Posts Tagged ‘music’

christian cds nichole nordeman

Until recently, I thought I had grown too cool for Christian music.

Don’t mistake me: I love a good old-fashioned hymn, especially the ones that periodically set up camp in my soul: Be Thou My Vision. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I Love to Tell the Story (which I always hear my dad’s voice singing). Amazing Grace.

I’m also deeply attached to a few praise songs I learned as a university student: Holy is the Lord. In Christ Alone. Blessed Be Your Name. And oh, how I love the Magnificat.

But for a few years, the Christian contemporary music that filled my ears and my CD player during my high school and college years got pushed aside. I grew tired of the often formulaic melodies and refrains, the sometimes too-packaged theology. I’ve spent the past decade or so walking into a more complicated faith, one that leaves a lot of room for gray areas and messy edges. The bright, happy sounds of ’90s Christian pop didn’t seem to fit any more.

But earlier this year, Nichole Nordeman – whose music I have loved for nearly half my life – released her first new album in ten years, an EP called The Unmaking. I downloaded it a few weeks ago, and I cannot stop listening to the title track. The musical style is familiar, but the lyrics are wonderfully honest and fresh:

This is the unmaking / Beauty in the breaking / I had to lose myself to find out who You are. 

Even before that, during these last few difficult months, I’ve caught myself humming snatches of other songs I thought I’d forgotten, half-remembered lyrics that, to my surprise, still ring true.

Keep on looking ahead / Let your heart not forget / We are not home yet, from Steven Curtis Chapman (who headlined the first concert I ever went to). I believe that He loves you where you are, from Mark Schultz. Lines from Nichole’s older songs: Gratitude, Healed, Brave, We Build. On the night of the recent Paris attacks, sick with worry and fear, I finally soothed myself to sleep by singing an old Point of Grace line over and over in my head: God loves people more than anything.

These songs wouldn’t always pass muster in a theology class, nor would some of them win any awards for musical style or originality. But I don’t care about that as much as I used to. These familiar words and melodies (and the newer ones from The Unmaking) are bringing me comfort these days. They often say what I can’t articulate, or help succor me when I’m raw and hurting. These singer-songwriters are old friends, and their voices help me feel less alone.

I don’t plan to reconstruct my entire CD library from the early 2000s, but I’m keeping the songs that have come back to me. These are the good ones. And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I will definitely be humming Nichole’s song “Gratitude.”

I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey for her Out of Sorts book synchroblog. This post was partly inspired by the playlist she made to go along with the book.

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strand books nyc exterior

We’re only nine days into November, but I’ve already read some cracking good books this month. (Hooray!) Here’s the latest roundup:

The Lake House, Kate Morton
In 1933, toddler Theo Edevane disappears from his family’s isolated country estate in Cornwall. His body is never found. Seventy years later, London detective Sadie Sparrow, reeling from a professional crisis, comes to the area on holiday and decides to reopen the cold case. Morton’s latest is full of lush descriptions, family secrets and hidden passions. A richly layered plot – I devoured it.

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, Nancy Springer
Springer’s second Enola Holmes mystery finds her protagonist living alone in London, dodging her brother Sherlock, helping the poor, and trying to solve a few cases. When a peer’s daughter goes missing, Enola investigates, with surprising results. Another fun middle-grade mystery.

The Stargazer’s Sister, Carrie Brown
The 18th-century astronomer William Herschel was justly famous for his pioneering work with telescopes and discovery of several celestial bodies. But his sister and longtime assistant, Caroline, was herself an accomplished astronomer. In this lyrical novelization of Caroline’s story, Brown explores the limits, sacrifices and rewards of love and dedication. Absolutely beautiful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 19).

Black Ship, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her family have moved into a new house near Hampstead Heath. But when a dead body turns up in the garden, Daisy and Alec get mixed up in another investigation. An engaging plot, combining the tricky business of British liquor sales during U.S. Prohibition with the delicate matter of interrogating one’s brand-new neighbors.

The Hours Count, Jillian Cantor
Before Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage, they were simply a Jewish family living in New York. Cantor tells their story through a fictional neighbor, Millie Stein, who is struggling with her own troubled son and unhappy marriage, and is drawn into the Rosenbergs’ lives. Beautifully written and heartbreaking. I also loved Cantor’s previous novel, Margot.

Death on the Cherwell, Mavis Doriel Hay
The unpopular bursar of Persephone College, Oxford, is found dead in her canoe. Four spirited undergraduate ladies investigate. Oxford + mysteries + plucky heroines = my literary catnip. Well written and so much fun. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Eat The City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York, Robin Shulman
New York City is known as a concrete jungle, but it has supported robust production of various food products – vegetables, meat, beer and wine – over the years. Shulman explores the city’s history through its food producers, past and present. Meticulously researched and fascinating. Found at the Strand on my solo trip to NYC.

The Way to Stay in Destiny, Augusta Scattergood
When Theo Thomas ends up in Destiny, Florida, with his taciturn uncle, he doesn’t plan on staying. But a baseball-crazy girl and a dance-studio piano might just save his summer – and help him find a new home. A sweet middle-grade novel about family, music and finding home. I also loved Scattergood’s previous novel, Glory Be.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

I’ll be linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

What are you reading?

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rocks waves blue sky two lights state park maine

Every once in a while, usually when I’m not looking, a line from a hymn sneaks into my soul and lodges there, like a bird building a covert nest under the eaves of a house.

This happens with non-religious music too (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift), but when a hymn lyric sets up camp in my consciousness, it becomes a kind of mantra, or a kind of prayer. Last December, during Advent, it was my favorite four-part version of the Magnificat. This winter, a Lenten hymn caught my attention, and I hummed it over and over as we plodded toward Easter.

memorial church interior

This fall, it’s a line from a hymn I’ve known for years: God of Grace and God of Glory.

I’ve sung the several verses of this song all my life, in the big Baptist church where I grew up and in various other churches since then. I know most of the words by heart, and I love them all, but one line in particular has burrowed into my mind and soul lately:

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.

I was laid off from my job a few months ago. I have not wanted to talk about it here on the blog, but that simple fact has informed every day of my life since I received the news. The job search has been longer and more difficult than I expected, and I miss the purpose and the camaraderie of my former workplace. I’ve had some interviews and a few promising leads, but it has been hard. And it continues to be hard.

After months of job hunting – the relentless cycle of applications and rejections, the constant worry about whether I’m doing it right or doing enough, the loneliness that comes from missing colleagues and community – I am finding it difficult to pray. There are a host of reasons for this, not all directly related to the job search, but I can’t always make the words come, or even bring myself to believe that it matters.

But this quiet hymn lyric keeps coming to mind, both on the hard days and the not-quite-so-hard days. I catch myself humming it at odd moments, or I find the words floating through my head. (We also sang this song at church yesterday, because my husband – who plans our worship services – is evidently a mind reader.)

Both halves of this line resonate with me. “The living of these days” speaks to a broad swath of struggles and worries, both personal and societal. When I’m wondering how to face these difficulties, I’m always hoping for more wisdom and more courage. And when I’m too tired or too dispirited to form a prayer, this seems to be a pretty good one.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.


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magnolia tree tulips pink boston spring

I loved Ali Edwards’ post last week about 39 little things she’s thankful for right now. We are in the middle of a full, messy time of year – the end of the semester is approaching and there’s a lot going on, both at work and at home.

This is, as Ali noted, one of the best times to stop and take a look around. So here’s a snapshot of my life right now, with several snippets of gratitude thrown in.

Right now – in early May 2015 – I am:

  • walking around Harvard Square on my lunch breaks, enjoying the (sometimes chilly but no longer brutal) spring air.
  • sitting on the steps of Memorial Church and watching the world go by in Harvard Yard, when it’s warm enough.
  • snapping photo after photo of flowers and blooming trees. (See above.)
  • buying tulips twice a week (one bouquet for work, one for home) from my favorite florist in Brattle Square.


  • texting a friend or two about what is saving my life, what’s driving me crazy, and everything in between.
  • looking forward to (and soon, packing for) a trip to San Diego with the hubs!
  • still eating lots of soup, but mixing in some dishes that include spring veggies.
  • wearing dresses (most of them are striped) with black leggings and my jade green coat.
  • switching between silver ballet flats, black booties and the green loafers that match said coat.
  • reading a fantastic history of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon (out June 2), and all the cozy mysteries I can handle.
  • drinking David’s Cream of Earl Grey tea by the quart, and ginger steamers with honey and lemon from Crema (the best cure for a sore throat).

crema cup table pussy willow

  • fighting a lingering cough from that cold I caught a couple of weeks ago.
  • watching episodes of Mary Tyler Moore on some evenings, and Call the Midwife once a week.
  • blasting Taylor Swift while I cook dinner or clean.
  • celebrating my husband’s 31st birthday, which is tomorrow.
  • keeping up with the daily duties of church and work and home.
  • hanging out in the Public Garden about once a week – where the trees are blooming and the ducks are quacking up a storm.

public garden tulips may 2015

  • missing my Texas family and wondering when I can get down there next.
  • prepping for the end of the semester and the attendant Commencement craziness.
  • sorting through piles of review books, and curating a short stack of vacation reading.
  • sipping a glass of red wine (usually Cabernet) about once a week.
  • scribbling in my journal when I can.
  • stretching out at yoga class on Monday nights, and doing an occasional at-home session with the app.
  • thinking about making summer plans.

What does life look like for you right now?

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brookline booksmith interior twinkle lights

The Bookman’s Tale, Charlie Lovett
After losing his wife, antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is subsumed by grief – until he finds a Victorian watercolor that eerily resembles her. Chasing this mystery leads Peter into a web of intrigue involving book forgery, Shakespeare and murder. Wonderfully inventive, richly detailed.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
I hadn’t read this novel since high school, but picked up a copy at Foyles in London. I loved watching Elinor – so steady and patient – steer her family through a difficult time. Not my favorite Austen, but still a pleasure.

Driving the King, Ravi Howard
This novel tells the story of Nat King Cole’s childhood friend (and later chauffeur), Nat Weary. The story is heartbreaking and the voice is pitch perfect. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 6).

A Murder of Magpies, Judith Flanders
London book editor Samantha Clair lives a fairly routine life. But when her favorite client goes missing, she begins hunting for clues alongside a handsome policeman. Whip-smart and wickedly funny, though the ending fell flat. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 24).

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Caroline convinced me to buy this book during our day out in London. It is well written, compelling and completely terrifying.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
This sweet, witty story of love and rock’n’roll in 1950s England is one of my favorite books ever. Loved savoring it on this reread.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. (It’s also pictured above.)

What are you reading?

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harvard yard autumn light leaves

Send some rain, won’t you send some rain?
‘Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade

Would you send a cloud, thunder long and loud
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down?
Surely you can see that we are thirsty and afraid

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for you
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If you never send us rain

I have loved Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude” for a long time, since the days when I listened to K-LOVE religiously and went to several Christian concerts a year. As a high school student, I saw Nichole open for Avalon, quietly playing the piano in a college gymnasium full of eager, revved-up teenagers. In a culture always impatient for the next thing, her music prompted us to slow down and listen.

Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger’s view this time

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
A lesson learned to hunger after you
How the starry sky offers a better view
If no roof is over our heads
And if we never taste that bread

I later saw Nichole play at a megachurch in my college town, still quiet, still soulful, still disarmingly honest about the gaps that sometimes appear between faith and reality. I own three of her albums; this song comes from Woven & Spun (which also provided the name of my original blog). I know every word, every piano chord, and I always pull out the CD around this time of year. But it is particularly apt as we approach this Thanksgiving.

Oh, the differences that often are between
Everything we want and what we really need

My nephew, Harrison, was born on Nov. 13, and he and my sister have both been in the hospital for going on two weeks now, fighting infections (first her, then him, then both of them). They are going to be okay, but it has been hard and stressful, and I can hear the strain in my mother’s voice every time I talk to her on the phone.

In a certain sense, we have what we need – Harrison is here, and he and Betsy will both be all right – but it is so far from what we want.

Grant us peace, Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
Between alibis and enemies tonight

But maybe not – not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in you
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need
If you never grant us peace
But Jesus, would you please?

I am far away from my family this Thanksgiving (though I will be there next month, for Christmas). It is hard to be far away, to get reports from the hospital of tears and pain, and still be grateful. (It is even harder when I hear bad news from other places too.)

But I am trying – we are all trying – to offer prayers of thanksgiving alongside repeated pleas for healing and peace. We are doing our best to practice gratitude, even while we can’t help worrying. And frequently, this song is the best prayer I can offer.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a Thanksgiving filled with loved ones, joy, peace and gratitude.

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Scenes from a day out in Gloucester.

tea plates cafe table
Tea at the Pleasant Street Coffee Bar & Tea Company (with a raspberry jam turnover).

flip flops sidewalk
Enjoying flip-flop weather for as long as it lasts.

jer bookstore
The hubs did some reading while I browsed at the Bookstore of Gloucester.

guitar rug
And we found a super cool rug outside Mystery Train Records.

Hope you’re having a gorgeous weekend.

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