Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ornaments of hope: Why Audrey Assad is one of my songbirds

photo credit

Audrey Assad.

I first heard her songs mere days before my wedding. That four-day stretch between rupturing my achilles tendon and hobbling down the aisle - yeah, then.

I remember waking up the morning of the wedding to excruciating pain.  To not enough meds to get me through the day, to cancelled honeymoon and surgery instead, to the memory of Papa. I laid in bed, thinking, Of all the times I imagined what my wedding day would be like, it did not start remotely like this. I hopped out of bed on one foot and made my way to the bathroom, where I soaked in the tub, shaved my legs and sobbed through one of Audrey’s songs on repeat.

. . . . . . . . . .

New Song
Far off hymns and funeral marches sound the same again
My ears are worn and weary strangers in a strange land
And I need a new song, I need a new song

All I am is breath and vapor and shadow
All I have is what I need and this I know
I need a new song, I need a new song

I’m waiting in the night for you, burning in the sky for you

There’s an aching in my body, within my lungs
This web of bone around my heart is coming undone
I need a new song, I need a new song

I’m waiting in the night for you, burning in the sky for you
I’m waiting in the night for you, burning in the sky for you

Words are failing, my melodies falter
My voice is breaking, my heart is burning
Because blessing and honor, glory and power, praise and worship
They belong to you

I need a new song, I need a new song, I need a new song

. . . . . . . . . .

And I felt this aching, this waiting, this burning, this gulping for words and coming up filled with sobs of blessing and honor, glory and power, praise and worship.

I may have felt I was riding out an endless wave of disappointment and pain and grief, but her words spoke so deep to this wave: I need a new song.

. . . . . . . . . .

I don’t think, if one were to categorize my blog, it would fall into “positive” and “uplifting,” at least in the way those words are used, say, on our local Christian radio station. I’m all for “real” and “hopeful”, but “positive” and “uplifting” generally trigger my inner gag reflex. They tend to weigh heavily on the upbeat side, the let’s-make-you-feel-better side, the wrap-things-in-a-pretty-bow side. And friends, that’s just not the way I believe in looking at life. I take the joy and the suffering together, for they are often dance partners, and depending on who is leading of the two at any given note in the song, there may be smiling or tears - or both. Lately I’ve realized, this may cost me as a writer. It may cost me in friendships. People don’t flock to this, unless they’re hungry for it.

And this is one of the reasons I love Audrey Assad and her songs the way I do. This, I see now, is why they move me deep, deep in my soul. Because she speaks my language. Because she’s not afraid to be real in a culture where the ‘successful’ are often anything but real.  [It also doesn’t hurt that she’s a beautiful example of the Catholic faith to me.  And she’s endearingly confessed, her initial response to hearing of her parents considering divorce, immediately followed by a church worship practice, was that she "wanted
to throw the microphone down and shout the f word" instead of being "perky", "bright eyed" and "happy."]

She’s an artist who wants to be the same in her songwriting and singing as she is in her living and breathing daily life, and she’s not willing to compromise who she is for popularity, fame, approval or success.

I wonder if success isn't seamlessness between art and living, between speaking and acting, between the outside and the inside of a person. She’s on her way there. I hope I am, too.

I desperately desire to be the same person in my writing as I am with my husband, my family, my friends, my coworkers, my customers, my church community, my neighbors. I confess, it’s infinitely harder to translate the kind of vulnerable writing I do with the varying levels of intimacy among all these face-to-face relationships or encounters - but I’m determined not to give up. I keep wrestling with the scripts I’m handed everyday in conversations with people, and some days I read from the script, often out of lack of knowing what else to do. And other glorious days or moments, I tear it up and write my own and risk falling flat on my face.

It’s worth it, whatever the cost may be.

. . . . . . . . . .

There have been enough nights these past two years, I haven’t been able to fall asleep. My heart has been disturbed. I have been anxious, afraid, lonely, hungry, hurting. And I’ve found her voice and let it play until my tears dry, breathing slows, and my heart is quieted. I’m so grateful for the voice of another singing over me songs of hope that have not minimized my pain, yet still help me see through it.

Audrey is a little songbird in my tree, hanging ornaments of hope. And maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there for whom my writing does the same.

I can only pray, friends. Because there is not much more I would love than to be a songbird in your tree, in someone else’s tree, reminding you of hope and life even as I can’t dispel the dark - I can’t.  And so we let it be what it is, together, until the light gradually overcomes, softening the edges of night sky.

I fell asleep to this song not too long ago, and it’s been a song replaying on my lips in the shower and on my walks and in the living room with my guitar, when I’m bowed low and when I’m standing tall, through tears of pain and tears of gratitude. Each time I sing it, the words wash over me and they leave behind the scent of truth.

. . . . . . . . . .
Good to me

I put all my hope on the truth of your promise
And I steady my heart on the ground of your goodness
When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up your name
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because you are good to me, good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me

I lift up my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night, raise my head up and hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me, I will praise you, my God
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Your goodness and mercy will follow me, all my life
I will trust in your promise

. . . . . . . . .

This is my unofficial blog series for Lent, "Ornaments of hope," where I want to learn to sing like the birds and hang these songs as 'ornaments' on the trees.  I don't know how often I will write, but I'm committed to writing out this forty day journey in some way.  And you? I know you're on your own journey, and I'd love to hear about that. But if you resonate with any of this, I hope to see you around here this Lenten season. Singing with the birds and hanging our ornaments of hope as we journey from darkness to light. Maybe we'll even form a choir.

Ornament 1
Ornament 2

Ornament 3


  1. I definitely resonate with you. I struggle finding a balance in my writing between positive and uplifting topics versus the hard ones that aren't always fun to discuss. I like to think that my writing is just honest. When things suck, they suck. When they are awesome, they are awesome.

    The song, Good To Me, really touches my heart today. There is a lot of hard stuff happening to our family all the time. Constantly. I'm sure friends think we exaggerate. But we don't blab all the crap that happens all the time. It takes effort to remember that God still takes care of our basic needs every day. Just like this song says. He is good to me. Even when things SUCK. He is still good to me. :)

    I think the way you write is awesome.

    1. I've read your writing, and I think it's honest, too. You're brave, friend, and I admire that. You are also as you are, not painting any other image but what is right there.

      I'm so happy that "Good to Me" touched your heart. It has seriously fed mine. I am sorry that hard stuff is constantly happening to your family. I honestly relate to that, though I know our 'stuff' is different. I resonate with your feeling that friends might think you're exaggerating. I hear your pain. And I'm trying, as you are, to remember - which is an effort, as you said - that God is good, in the sorrow and in the sweet times. It's not always the comfort I want, but when I grasp this, truly grasp it, it is something much deeper.

      Thank you for being here. I value your voice.

  2. I think you should definitely be yourself, because when you write as yourself it comes across encouraging whether you think that is the message or not. The most inspiring thing someone can do, for me at least, is be fully human, the way God created them to be, not like someone else. This is lovely Amber. I'm going to go peek at the others in your Lent collection.

    1. Shelly, thank you for this. I hadn't thought of it that way, that when we're ourselves, that alone can be encouraging, regardless of the nature of the content. Being fully human... yes. This is a beautiful, inspiring thing to be and to behold.

      I so appreciate you being here - it's an honor.