdered, Jesus rose from the dead, and then told us that somehow, through him, that same thing is possible for us.


This Mystery

I’m rereading a Madeleine L’Engle book this morning, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.


Her writing is filled with wisdom and flights of fantasy, and her cadence feels old-fashioned and slows me down.  Every third or forth page I find myself tearing up, which makes no sense because today is a gorgeous, sunny day and I’m in a great mood. And yet here I am, soggy over these pages (some of which are so warped that it’s obvious they’ve either made me cry before or been dropped in the bathtub) wondering what God is doing inside me.

In the middle of the book is the faded receipt from when I bought it: March 19, 2003, at the Barnes & Noble  in Downtown Crossing.  I used to go there at lunchtime when I was temping at a venture capital firm, living under an assumed name, struggling to pay my rent and figure out my life. I’d been a Christian just long enough to feel like God had forgotten about me, so I spent my free time stalking the “professional Christians” in the religion section of the bookstore, looking for reassurance that this Jesus guy wasn’t just another figment of my spiritually-inclined imagination.

I read Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye, sitting on one of those little round stools you can use to reach the higher shelves, and struggled to imagine a man who would love me (and God) enough to wait for sex until after marriage.

I looked at books speculating about what might happen in the End Times when Jesus returns and thought, How about we just focus on getting through today? and slipped them back on the shelves.

And I bought Walking on Water, having never read any of L’Engle’s books before, Unknownbased solely on the introduction written by Nichole Nordeman, the singer who was keeping my new faith afloat with the haunting, hopeful songs on her CD, This Mystery.  One lyric in particular swirled in my mind in those days:

If I abandon all that seeks to make my faith informed and chic, could You, would You, show Yourself to me?

This morning, almost eleven years later, I’m in a different place. Jesus has proven himself more than a figment of my imagination. And yet I still feel the tension, the desire to cram what I’ve seen and what I know into a form that is “informed and chic”;  to write about Jesus in a way that is smart and witty and wholly understandable. If L’Engle had been a snarkier sort of woman, I can imagine her looking at me with a raised eyebrow, asking, “So, how’s that working for you?”

This morning, God is reminding me of what it means to respond to Him.  That I write (and live) into a mysterious place I don’t see ahead of time or fully understand. That all the talk about building a platform and cultivating followers is all just noise, because He selects the people who happen upon my book at a bookstore or library (or yard sale) and decide to pick it up. And that what they see there is His story, played out across a portion of one life.

It’s making me feel small and insignificant. Which is, historically, where my best writing comes from.

If you’re struggling to write (and live) your portion of God’s story, I recommend Walking on Water. Read it with This Mystery playing in the background. Ask Jesus to help you believe, so that you don’t miss any miracles.

And then, instead of Leaning In, lean back into the good news of being so very small, and yet safe in the presence of magnificence–With work to do, a story to tell, and an imagination that is only a glimpse of what is possible.

Dumpster Diving

We had the yard sale Saturday – Finally! It was sunny and September-ish and lovely, and I would have panicked during the first two hours when NO ONE CAME, except that our landlord’s young grandsons came out to hang with us and we got to play ball and push toy trucks around in a stroller and all other kinds of made up fun. And then, when I’d lost all hope and started mentally redecorating our place with all the junk we’d decided to get rid of…they came. The people. And they bought stuff!

So Mom Lady, I hope your son likes the baby books. And Boyfriend Dude, I think you rock for buying your girlfriend a leather jacket & a purse. And Guy Who Looked Kinda Grumpy Until You Smiled, I hope the wallet holds all your stuff and that you bust some groovy moves once you get the iHome installed.

It was fun to watch our old belongings get carried away to new homes. It felt like a Toy Story moment, where all of these things could be used & given life again, rather than just being piled away in storage with the rocks and the pickles.  More than once we heard passersby say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!”  Indeed.

UnknownThis thought was still in my mind as I sipped coffee and soaked in the surprising Sunday morning quiet of the city the next day. I was re-reading Love Story by Nichole Nordeman. Ostensibly, this was for a talk I’m giving this weekend. But the book did a number on me – her soothing words washing over me like soft, cool waves – so I can’t really just call it work.

I love how she describes Jesus’ time here on earth as hanging out next to the dumpster. How he pulls us out of the trash andimages helps us see that we’re not some silly finger painting a child dashed off and then threw away.  “That’s where Jesus sets up shop for his short stay on our broken planet,” she says. “Next to the Dumpster. Every day he rolls up his sleeves, lurches over the side, and lowers himself into the muck so he can begin recovering and restoring the remains of his Father’s original perfect work.”

We are, each of us, a masterpiece created by God. Which is (lets be honest) difficult to imagine as we glance around inside the dumpster looking for anything that suggests “priceless work of art.” Because many of us go through our days looking and feeling mass produced, not very special or important, easily replaced.  Making the best of life in the dumpster because whatever we were created for – if we were created for anything – didn’t quite work out.

Into this feeling come Nichole’s words:

“I like to think of Jesus as an art therapist,” she says, “I imagine him coaxing people out of the shadows. Pulling back their filthy blankets. Building a fire to warm their hands.  Asking, Peter, what happened? Why are you living like this? Oh friend, I’m so sorry to find you here…  Wait, Matthew, is that you? How did it get this bad buddy? You look like you haven’t slept for weeks. It’s okay. We’re gonna sort this out. Tell me your story….  Judas. Judas! Don’t act like you didn’t hear me. Come here! No? Fine. I’m coming in. No, I will not leave you alone. What do I want? Well, a hug for starters.  Then we can talk. I want to know your story…”

I think this captivated me because it’s so clear who is doing the work. Jesus. We are in the dumpster, making the best of it. We make dumpster to-do lists and subscribe to Fly Lady for email advice on how to tidy up the dumpster, and believe that if only someone would throw away this or that thing we think we need, life would finally be complete and okay. Or at least better. Bearable. But it’s not. And we know it. and Jesus knows it.

Jesus is the way out of the dumpster. He’s the one with the audacity to suggest we might like it better outside – that there’s a whole big world to live in and he’d love to show us around and help us re-imagine our lives.  As Nichole says, when Jesus shows up at the Dumpster, God says Let There Be Light once more.  And we get to walk away, into a new life and a new story.

One man’s trash is Another Man’s treasure. Indeed.

Depression, letting each other down, and waiting out the storm

UnknownThree summers ago I was so depressed I could barely get out of bed. This wasn’t the wonky chemical kind of depression, but rather the kind that comes when too many things have gone wrong.  That it was a “reasonable” sort of depression – an appropriate reaction to circumstances, you might say – didn’t help. I’d have given a lot for the small hope of a  pharmaceutical corrective to dull the pain.

Toward the end of the summer – after days and days where I did nothing other than obsessively collect sparkly beads from the Michaels store and string them into an endless array of necklaces – Steve and I went to talk to our pastors. They were close friends and we’d kind of been hiding all this, hoping it would go away.  But it seemed like admitting this was happening was the next smart thing to do.

It was a disaster. The husband pastor told me of his own failures and disappointments, suggesting that I because I’d published two books, I had no reason to be upset over not having children. Then his wife went on at length about my Enneagram profile – she was sure I was one particular “number” because she’d studied my sin nature very closely.  She elaborated, in detail, all the character flaws she saw in me.  To which I just mumbled, “Um, I’ve taken the test. I’m not a 4. I’m a 7.” Then they told me I was wrong.

In hindsight, I can see that they were fending off their own crisis. It wasn’t their finest moment, or the defining one of that friendship. We’ve all moved on. But I’m sharing this because it made me realize the truth of something my Dad told me years ago when a boyfriend cheated on me: “People will let you down.”  We love to think that other people can fix us, especially if they’re professionals like pastors or therapists. But it doesn’t always work that way.

That sounds like a bummer, but it’s been so helpful for me to remember in dark seasons. Sometimes someone will say exactly the right thing to help me find light in the dark. But not often. And while it’s great to have friends and family to do life with, we’re not perfect. We say the wrong things and hurt each other. Or we don’t know what to say when someone else is falling apart because we’re barely holding it together ourselves. Sometimes we have the chance to do the right thing and we whiff.

But that’s not the whole story. Here’s the whole story: no matter how dark the season of circumstance-based depression, life comes around if we wait for it. If we stay on the couch and make necklaces for months, and don’t kill ourselves or anyone else, that’s a win, and eventually, the depression and the feeling of utter pointlessness passes. I don’t know how. But I’ve been throughFE_DA_120919HomeConstruction425x283 this a time or eight, and it keeps happening. God grows new things in soil I was sure was dead. The muddy, torn up ground of my life gets a new foundation, and then new walls and a roof and even some tiny starter shrubs in a garden. And it’s not that I don’t miss the old or wish some things had gone very, very differently. It’s that life is bigger than we think it is.

If you’re in a season like that right now, where you’re on the couch because so many things have gone wrong, and you know the problem isn’t chemical but rather that life just sucks so bad you’re not sure there’s any point in keeping on, just keep on. Get through the hour. Go to Michaels (here’s a link for a coupon) and buy some beads and wire. Make a necklace. Make 15.

As I told someone recently, these seasons of awful hopelessness are a little like giant storms rolling through. We don’t know how long they’ll last or how much damage there will be, but they can’t go on forever. Songwriters know this. Listen to this.  Or this.  Light will come. In the meantime, go with whatever random distractions work for you (West Wing marathon, anyone?) and hang on until the storm goes by.

Memoirs I Love

I’m asked often what books I’d recommend for writers learning about how to craft a memoir (Let me pause here to say: I loathe the word “craft” in conjunction with writing, but I have to admit it’s apt here: memoir requires building skills, but you also have to know what to take away, and how to make sure your story has a defined shape when you’re finished. So craft it is – but as a verb, not a noun. I may craft stories, but the only craft I have is baton twirling :) )

Here are seven books from my shelf. Each one exemplifies incredible writing, great shape & structure, and the most important thing – that je ne sais quoi factor that makes me want to read it again and again. Read them once to enjoy the stories, and then a second time to see how the authors pulled it off.

photoProzac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner

Expecting Adam by Martha Beck

Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett

Love Story by Nichole Nordeman (not technically a memoir, but beautiful)

The Buy Side by Turney Duff