Tag Archives: Ryanhood

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.

Thank you U2

UnknownHave you listened to the new U2 Album yet? It blew me away.

I was so inspired…

-by the concept (this album is called Songs of Innocence, and will be followed by Songs of Experience. I mean, they might as well be called “Titles I want to steal for future books…”).

-the tribute to Joey Ramone in the opening track.  I especially like that I thought it was about one thing, then read an interview and learned it’s about something entirely different, and I think the song works both ways. Amazing.

-the lyrics. The lyrics! (Are we ready to be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave?) Words are what make or break a song for me, and this album is filled with word combinations that are careful and important an real.  The gold standard for any writer.

I was so inspired that it paralyzed me. I did not write for two days. I was blown away by this awesome body of finished work that I lost my ability to participate in the earlier part of the process, the part that’s messy and frustrating where all the profound thoughts in your head look silly on paper.  The hill that divides early drafts from finished product is long and steep.  It makes me think, “Why should I bother to write when I can just listen to other people’s songs and read other people’s memoirs? Can’t I live happily, nourished by the excellent writing by other people?”

Yes, and then no.

Great writing nourishes, there’s no doubt about it. Memoir, novel, lyric, poem, speech, rant, tweet…whatever.  When someone else’s words make you think about things in a new way (Are we ready to be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave?) that’s one of my favorite things in life. I crave it, like oxygen or potato chips.

Also true (remember my both/and from earlier this week?) is that once U2’s lyrics get tossed around in my mind with some similar ones from Ryanhood, an essay I read in the New Yorker about a ballerina, and a couple I met this morning who are celebrating either 65 or 69 years of marriage (they disagree on this detail, and it’s hilarious how at this point it actually doesn’t matter), new thoughts emerge from this melange that help me finish the chapter I’m writing on my friend’s re-marriage to her husband after they were divorced for 7 years. That’s a cool thing to be part of, even though I don’t understand how it works (or why it it disappears for long stretches of time).

Anyway, not sure what my point is here. Listen to the album. Appreciate the gift of these guys who have been working as a team for YEARS to create this. See what it adds to your life.

Happy Friday :)

 

Start Somewhere

cover-start-somewhere-spread-lightI received a letter the other day. It wasn’t to me individually, although it felt like it was. It was written in a way that was so personal to the senders that I suspect each of us who read it was quite certain it was intended just for us.

It was an open letter from the band Ryanhood to their fans, explaining how they’ve been in a tough, discouraged place for the last couple of years, wondering if their artistic efforts would ever amount to anything. And how recently, they’ve realized that creating music and playing it is who they are, and to get to do that for us – to have fans who care – is an honor for which they’re grateful. They apologized for not realizing how astonishing this is sooner. They announced a new album, Start Somewhere, which comes out on Saturday.

I am beyond excited.

Ryan and Cameron are friends of mine. I feel like our quests to navigate the worlds of art are intertwined. Music, writing, being public about what’s private, becoming what God created us to be, the tension between inspiring others and struggling to stay encouraged ourselves. I remember when they flew in to play at the launch party for my second book, A Maze of Grace, right as everything was coming apart for them, and (although I was still in denial about this) for me.  I was burnt out from a whole list of things, and convinced that hanging out with Ryan and Cameron would get me back on track.

So there I was at lunch one day saying (picture jazz hands): “Hey guys! if these events we’re doing go well, let’s do more of them!” and they looked at me with glazed eyes and said, “You go for it, Trish. But after this we’re on sabbatical.”

They took about a year off, then put out After Night Came Sun. It’s darker, and brilliant, and as they say in their letter, it wasn’t a new beginning but a last gasp.

Part of our long-distance friendship has been sharing our struggles to make sense of whether and how our work matters.  On our most recent visit last summer, when Ryan was touring with his solo album, Running In Circles, Ryan and Cameron told me several versions of, “Don’t give up; your books matter! You’re doing something no one else is doing!” while I told them “Don’t give up! Your music changes lives! No one else is doing what you’re doing!” Then we all looked at each other like tired, retired people in our late 80s who should have been sitting around a pool in Florida, waiting for shuffleboard and our afternoon nap. We were exhausted.

Then a few months ago, Ryan sent me a link to a book he was reading by musician Michael Gungor. It’s about living in all this tension and coming out the other side with something new and unique; how when you’re brave enough to stop, step off whatever treadmill you’re on, regroup and collect yourself for awhile, incredible things can happen.  I wondered if something was up. Turns out it was, and there’s a new Ryanhood album to celebrate. That is such good news. The sun is shining. And I am beyond myself with relief…and a fun sort of hope I’d forgotten about.

The narrative arc of Ryanhood’s albums since I’ve know them makes me smile. It reads like an explanation of life:

You realize that The World Awaits. Then you get your butt kicked a time or three.  But you believe that After Night Came Sun, that this is how life works, so you sing about it over and over again, trying to convince yourself, desperately hoping it’s true. You spend some time off on your own, Running In Circles. Then, something shifts. Or falls into place. Or changes. You see things differently. And so you Start Somewhere. You rebuild, living again in a new way, eyes open to possibilities that weren’t there before. It’s a beautiful thing. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a beautiful album.

press-ryanhood-start-somewhere-LHere are some teasers.

You can preorder.

Or if you’re near Tucson, you can see them play live on Saturday night.

As I listen to the previews of their new songs, I hear hope, and happiness. It echoes what I’ve been feeling as I look out at my own horizon at things that weren’t there before. It’s a fun place to be, seeing these first glimpses of sun, and (as Cameron and Ryan describe so beautifully in their letter) greeting these days knowing who you are and what you’re here to do.

Start Somewhere.  What a great idea :)

Talking About a Revolution

I spent the weekend in the Maryland mountains, at a retreat with the women from Revolution Church in Annapolis. I never knew that Maryland had mountains (turns out they’re beautiful) or that a group of women staging a revolution would be so much fun to hang out with.

I was the speaker for the retreat, which is always a mix of wonderful and terrifying. It’s wonderful because I get to ask God, “What are you sending me to say to these women? What will encourage them?” As an outsider, I can say things folks on the inside can’t, because I’m not distracted by concerns like, “How will so-and-so take this?” or “Will person X think I’m talking about her specifically I mention xyz?” I don’t know anyone’s story yet, so there’s freedom to go in and speak as God prompts me, trusting Him with how it lands.  But these are the same things that make it a little bit terrifying: I have no relational equity with these women. My freedom to speak means they are equally free to say, “Who brought HER?” and pelt me with water bottles and granola bars.

photo10

We did not do this. And we are glad.

Thankfully, that did not happen :) So I thought I’d tell you a bit about what did. Because one of the things I discovered over lunch on Saturday was that the word “retreat” is loaded with baggage. This was news to me. Those of us in the writing world all but salivate over the idea of a retreat: a chance to escape from the frenzy of life to order our thoughts and wrestle them out onto the page without interruption. But for others, it represents (I think) hokey weekends filled with schmaltzy activities, feigned niceness tinged with guilt, round-robin judgement, and a casserole recipe swap. Perhaps some light Jazzercize to mid-tempo Amy Grant songs from the 80s.  Smile, smile, smile ladies!

THIS was not THAT.

RVRwalk

Walking to breakfast yesterday morning.

The retreat site, River Valley Ranch, is an oasis hidden between some mountains about an hour from BWI airport. I walked around thinking, Where AM I? because it felt like I’d been transported to another universe. Granted, my understanding of Maryland geography is limited, but this felt unusually “away from it all” even so. We drove around a bend in the road, were dropped down over a hill as steep as a snowboarding ramp, and suddenly, we were in a different world.  A rustic world where there are BUFFALO HEADS on the wall, and suddenly your city-appropriate shoes feel somewhat ridiculous. In a good way. A way that makes you wonder what else about your life is somewhat ridiculous, or extraneous, or unnecessary. These are good things to have the chance to think about.

This world also had the kindest, most helpful staff I’ve encountered, and the best food I’ve had at a retreat center. To be honest, retreat food typically inspires me to fast. It’s a holy-sounding survival skill that lets one avoid those scary sausage links and crusty lasagna squares sizzling in grease over Stern-O for 4+ hours. But we had steak. And crepes. And this Mexican soup I didn’t even understand but couldn’t stop eating.

LaDessa&Sara

LaDessa & Sara

All to say, if you’re planning a retreat, consider River Valley Ranch.  Say hello to LaDessa & Sara: these girls will be your best friends, because they can do ANYTHING. They build bonfires, drive a John Deere Gator, figure out glitches in the sound system, and even replaced a clock on a 19 foot wall…without anyone noticing. They have mad skills, and they’re funny and helpful and somehow combine the lifting of heavy objects with talking about what God is doing in their lives.

I should also say that RVR has a zip line. And a ropes course. And horses. And that I will be eternally grateful to the retreat organizer Holly (Total fail that I didn’t get a picture of Holly) for not making me get on these things, or dangle from the heights for Jesus. I prefer to hang out in the room where the buffalo buffalo(heads) roam, talking about God.

And we did. We talked about friendships: how they develop in unexpected ways, how people surprise us. How they sometimes fall apart and break our hearts. And how God introduces new possibilities in places and situations just as we’re certain all hope is lost. And in between all those deep and hopeful thoughts, we laughed. My favorite exercise of the weekend was when one of the Revolution leaders asked, “Would you rather eat poop-flavored chocolate, or chocolate flavored poop?”  There were a bunch of similar questions in this ice-breaker, but I think this one was particularly interesting in terms of what it tells you about someone’s approach to life :)

As the weekend went on, I got to shift back and forth between being a new member of the group getting to know people, and being the observant outsider, watching this community come together. A lot of these women didn’t know each other when they arrived on Friday night. I was struck by their honesty as they shared reservations about coming, about not knowing what would happen or if they’d meet anyone. And as the weekend unfolded, I saw people walking in different groups as they connected, reaching out to include one another.  It makes me wonder what God will do with these friendships: Which of these ladies will help rescue a friend she met this weekend, the way my college friend Kristen helped rescue me when I left my first marriage? Who will form bonds over weekly girls’ nights out the way Gwen and I have over the past few years? Who will inspire long distance creative perseverance, the way the Ryanhood guys have pushed me along with encouragement?

At the end of the retreat, two of the participants were baptized under bright sunshine in a very cold stream.

baptism

baptism2It was SUCH a celebration, a perfect representation of how the end of one thing can be the beginning of another if we’re willing to let go.  As the Apostle Paul told the Jesus-ey people of Corinth, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come.” That promise never gets old for me.

On the opening session of the retreat, I shared a quote from this book by musician Michael Gungor: “Art is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the Creator.” I suggested that friendship is art, something God creates where only pieces were before.  And then we got to watch art happen, as God brought His intended order to our fragmented world.

Rock on, Revolution ladies. Rock on River Valley Ranch. Thanks for letting me spend the weekend in your world and behold the work of God :)

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.