Last week I set the stage to share my biggest mistake by writing about the first half of our recording odyssey. If you missed it, you can read about it here. Today, I’ll wrap this story and share what my big mistake taught me.
2006– My family is sent to France for work while Jeremy continues to recover in Minnesota. For me, leaving the album unfinished is the hardest part about leaving for France.
2007– With Jeremy’s cancer in remission, we gingerly discuss resuming recording after I’m back in the States. We are both fiercely committed to the project, but still gun shy.
2008– I have a baby in January, and Jeremy’s wife has one in June. We hold off.
2009– We finish all the recording. After years of laboriously slow going, Jeremy and I record “Ruth” together in a single take. I savor it (but seriously regret not doing a live album). Jeremy finishes the mixing and mastering, and I finish the design and packaging. “Return to Sender” is a reality. Our 2 families quietly celebrate together in late autumn.
After all we went through to get here, I want to shout about it from the rooftops! But I don’t. I’m newly pregnant and nearly incapacitated. And while completing the album was a REALLY BIG DEAL for us, it (understandably) wasn’t for anybody else. Most of our friends at the start of the process weren’t in our lives by the time we finished. We had disappeared off their radar, in part because of the years we spent away. Most of our new friends had no idea I sang, let alone wrote songs. Through all the years that we worked (or didn’t work) on the album, I imagined sharing this story in the liner notes of the disc jacket, but by the time we finished the album, nobody does that anymore. So I often just sheepishly hand people a CD and mumble something about “We made this…it’s a long story…”
2012- I realized this wasn’t enough and released the album digitally in April. I launch this blog largely because I think I’ll be talking about my music. But Jeremy’s cancer is back, and he’s going through a bone marrow transplant. Promoting my music seems distasteful at a time like this. I write about my own brush with death instead.
Jeremy dies in June. It feels like there’s no tasteful way to promote the album after that. Everything feels petty. I know that God still had plans for the music, but nothing had gone as I planned.
2013- Almost a year later, I realize my mistake. Not promoting this music wasn’t gracious, or tasteful, or anything that I want to be. It’s cowardice. The fact is, God entrusted me with gifts to share. Not sharing them is a huge disservice to the people they’re meant to bless. It’s also a disservice to Jeremy, to myself, and to God. From now on, I’m gonna shamelessly promote everything God’s given me, because that’s truth . False humility is just false.
I have an album of songs I wrote and recorded, but maybe you already knew that. Recording “Return to Sender” is one of my biggest creative accomplishments, but my mistake is what you probably didn’t know. I’ve never really told the story behind the album, which is perhaps more remarkable than the album itself.
These days, you can retreat into someone’s basement with a few instruments, mics, and a laptop, and you can emerge with a completed album in a weekend. That’s what I did, but in my case the album emerged…8 years later. What took me so long? Here’s some of the story:
2002– I’ve written songs for over 5 years, but I feel called to share them with a wider audience. I want to make sure the message of the lyrics isn’t obscured by technical glitches, so I need a high quality recording. It feels like a major stretch financially, but we sign a contract with our friend Jeremy to produce an album. We meet to pick songs and set the overall mood for the project.
Our church leadership chastises us for not consulting them about recording an album. They accuse us of being selfish and not fully committed to the church. We back off for almost a year, second guessing our motives (now it seems sillythat I viewed this as such a set-back, but at the time we were young, prone to people-pleasing, and desperately wanting to do things “right”). Finally we get a second opinion, and the project is on.
2003– I record my first vocal tracks in Jeremy’s basement studio. When I’m behind the mic, it feels like I can do no wrong. Singing takes everything I have, and yet it’s effortless. Clearly I was born to sing these songs.
Jeremy’s carpal tunnel pain slows the recording of the instrumental tracks. We’re getting anxious to finish.
I lose my voice. I can’t sing for almost a year, and even talking is torturous. There’s no diagnosis, and no progress on the vocal tracks. I can’t stand knowing I’m the one holding up the show. I’m also angry with God, who I felt sure was leading us to do this recording. So why can’t we do it?
Jeremy is diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The instrumental recording grinds to a halt.
2004– Our spirits are deflated. Singing isn’t effortless, and I feel like a shadow of my self in so many ways. But we’re still compelled to bring these songs to life. We tentatively venture back into the studio and manage to eek out a couple more songs.
2005– We have our second son. Jeremy has cancer. We stop even talking about the album.
2006– Months into his chemotherapy, Jeremy calls from his hospital room. He sounds so weak, but he’s eager to discuss a new idea for the album. I have no words.
Here’s where I’ll press pause on the story for now. I want to ask you: Have you ever felt called to do something, only to confront one roadblock after another? Where did those roadblocks come from?
“Lord my body’s been a good friend. I won’t need it when I reach the end” -Cat Stevens
A friend of mine molted this week.
Every summer, we have a ton of cicadas in our yard. I always thought they were on some kind of boom and bust cycle, but we have them every year. If you have cicadas, you have exoskeletons. The exoskeleton is the papery part left behind when the cicada molts. These days, all my kids love to collect cicada exoskeletons, which they affectionately call “exos”.
But when my oldest son was four, he was puzzled about all the exoskeletons littering our yard. They look like live bugs at first, so he was startled to find that they weren’t alive. I explained that the cicadas had grown and changed. They didn’t need their old outer “shell” anymore, so they left it behind and flew away. The shell would go back into the ground, and help make new soil. He seemed satisfied with this explanation, and went back to playing.
Autumn came, and I forgot about the cicadas. When my grandmother died in early November, I wanted to find the right words to talk to Asher about it. I tried to explain that her life in that body was over, but that she wasn’t actually dead. We talked about how the part of her that thinks, feels, loves, and remembers will live forever. I was expecting it to be a pretty difficult concept for a four year old.
We adults sometimes have no clue.
His face lit up and he exclaimed, “It’s just like the cicadas. They changed form and flew away. They went on living, but they didn’t need their outer shells anymore so they left them behind. That’s just what Grandma did. She left behind her shell and flew away.”
With that settled, he went back to playing.
Like I said, a friend of mine molted this week.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful or ridiculous, but I think words are important. My friend thought so too. We are both the kind of people that spend hours meditating on the meaning of a word, or searching for just the right word to convey an idea. So when I hear people talk about death, and the silly euphemisms we use in our (unsuccessful) attempts to hide our discomfort, it bothers me. We need to acknowledge the mystery, the uncertainty. What really happened here?
He didn’t die. He had already crossed over from death to life, so that’s not a satisfactory explanation.
We didn’t “lose” him. It sounds like he was misplaced.
I’m not convinced that he “went home”. I guess it depends on your definition of home.
He didn’t “pass away”. Even the laws of physics say that can’t happen.
So what are we left with? He changed form. He left his body behind.
I know that he wrestled with this reality, and you should, too. I want to leave you with some of the best lyrics that this friend, Jeremy Erickson, ever wrote:
Not So Lonely (Nancy’s Song)
I may be alone,but I am not so lonely
Not as far as I can tell
I may be frail but I am not so afraid
I’m not dependent on myself
And I won’t go alone
I will look up to the mountains
And I will see my savior coming
With all the love I’ve longed to know
I will listen to the heavens
And I will hear my father laughing
Telling me its time to go
And I won’t go alone
I may be a fool but I am not so foolish
to believe a God who cries
I may be dying but you won’t find me crying
‘Cause my home is in the skies
And I won’t go alone
My body’s broken
My body’s broken, but I’m holding on
And I won’t miss it when I’m gone.
If you’d like to hear this song, you can download it here.
You can read the story behind the song in Jeremy’s own words here.