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 Unless, of course, you have a really outdated style and you need to learn from other people!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.
I couldn’t believe it yesterday when, as Joseph and I were talking about our lives, the words “I’m bored” came out of my mouth. I just never thought I’d ever be able to let myself go down any roads in life that would end up in a roundabout. Roundabouts are cool, but I don’t want to drive around in a circle all day.
So the truth is out. I am bored.
It’s not that I don’t have anything to do. I have a million things I’m doing right now. I’m just bored with the million things.
Actually, I can’t decide whether it’s that I’m tired from working so hard the past 365 days and I just need a vacation right now, or whether I’m bored and I need some new mountains to climb. Either way, something’s gotta change.
I was born for more than this. I was born for more than just waiting around for things to happen. It’s time for some change.
One more day…
One more chance for You to show; and for me to know.
One more day…
Is one more chance to hope.
The songs that break the silence are now being sung
So let it come… let the new come.
I can’t stop believing.
If I do, I will perish.
Unbelief is a sickness that kills.
See the promise in faith, and greet it. Say hello to it, and welcome it into the home of your heart. It should live in your heart as real as you living in your home.
what if the breeze is the breath of God?
sending me a message of peace, through a tiny crack
in the corner of the wall?
i am just one, one of many
like a blade of grass, I flourish and fade
thriving in the purpose for which I was made
unique like the sun, like the dirt, like the ocean
full and vibrant, a part of a greater symphony
crowned with favor
robed in acceptance
privileged to belong
i am just one, one of many
but I matter to You! we matter to You!
. . .
there is no other Rock
there is no other Rock