And then, just like that, it’s over.
A world of intellectual stimulation, discovery, free thinking, stretching, a world that gave me a sense of direction & purpose, was here for seven months and then… just gone.
Who was I before this, and who am I now?
What exactly was this all about, and could I do it all again? Or, rather, should I do it again. Is it mine to embrace and explore. Is it a destiny to fulfill.
I don’t know.
Seems like I have more options now.
And more insecurities? Maybe.
But I have come so far.
Still, the idea in my head, the me that I see, has yet to be fully realized. I’m still scared. And still unsure of myself. Yet not as much as before, that’s for sure. And that’s incredible.
So what’s going on here? What is this, what has this been about… and what am I to do with all my likes and dislikes now?
I still want you more than ever, God.
Real life, mystical, felt touches and encounters with you. My heart craves your words.
“Talk to me.
Cause I know You lots of ways. Sometimes when the wind blows a certain strength and decibel, I could swear it’s Your breath… like You’re actually taking the time to really touch us here… Your breath (the wind) on our skin, Your voice (the wind) in our spirits.
And sometimes You have sent messages to me so unexpected that You had to keep sending them over and over for me to actually get it. Like the dragonfly that wouldn’t leave me alone. The flowers that wouldn’t stop growing. The movies and TV shows with story lines that were more prophetic in nature than any futurist could ever discern about me.
You always talk to me. At times it’s in ways I don’t think anyone else would ever understand. And I like it that way. I like our language. I like how You get me. I like Your nearness, I like how You reach for me, and I like how You keep communication interesting.
I wish everyone knew You like that.”
Their feelings were musical. Their emotions were a beautiful design. They did not know it. So they rarely sang. They rarely felt. They just toiled. But when they sang, we listened, and this is what we heard…
“Up in the morning with the sun,
Driven by the earth to find our place,
The promise of fulfillment
Is preceded by pain.
We prove our strength by how we strive,
Our axes bring us safety
We work hard because we’re told
There’s no way to fulfillment
But by being number one.”
Stand outside, study the trees, and you will learn the same lesson as me…
Structure is beneficial.
I’ve been studying the trees lately. Their structure gives shelter, a home, a place to nest, safety, and provision.
This is what good structure does. It gives a platform to take off and fly, and a place to come home and nest.
It’s not loud and obnoxious. It just gives space and protection. I like that. I admire trees.
“Hacking away at the undergrowth of a massive forest had taken its toll on her. Yes, she was strong. She could carry the axe, and she could wield it fiercely. But strength is not only in the toiling, it is also in the resting.
The strongest warriors are the ones who realize that a temporary ceasing of activity infuses more strength into the soul than the addition of ten new pieces of artillery.
So she showed her strength by how she rested…”
I suppose if we view God as the cruel cop in the sky, we will interpret world events through that lens, and everything becomes a traumatic punishment for not measuring up. We’ll see ourselves as pee-ons, who work for a taskmaster that keeps a record of all our wrongs. We’ll become a workforce, seeing to it that everyone performs their mission because we are primarily doers and we must fill our lives with activity or the Commander will yell at us for being lazy. We’ll call ourselves unworthy sinners and hopeless hypocrites, even though Jesus won for us a new identity of saints and dreamers, kings and miracle-workers. We’ll continually think nothing of ourselves even though God thinks everything of us. The cross becomes a religion, not a display of love that opened up the door to a new bloodline – rest, worth, freedom, fun, adventure, heaven’s very own culture entering into our veins. Doctrine becomes a boring display of rules, a heartless dissertation trying to prove we are right.
The lens with which you view everything – about yourself, about the world, about eternity, about the past – is colored by how you view God. If you think He is like Spock – emotionless, know-it-all, untouchable – you will read the book of Jeremiah and conclude that He is not a people person, is mostly disappointed in everyone’s lives, is waiting for us to just get it right for once, and is ready to smite us for one tiny mistake. If you view Him as strict Bible School teacher you will read the book of Job and conclude that He never wants to be questioned or interacted with, and doesn’t care one bit about how hard our life is. If you view Him as a controlling, angry army general you will read about the Cross and conclude that it happened because God was so sick of us that He had to do something to make it so that He could look at us without wanting to throw up. And you will subsequently portray Him as such.
It is sad but true, how common it is for our circumstances, upbringing, hurts and disappointments to become the deciding factor on how we view God. Our authority figures hurt us, leave us, say mean things to us, control us, and as a consequence we start to view God as a scary, angry, strict, controlling, life-sucking, feeling sorry for us kind of Being, off in the distance somewhere.
We must make room for the Holy Spirit. It will take courage on our part. We must let go of our boxes, though perhaps formed with good intentions, and let His Spirit take us where our natural understanding never will. He will show us the Father. He will show us the TRUE God. Do not depend on any pastor or president or Greenpeace protestor or family member or expert theologian to be your definition of God. We can learn from each other, but we can also harm each other. If you are not letting God Himself reveal to You His very own Self, you are settling for a completely wasted existence. He desires to show you who He really is, in your living room, in your bathroom, in your car, at your dinner table and on your walks. Every moment is a chance to let go of your pain and find out who He really is. Be brave, take a deep breath, leave your theology box outside, and ask Him to come in.
When I think about how I wrote the songs for Space of Brightness, my mind immediately goes back to one day in particular. October something. Bright sun. Crisp air. Crunchy leaves on the ground, and still more being taken from their branches by the wind. I just felt like writing something. So I got a chair, a notebook and pen, went out in my backyard, and sat underneath my favorite tree. I watched the season unfold for an afternoon.
And I just started to let my mind wander. I do this often. Dreaming with God is one of my favorite things to do. I think it’s one of His favorites too. I really believe He enjoys working with us. He does, after all, call us His friends. I can’t think of a more special time than to lay on a hillside with a good friend, dreaming about the possibilities of the present and the future. On this particular day, I started to imagine different people I had read about who were in prison for their faith that very day. I knew their stories, I knew their names, I knew what they looked like, I knew where they were. This may have been the day I started to feel what they felt. So many lyrics came to me on this day. As I imagined myself in their shoes, it was like I went inside their heart and I went inside their prison cell. And I just started to write different phrases down. I wasn’t trying to write a song, I just wanted to capture what I felt. I wrote down words that never made it into any of the songs on the album, but they helped me process the situation. I described what they may have been smelling and seeing, what may have been energizing them and what they may have felt like they were missing out on. I just wrote. No rules. It was so releasing and so special that it is still the first thing I think of when I remember how I approached writing for this album.
This afternoon defines my whole writing process for Space of Brightness. I did my homework and I let my imagination run wild. I breathed everything in and then tried to describe it. No thoughts about fitting things together or writing a “strong” chorus. Not even a thought about the finished product. I just dreamed and then tried to capture the dream with words.
If you want to create something, I think you have to learn to let yourself go a little bit. Dream really big and have an uninhibited vision. Don’t compare your process to others. Don’t compare your style to others. Unless, of course, you have a really outdated style and you need to learn from other people! If that’s the case, I hope you have the courage to change. The journey of becoming ourselves is one of the most important journeys in our time here on planet Earth. If we don’t value ourselves, our vision becomes limited, our lives become dull, and our impact becomes small. It’s true whether you’re a songwriter or a cake decorator! Knowing your worth will fuel your work.
So dream big! And be yourself! I don’t think you can separate the two.
Behind every story is about 5,000 other smaller stories that help make the big story what it is. You can read the short version of Space of Brightness here. Each song has it’s own story, though, and I wanted to write about that. Below are some of the stories within the whole story…
I Always Knew – Sometimes you just know your destiny, and you know what you’re born for. Sometimes you get pictures and visions of future events and places, and you just know it will require the most radical part of you. And sometimes radical love takes you down a dark road. But you find comfort in the fact that He didn’t set you up. He gave you glimpses all those years ago. I’d imagine that imprisonment is always in the back of the minds of those in dangerous places who lay down their lives daily for the sake of love. They just know, and they’re ready.
These Are The Things I Remind Myself – If you were stuck in a dark and smelly dungeon, held captive by people who want you dead, what would your mind rehearse over and over? I explored this here. From a desperate heart, the heart of a friend of God, I think would come a really simple mantra: He’s coming back for me.
Space of Brightness – Two women caught my attention when I was writing for this album. Two Persian princesses. My age. Stuck in an Iranian prison cell. They were so beautiful, and so brave. They were so happy to belong to God, and didn’t have it in them to deny Him. The pictures I saw of them – they shone. Such joy, beauty, confidence, and compassion. I was drawn to that, and I wondered if the guards and other prisoners in their section were also drawn. I couldn’t see how they wouldn’t have wondered what it was about these two ladies! So I looked at the story from a prison guard’s perspective. I had fun exploring where he or she may have been coming from. By the way, these two Persian princesses were released during the making of this album!
I Never Feel Far From You – I wanted to express the joy of companionship with God here. Like Paul and Silas. I wanted to celebrate His presence, because it’s worth celebrating!
Purpose In A Prison Cell – These lines, “It’s a privilege to be here…”, are actually taken from a written statement by Mehdi Dibaj, who you can read about in the description for The Best Year Of My Life. I thought it was profound to be able to say that all those years had been a privilege, and I just wrote the rest of it according to what he and other prisoners may have felt, looking at their captivity as a time to hang out with God.
Will I Ever Be Free? – I think we all ask ourselves this question when we’re struggling with something that feels like it has us completely bound and helpless. This song, like many of the others on this album, can be about any kind of imprisonment, not just a literal one.
Winter Doesn’t Last Forever – Inspired in part by Andrew Murray’s book, Waiting On God. So many of God’s ways I don’t understand. I wrote this song during the dreary, cold, dark winter of 2011, which also happened to be a dreary, cold, dark winter in my soul. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be permanent, even though it felt permanent, so I wanted to go on the record by declaring that it will not last forever. And it’s true, it won’t.
A Fierce Love – Totally spontaneous, recorded when I was at home by myself for a few hours, just feeling God’s strong love in a very tangible way. I love how it’s a little rough around the edges. Much like a prison cell.
Believing In Things I Can’t See – Christianity is so weird. I mean, here I am totally basing my life on things that I can not see with my natural eyes. I live and breathe and move by and with a Spirit. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. This very supernatural existence has brought me more rest, security, and fun than anything else that promises satisfaction in the natural. It’s weird, but it’s the way it is. That’s what this song is about. So what if I’m surrounded by impossibilities, hindrances, unfulfilled dreams, and injustices? They do not define me, unless I allow them to. They are only what I see in the natural, and I was created to live out of another dimension. Dig deep into God’s Spirit, find out what He’s saying, and live based on that. True life, wholeness, and happiness is dependent on whether I approach life with eyes of faith or not.
Searching – The story of a young man, full of questions, tired of his government’s empty promises, bored with religion, and passionate about finding answers that will actually change things for the better. Truth be told, this song is a bit autobiographical. But not totally. I actually wrote a short fictional story based on this man’s quest before I ever wrote the song. I had the character in mind for the song, which I already mentioned, and I had his environment in mind – strict and controlling, where it’s looked down upon to question authority. But I couldn’t figure out how to express his heart cry. At the center of every revolution is a heart cry, not necessarily rebellion, and I started writing a story about him in order to find his heart cry. I wanted to get into his brain and explore how he thought and what he felt. It was really fun to do this, and it’s exactly what I needed to be able to write the song. I need to do that more often. It’s a great creative exercise. The song ends up reading more like a journal entry, and I think it’s pretty cool. It’s one of my favorites, actually, because it expresses so much, yet it leaves you hanging!
The Best Year of My Life – I need to tell you a little bit about Mehdi Dibaj. He was an Iranian pastor who was arrested for apostasy and spent nine years in prison. One month before he was released, he stood before the Islamic court and gave the most beautiful, courageous defense of his faith. You can read it here. When he was released from prison (January 1994), he said this:
“God gave me the privilege to spend nine years in prison for His Name sake. They turned out to be the best years of my life, because what I had believed while free, is what I experienced while in prison; ‘Lo, I am with you always.’… Close to Jesus changes the worst prison into a paradise.”
Five months after his release from prison, he was coming back from a church retreat, headed for his daughter’s birthday party. He never arrived to the party. His murdered body was found a week later.
This song is for him.
It has taken me three years, start to finish, to make Space of Brightness. What started as a cool idea and a creative endeavor turned into a hellish adventure. I didn’t know the demons that awaited me as I said yes to this project. Spirit wars are real. When you decide to go deep into nations that are living in such tumultuous, traumatic, and havoc-wreaked times, you get a little bit bruised. As I look back on it, I was a little naive to think I could explore such a subject without being seriously affected. But I made it out. And I think Jesus is proud of me. But during the writing, thinking, planning, creating of these songs that echo the hearts of imprisoned ones across the earth, I didn’t think I’d ever make it out. I guess I had to go there in order to write accurately. Actually, I chose to go there. I chose for their voice to be my voice and their experience to be my experience. I never thought it would be so painful. But their journey became my journey, and I now have hundreds of great friends who feel like family. I will probably never meet them. They will remain in my heart forever.
It’s hard to explain such a personal journey, so I’ll stop trying. What I really wanted to say is that there are a thousand voices out there, telling us what success looks like, giving us propaganda about how to feel, which tastes to have, which songs to write, which music is “cool”. If we listen to those voices, we lose our own. The only way I was able to start and complete what I wanted to do is by throwing away the rule book. Maybe it’s a perceived rule book, and maybe I didn’t end up creating something that different. But I couldn’t even begin the whole process of thinking and writing for this album until I let go of all popular standards and expectations and opinions. There are so many boxes, metaphorically speaking, and I find them to be extremely suffocating and destructive to good creativity. You and I have poetry and sounds in us that will never ever fit those boxes. We need to make space for it! Some people like the rules, but I find that I can dream a little more without them. So I started this project simply by letting go of the urge to fit in with a crowd.
I couldn’t be me unless I made a decision to not be “them”. I couldn’t be authentic unless I let go of every desire to fit in, and I couldn’t be truly creative unless I waved goodbye to fulfilling everyone’s desires to fit a mold. My voice is important. Your voice is important. This world will water you down and drown you out by making you think you have to be like everyone else in order to do something successful. Do it their way, and you may end up making millions and having a fan club. You will also be boring and on the verge of becoming a part of something that looks like The Borg. Do it in a way that’s authentic to you, and you may never receive a single accolade. You will be misunderstood and possibly rejected. But you will find your own voice, you will love it, and you will make a difference in ways that you may never see with your eyes. Authenticity always leads to the best creativity.
I am so proud of Space of Brightness. It makes me so happy. We have been on an unforgettable journey that no one will ever be able to understand, and I’m ok with that. In a very real way it feels like my baby and now I’m sending her off on her own. She’s leaving the nest and she’s got her own wings to take her to wherever she’s supposed to go. I’m a very proud mama to this project, content with whatever the outcome may be. She taught me that even though I’m no expert musician, recording artist, or writer, I have a voice, and it’s important.
And you know what? So do you.