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Posts Tagged ‘Nichole Nordeman’

This year, I’ve been pulling out my favorite Christmas albums, most of which I still own on CD: Sarah McLachlan, James Taylor, Elvis and (of course) Charlie Brown. But on my morning runs through the snow, I’ve been listening to a newer favorite: Nichole Nordeman’s Christmas album, Fragile.

I’ve loved Nordeman’s music since I was in high school, when I saw her open for Avalon and bought her second album, This Mystery. I rediscovered her a few years ago when she released an EP, The Unmaking, but didn’t pay much attention to Fragile when it came out last year. Now, though, in the quiet of these days before Christmas, it has been a balm to my soul.

My favorite Christmas albums mix traditional carols with the artist’s own interpretations and sometimes an original song or two. Nordeman’s voice shines on classics I love, like O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem and O Come O Come Emmanuel, but I also love her remix of What Child is This? with a song called Fragile (originally performed by Sting, of all people). The few original songs – Maybe, How Love Comes and We Watch, We Wait, – capture the longing and heartbreak of Advent against the good news we are all waiting for. Her voice is reverent and lovely and so familiar: it is a voice of truth to me, and has been for twenty years.

Between my divorce, my own church grief and the pandemic, I haven’t been to church in a long time, nor do I expect to go for a while yet. But on Sunday morning, running along the snowy trails, Nichole’s voice in my earbuds felt like the closest to church I’ve come in a long time. I am grateful, this Advent, for the writers and artists and voices who hold the beauty and the brokenness, and help the rest of us do the same.

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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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Gratitude

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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Gratitude (Woven And Spun Album Version)

I’ve long loved Nichole Nordeman’s music – I named my first blog after a lyric from her song “Healed.” And this song is one of my very favorites. I carry its lyrics in my heart. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving.

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I always find myself craving a certain kind of music in January: one that evokes firelight and starlight, crisp blue twilights, soft snow. I’m always a little sad to let go of Christmas music and I’m not ready for anything revved-up or summer-carefree. So here are a few albums and songs I’m playing over and over, to ease me into this year that is both about comfort and bravery.

1. Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong is technically a Christmas album, but includes several “winter songs,” and oh, they are gorgeous. And so is her voice. I adore her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and her soft version of “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

2. Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance” seems like the perfect song to start a new year – inspiring, elusive and fun. (The rest of the CD tends to make me sad, though…so melancholy.)

3. Grace Pettis’ self-titled album is a favorite all year long, but these days I’m reaching for the quiet, meditative songs – “Turning Too,” “Speak Tenderly,” “Long Sleep.”

4. I love Nichole Nordeman all year long, but I especially love “Every Season” in the dead of winter. It celebrates each season and gives me hope for spring.

5. The Pride and Prejudice (2005) soundtrack is perfect for quiet afternoons at home, working or tidying or writing or just being.

6. Dave Madden‘s songs make me want to be a better person. (I’ve always been a sucker for guitar players with rough-edged voices and dark, soulful eyes.) Favorites include “Dirty Feet,” “The New New Testament” and “This is Love.”

What are you listening to lately?

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It recently occurred to me that I’ve never explained the title (and subtitle) of my blog. Perhaps it is self-explanatory to some…I hope that readers (especially frequent readers) can see that this blog is a chronicle of my journey as God shapes me more fully into His likeness. But I drew the inspiration from one of my favorite songs, or poems (I think it’s both): “Healed” by Nichole Nordeman.

I try to avoid posting long song lyrics on my blog, but these are so clear and lyrical (pardon the pun), and yet so weighted with meaning, that I just can’t resist. Nichole quietly marvels at God’s creative process as He continues to heal us by His wounds.

We stutter and we stammer till You say us
A symphony of chaos till You play us
Phrases on the pages of unknown
Until You read us into poetry and prose
We are kept and we are captive till You free us
Vaguely unimagined till You dream us
Aimlessly unguided till You lead us home

And by Your voice we speak
And by Your strength, no longer weak
We are no longer weak and
By Your wounds we are healed
(Tell me, what kind of love is this?)
By Your wounds we are healed

Passed over and passed by until You claim us
Orphaned and abandoned till You name us
Hidden undisclosed till You expose our lies

And by Your death we live
It is by Your gift that we might give
And by Your wounds we are healed
(Tell me, what kind of love is this?)
By Your wounds we are healed

What kind of love
Would take your shame and spill His blood for you
And save us by His wounds?…

Yes, I’m being read into poetry and prose, by the voice of the One who gave His blood for me. As He breathed life into the “dry bones” in the book of Ezekiel, so His voice makes me come alive. And I hear whispers of it everywhere…in a chilly golden winter sunset, in a stiff West Texas wind, in the liquid brown eyes of my puppy, in a hug or a kiss from someone I love. Truly He is everywhere, and He is always whispering to me…reading me into something more beautiful than I could ever imagine on my own.

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Today was one of those days in chapel where “you bleed just to know you’re alive.” The pastor at the University Baptist Church in Waco was electrocuted when adjusting a microphone before a baptism, and he died shortly afterward. Brandon Woodruff is still in jail, awaiting trial, I suppose. And Jeanene Reese talked to us about confessing sins and being able to be real. Pain is so amazingly inherent in the human condition. Even in the good times, we can’t escape.

That sounds like a hopeless statement…yet it’s not, really. Pain, as confusing and messy and heartrending as it is, brings us closer together, reminds us that we’re all human, that none of us are in this alone. The pain of losing Cheryl last year bound my Oxford family so much closer together. My best friends are the ones who have not only picnicked in the sunshine, but trudged through the valleys with me. And pain doesn’t have to mean the story’s over. As one who has spent a lot of time in the valley over the past year, I know the valley doesn’t always hold the words “The End.”

I believe in the rest of the story
I believe there’s still ink in the pen
I have wasted my very last day
Trying to change what happened way back when

I believe in the human condition
We all need to have answers to why
More than ever, I’m ready to say that I
Will still sleep peacefully
With answers out of reach from me until…

Someday all that’s crazy, all that’s unexplained
Will fall into place
And someday all that’s hazy through a clouded glass
Will be clear at last
And sometimes we’re just waiting
For someday
~”Someday,” Nichole Nordeman

Someday we’ll be home for real, forever…and someday all those prophesies about heaven will come true, in ways we never imagined. Jesus came to offer us life both then and now – of that I have no doubt. Abundant life doesn’t begin after we die. But when this life wears thin and the days grow dark, it helps to cling to the distant – but bright – promise of someday.

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two true things

Two things that are true, even when (because of outside circumstances or whatever) I have trouble believing they are:

My Savior loves
My Savior lives
My Savior’s always there for me
My God He was
My God He is
My God He’s always gonna be…
-Aaron Shust

And…

It will find you at the bottom of a bottle
It will find you at the needle’s end
It will find you when you beg and steal and borrow
It will follow you into a stranger’s bed

It will find you when they serve you with the papers
It will find you when the locks have changed again
It will find you when you’ve called in all your favors
It will meet you at the bridge’s highest ledge

So baby don’t look down, it’s a long way
The sun will come around to a new day

So hold on
Love will find you
Hold on
He’s right behind you now
Just turn around
And love will find you…

To hang between two thieves in the darkness
Love must believe you are worth it
-Nichole Nordeman

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I’ve been told that I need to blog more often. Apparently there are at least a few people in the blog-universe who await my outpouring of random thoughts. 🙂 Time and inspiration have both been lacking lately, but this morning they’ve both decided to show up. Correspondingly, I started a new journal yesterday – its clean, lined pages, pristine and fresh with possibility, await my scribbling.

These lines from Nichole Nordeman’s song “Tremble” have been playing in my head for a few days:

And the line grows blurry all the time
Between daily and divine
It’s hard to know the difference…

Isn’t that a blessing? I was thinking of this yesterday as I walked home from a canceled 8:00 class, my shadow stretching before me, my legs suddenly too long for my body. The sun glinted off still-sleeping cars and the day held the haze of early morning, before the world has lost itself in the busyness of paperwork and politics. For a few minutes, or even a few hours, the line blurs, and the mundane and the mystical become one. God, instead of being the Artist who stands back looking at His painting, becomes the colors and strokes of the painting, leaving His imprint everywhere.

Would that it were this way all the time! I wish the scales would fall from our eyes so we could see the myriad connections between daily and divine. I think we would be richer people for it. Wouldn’t your daily job seem more meaningful if it carried some connotation or inspiration from beyond yourself?

Oh, I know it isn’t always this way. Too well I know that weariness or frustration or grief can obscure the larger meaning of our seemingly little lives. But at times the veil lifts for just a moment – and then – my eyes, with their limited vision, catch a glimpse of a greater Mystery.

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