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  • dearmelyric (1)

    No Longer

    Listen- are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

    -Mary Oliver

    This is how it’s been…always hesitant.

    -Me

    I am not an inherent risk taker. I’ve always envied certain people in my life who are far more YOLO about things. I balk and whine all the way to the front of the roller coaster line with my kids. I throw out food well before the expiration date. I could own stock in sunscreen companies. I don’t even like the fun kind of surprises. My parents threw me a surprise party for my 16th birthday and I nearly died from anxiety thinking about how they had contacted all my friends without me having an ounce of knowledge or control of it.

     

    I think the same could be said of my spiritual life.

    I like to contemplate, study, read, learn, write, sing, and discover things about God.  Preferably alone. I am a deeply private person, and my faith is no different. Want to watch me break out in hives? Ask me to pray in public. You know that part in a conference or a church service where the leader asks the room to break into small groups of 3 or 4 and “share a struggle or what God’s been teaching you lately?”  Those are my tires you just heard squealing out of the parking lot.

     

    This always surprises people to learn, because maybe they would describe my songwriting as transparent or vulnerable. But writing from a place of vulnerability and walking into the world that way, are different things.

     

    When I wrote No Longer I was longing for more.  Longing to be more than the girl who lives safely and predictably and wanting instead to really walk in the freedom of Christ.  To stand in the posture of Christ….arms wide open, open to pain or hurt and openly giving and receiving love. Undefensively. Unarmed.

     

    Jesus never modeled self-preservation. He did not live or love safely. And these are times that require us to live and love with the same abandon.  One of my favorite lyrics in this song is this:

     

    I want to run with my heart on my shirt.

    Straight into the wind, maybe get hurt.

    I thought living safe meant living stronger.

    No longer.

     

    On the short list of proposed titles for this new album, I also really liked Straight Into The Wind.  If you’ve ever run into the wind, when it’s in your face and not at your back, you know how hard it can be. How it makes your eyes water. How hard it can be to catch your breath.

     

    This is what faith looks like in this season of my life. I don’t want to be carried safely along wherever the wind takes me, but rather walking straight into it. Head down and arms open.

    Stepping out of the safe shadows and letting love shape me.

     

     

  • EMMSBS (1)

    Slow Down

    I bought a house last year. As a single mom, it felt overwhelmingly intimidating. I called my dad in tears, more than once. Endless paperwork and hoops to jump through. Endless inspections and negotiations and financial blahbibbityblah, until one day, my realtor handed me the key, and I actually owned a house.

    It was built in the late 70’s in a quirky neighborhood with heavy towering trees and plenty of Mad Men architecture.

    When we moved in, there was an old beat up basketball hoop in the driveway, fixed permanently into eroded cement with a boy’s name etched in it’s base. “Parker.” My heart smiled imagining a sweaty haired little guy, finding a twig on the ground and writing his name in the wet concrete. I thought about the hours he must have spent working on his free throw, waving off his mom’s concerns that he might melt under the Oklahoma sun. Upstairs, in my daughter’s closet, I found more evidence of Parker. Little pencil lines to mark his growth from year to year were drawn just along the inside of the closet doors. I wondered if he stared at the same star that Pepper can see out her window. I wonder if his mom whispered the same blessings over him and if their dog woke him up with sloppy kisses.

    And sometimes I wonder where Parker is, now. I suppose he might be pouring cement for his own boy’s hoop, and measuring his height with a ruler and a pencil in a closet somewhere across town, or the country or the world.  I wish he knew how much my children love the home that he loved.

    My girlfriend has a daughter, Charlie’s age, 14. The other day she said wistfully, “You know we only have like four more summers with them until they leave us, right?” I reached across the table to slap her.
    FOUR MORE SUMMERS?  I had never framed it like that. And now when I watch him doing back flips into the pool or popping popcorn for family movie night, her comment rings loudly in my ears.  Four more.

    How do we really slow down these moments? How do we suspend time and make these perfectly ordinary and simple days last? We don’t. We can’t. It’s an awful realization.

    When my children were babies, time felt suspended, in different ways. The baby years feel eternal. Endless blurry months and years of exhaustion. You accept that you will never sleep or care about mascara again. You build the same tower of blocks twenty times a day, and watch the same Disney video, and wash the same pacifiers and get up and do it again for the next 7 billion mornings. Grandmas in Target stop your cart say “Don’t blink! This goes so fast!” And you smile sweetly and think balefully “You’re a dirty liar, lady. Step aside.”

    She was right, though.
    One day your friend says “four more summers” and all you want to do is wash pacifiers for eternity. I wonder if Parker’s mom stood in this driveway and watched him drive off to college and went and sobbed in his closet.

    My daughter Pepper came into the studio with me to sing on this song. My heart stopped for a solid 4 minutes. I had coached and encouraged her a little on what the recording experience is like. Explained how far she should stand from the microphone. Taped up the lyrics so they were eye level for her. Told her what she’d hear in the headphones and counted her in before she was supposed to start singing. I made sure she was prepared.

    I forgot to prepare myself.  I opened my mouth to sing and nothing came out because my heart was lodged in my throat.

    We can beg them to slow down, but they won’t. And can’t. And aren’t supposed to. What are our options?

    I think the only real one is to slow ourselves down.
    It’s such buzz phrase right now….BE PRESENT…but I don’t know of a better one. Be present. Be here. Now. Let’s get off our phones. Say no to dumb stuff.  Trim all the life fat.  Don’t say yes to every invitation. Don’t volunteer for every committee. An exhausted, overextended life is not the most sacrificial one. Hit the brakes. Order more pizza delivery. Play more cards on the living room floor. Declare spontaneous naptime for everyone on Sunday. Make up silly dances. Ask serious questions. Have more sleepovers. Declare ridiculous holidays. Jump in more lakes. Make breakfast for dinner. Have staring contests. Ride bikes. Be fully present in every small and fleeting moment with those babies, because they are gone, gone gone in a whisper.

    Write all you can, in the wet cement.

  • You'reHereImage (1)

    You’re Here

    “Where can I go from your Spirit?” David asks in Psalm 139.
    “Where can I flee from your presence?”
    He goes on to list the places he’s tried and failed to distance himself from God (the wings of the morning, the farthest limits of the sea) and yet cannot escape or outrun the love of his Creator.

    And David knew a thing or two about running.

    Why do we imagine we are any different?

    I grew up in the church. I met God for the first time under it’s protective covering. I met God at the altar, in baptism, in the hymnal, in the casseroles at the potluck in the Fellowship Hall. I found him in children’s choir, in youth group, on mission trips, and I always, always, always found him behind a piano.

    But then there were the years I didn’t find him there…because I couldn’t find me there. The years I felt angry and restless and deeply skeptical. The years I had questions that couldn’t be easily answered in the safety and structure of church or in scripture and the years I found friendship with people who would likely be unwelcome. There were huge parts of me and the world I lived in that didn’t fit in church, for a long time.

    It’s funny the things God uses to tether us to himself, even if by the thinnest thread.
    In my early 20’s, in a studio apartment, I didn’t own a piano or a keyboard, so when I was trying to find God again, I could only barely locate fragments of faith when I poured out my own Psalms of confession and confusion into songwriting. God knew music was the way we would have to find each other again. My mom must have known too, because I had a standing invitation to use her piano any time.

    Unfortunately for her, this was usually at about 2 AM when I would try to quietly turn the key in her door, reeking of cigarettes and martinis from my shift tending bar (and my own post shift enjoyment), I would pull these little wadded up cocktail napkins out of my pockets that I had scribbled on, at work. Just a line or two of a lyric that I would quietly try to explore on my mom’s piano, in the middle of the night. These songs of longing and lament were barely recognizable fragments of my faith that looked very different from the church girl of my youth.

    But I knew without hesitation that the same Jesus who I’d found on the pages of a church hymnal, was sitting next to me in the dark, on that piano bench, as he had sat on that bar stool whispering lines of songs and love to me all night.

    I will always point people to the church. I believe deeply in beautiful, messy, flawed and faithful community. I believe deeply in the bread we break and the cup we pass, and the prayers and creeds we proclaim, rooted in history and truth. I believe in the safety and support we offer one another, there. But I will also always point people to Jesus, who can often be found, outside the city gates, as he has always been found. Sitting and walking and eating and listening to people who do not feel they belong in those pews, and maybe who have been told as much.

    The invitation to be loved by God is often times just saying an exasperated yes to him. Because you’re tired of trying to outrun him. Because you’re exhausted by your own empty handed search. Because you’re at the end of yourself and your options and frankly, he seems unavoidable. (Love can be annoying, like that). It is saying  yes on any path away from something or toward another. It is saying yes in a prayer, in a song, in a whisper on a barstool. Yes in a hotel room or on a park bench or in a Bible study or in rehab. Yes from the corner office. Yes from the gutter.
    David was right, and David should know. “Even the darkness is not dark to You.” The only invitation God needs, is the very air you breathe.

  • Dear Me

    Dear Me…

    When I was in high school, I had a teacher who asked us to write a letter to our future selves in ten years. Who would we be? Where would we live? Marriage? Family? Career? What would be most important to us and how would we find space in our lives for the things we claimed to cherish and value?

    Then, he mailed those letters to us, ten years later. There was significant eye rolling, as you might imagine, when I opened mine. All the hard won wisdom of a sheltered, privileged 18 year old white girl, dreaming her dreams.

    What would it feel like, now, to write a letter to my younger self, instead?

    What would I want that girl to know? How could I help her sidestep some mistakes or see the world or her faith with different eyes?

    Richard Rohr, beloved priest and contemplative, talks about faith as containers. What we know of and how we experience God in the early days of our faith, fit into certain, smallish containers. But as we grow, so does our understanding of who God is. Suddenly those old containers can no longer hold what they once held, and is now spilling over the sides. We need a larger vessel. We can’t pour new wine into old wineskin, Jesus says.

    If we are still holding the same small container we started with, we’re not doing it right. Or maybe just not even doing it.

    When I wrote this letter…this song….to that younger girl, I wrote it with compassion. You can’t know what you don’t know yet. She did not mean to be smug or entitled. She did not know that the Jesus of the Gospels would call her into moments and relationships and understanding that looked very unlike the safe and sanitized experience of her Sunday mornings.

    I wanted to tell her too, that not everything in those old containers needs to be poured out on to the ground. There is beauty and simplicity she should retain from that early understanding of God.

    But I wanted to tell her much more than that.

    I wish she could see how big and beautiful God’s table is. I wish she knew then, that nobody gets to make the guest list, because it’s not our table. And that everyone, without exception, has a seat, or none of us do. I wish she understood that the American dream and all it’s trappings, will be just that…a dream. That Jesus is dreaming different dreams for her, and is uninterested in keeping track or keeping score or keeping up with anyone or anything else.

    I want to tell her that her privilege will be a liability to her understanding of the work of Jesus, and that that liability will become the gift of new understanding and healing conversations. That her self-righteousness will be a handicap, and then a strength, when she learns how to finally drop those stones.
    I want to tell her not to trust anyone who claims to have formulas or simple explanations about sacred texts that are worthy of deep examination in her own soul. I want to hug her and tell her that those years she couldn’t bring herself to sit in a church again, were as important as the years she couldn’t imagine leaving.

    I’d like to set her eyes outside the city gates, where vulnerable and broken and hungry people are desperate to experience a Love they keep hearing rumors about, but can’t seem to confirm. I’d point her to the margins. I’d tell her to abandon the idea that choosing Jesus will never be safe and comfortable and to be wary of people holding containers that claim to contain all the answers.

    And finally, I would tell her she’ll do it all wrong one million times, (and still is)…and that there is so much grace for the long road. Grace for every mistake and weakness. Grace for hypocrisy and shame. I would tell her how much Jesus loves her, not for her potential or progress, but exactly as she is.

    How about you? What would you tell your younger self?
    Maybe it’s time to write a leter.

  • SOS Lyric Video Still

    I’m still here.

    The Sound of Surviving

    It’s easy to talk about something hard that’s far behind us. The struggle, (that one, waaay back there), once paralyzing, but now safely in the blurry distance. So we say blurry, distant things about it. We exhale gratitude and relief for whatever it is we walked through. Climbed over. Defeated. We love and lean in for stories with redemptive endings. That was then, we say to each other, with fresh eyes toward the future. Those words come easily.

     

    But it’s harder for our hearts to find words when we are in the very center of the fight. The right now of a crisis. It’s hard for our soul to find a song that sings clear and strong from a place of fear and trembling.

    We pace. And weep. And stare at our ceilings in the dark hours. We pray and pray and place our shaky, hopeful confidence up on the altar before a loving and patient God who knows that come midnight, we will sneak in and frantically snatch it back.

     

    People who love us say things like “hang on” and “you’ve got this” and they are talking about this a season or this stretch of hard highway, but you assume they are talking about the next five minutes, which is all the hang on you’ve got.

     

    You wonder if you will ever be the person on the other side, talking about what you’ve lived through. What you actually survived. You swear you’ll write songs or sonnets or checks to anyone who has the magic wand and can fix what seems unfixable, now.

     

    But now is all you really have.

    And all you really need.

     

    What does the sound of surviving really sound like? In real life? It is not the roar of warrior on a mountain top. It is not some chest thumping holler or victory lap. It is decidedly not a string of feel good phrases or clichéd comfort.

     

    It is, so often, a small and lonely whisper into the darkness.

     

    I’m still here.

     

    It is the tiniest shimmer of belief that even in the valley of the shadow of death, you are not walking, or falling, or crawling alone.

     

    I’m still here, you say to your body and the way it’s failing you.

     

    I’m still here, you stay to the broken relationship, slipping away.

     

    I’m still here, you say to your empty arms and to your agony.

     

    I’m still here, you stay to your fear and to the unknown.

     

    Just a whisper in the dark.

    And then a whisper back, from Love himself,

    (I’m here, too).

    This is the sound of surviving.

  • Thoughts from the road

    Thoughts from the road

    Thoughts from the road.

    When you set out on a journey, you are a certain person. When you arrive, you are someone else. It’s inevitable. You’re different. You started with a clean car and ended up with bug guts on the windshield and a couple of blinking indicator lights on the dashboard. You started with bicycle tires full of air and ended up with a banged up helmet and a lost water bottle. You bought the smartest, lightest, fastest running shoes, and you crossed your finish line, bare foot with ice packs and crutches.

    The road, however you’re traveling, changes you.
    And it should.
    Anybody who has been really running a race and still has perfect hair at the end of it, took some shortcuts.

    I come from a family, deeply committed to silence and optimism and revisionist history. We are wildly uncomfortable with some of the awkward branches on our family tree. We do not easily talk about regret or mistakes or pain. We are far more adept at whistling through those miles, shushing and whispering about the darker highways anyone has travelled, determined to protect ourselves and our pride and future speculation at family reunions.

    That is my tree and I am an apple, not falling far from it.

    I have always preferred to paint a prettier picture of my life, than the one that actually exists. Approaching these songs (and myself) a little more honestly, was both tricky and liberating. Looking back at what’s behind me…naming it for what it is…and somehow finding a way to be thankful for the way those miles shaped me, felt both vulnerable and strong.

    I am not the same girl. Not the same woman. Not the same daughter or mother or friend. Certainly not the same Christian. It all looks different a few miles down the road. But there is great strength and grace in looking back, and letting God show me how the journey has changed me. Any road worth travelling will always make us better, in the end, even if makes us more broken, first.

  • USUV71701644

    Every Mile Mattered

    For anyone who has been on a faith journey for some time, walked the long road with Jesus, the peaks and valleys, the deep joy and deep sorrows, the confusion and questioning, the moments of certainty and gratitude, every mile, every bump, bruise and beautiful encounter… these songs are for you. For both of us.

    There comes a time in your life and in your faith where it makes sense to look back at what’s behind you. Looking over your shoulder at where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, what you thought you knew, but didn’t, what you’d change, and what you wouldn’t. That’s where I’ve been. Taking spiritual inventory.  Examining what I thought I understood, but didn’t, what I got right and what I might still be getting wrong.

    In that moment, the looking back, it is easy for us to judge ourselves. To look at certain decisions or beliefs or experiences and feel regret. Wishing that a certain chapter ended differently. Wishing I’d taken a right instead of a left at that fork in the road. Wishing I could re-write history. Rewind the tape. It’s only natural to glance at the miles in the rear view mirror, and see all the “if onlys.”

    I’ve been doing a bit of that.

    I feel like God interrupted those conversations in my head…the “if only” talk. He interrupted with compassion and reassurance to tell me that all of it mattered. All of it…all the pain, the tears, every long night staring at the ceiling, the questions and struggle and confusion, brought me to this place, a place where I could finally be honest before God as I am, not as I wish I was.

    God reminded me that He uses everything. None of it is wasted as we journey closer to who we were meant to be and who God intends for us be.

    These songs have given me permission, and I hope you too, to silence the voices of regret. To recognize that every part your journey, every broken place, have all been part of the story God is writing in your life. Lessons we had to learn. Tears that had to fall. Chapters that had to be written and then closed, to find ourselves in a bigger, more beautiful story.

    It all mattered. Every single mile.

  • nn emm

    I Needed To Hear This

    Hi. I’m in Nashville for the K-Love fan awards.
    It’s a super jam packed, fun couple of days, where the wonderful people at K-LOVE Radio put on multiple events/concerts/coffees/dinners with all your favorite CCM artists, culminating in an award show tomorrow night. A lot of people work super hard to pull this off…the artists love connecting personally with fans and there are performances galore. In short: it’s a big hit every year.

    Today, I was at my designated booth at my designated time to sign autographs. Here’s some real talk: I felt so insecure about it. I’ve been making music for a long time. Decades. I feel like the songs God is giving me now, are among the most important and special I’ve ever written. Probably the most honest, too.
    But the entertainment industry (yes, I know it’s ministry too, but it’s very much an industry) is a tricky one to navigate.

    There was a time, years ago, when I would have really looked forward to meeting fans, signing autographs, and taking pictures. Somehow, for the ego of my youth, that signaled some sort of “I’ve arrived” moment. I cringe remembering that girl, at times.

    I am making new music that I am really proud of (out in July), God is carving out beautiful paths for me to lead in local ministry for the first time in years. Leading local worship. Mentoring younger writers…I feel so energized by the new doors the Lord is opening for me, in this season.

    But today (I warned you about real talk) I sat there at that autograph booth and felt…old. And maybe slightly uncool and irrelevant. Weighing more than I want to weigh. A few more wrinkles and meeting a lot of precious teenagers who literally “grew up” on my music…(sigh) which made me feel grateful and also really dated. I battled all morning not to allow myself to spin into this self esteem spiral.

    I’m so grateful to be here. I’m so grateful to be nominated for an award. I’m so grateful to connect with my peers and meet fans and…you know, all the grateful disclaimers.

    But truth? Feeling a little small in spirit today, because I let ego sit in the drivers seat. I should know better.

    About halfway through the autograph line I met a big, tattooed, burly guy named Michael and his lovely wife Darla. I signed their stuff. Took the picture. And then he tells me that they run a non profit ministry that speaks to kids all over the country about sexual abuse. About finding a courageous voice if they themselves, are victims. He says he plays my song “Brave” for these girls, everywhere they go. Immediately I feel small tears sting my eyes.

    Then he tells me about a certain girl who was molested by her stepdad from age 13-17, and that it was my song that helped her finally find her own shaky voice and tell someone. He was just convicted and is serving 7 years.
    A song did that.
    God used a song to stop her abuse and help her healing begin.

    I had to stop myself from climbing over the table and assaulting them with the ugly clinging cry/hug for 17 minutes.

    I needed to hear this.
    Songs can communicate God’s love in ways that sermons and books and conversation can not. Certain songs have utterly changed my life over the years, in just the right moment. Something unlocks. Spirit shifts.

    And today I was reminded again that is why I do what I do, and what an astonishingly sweet privilege it is. That kingdom work is always about holding your offering with open hands, and being unattached to any outcome that doesn’t have deep, eternal significance. Being unattached to all the “stuff” that comes with fame and recognition. Unattached if it ever fades. Easier said than done, let me tell you.

    This girl’s story is etched on my heart, forever. And it was timely. Yanked me firmly out of my slow descent into insecurity and self loathing. Halted my orbit around Planet Nichole.

    Thank you for that, Michael and Darla.
    Thank you, Lord.

  • Nichole Dad

    GO.

    All of my favorite little girl memories spent with my Dad, involve a little failure.

    I like to be good at things, and I tend to stick to what I’m good at. As I child, I recognized that musical things came easily, so I sang a lot. Played my piano, constantly. I was good at creative stuff, so I felt very at home in my mom’s domestic world. I knew intuitively what to do with electric mixers and spatulas, coloring pencils or a needle and thread. I have always been a creator. Most of my childhood memories are washed in these warm watercolors.

    My Dad was the one who always coaxed me into a world of risk.

    Learning to ride a bike.

    Trying out for the basketball team.

    Getting my driver’s license.

    The trying of the awkward things. The failing of the things.

    The things that take time and repetition and hot tears and hugs.

    This is unique to a father’s love, I think.

    Women are so prone to nurture and protect. Moms are never the first ones to push us out on a branch and let our legs shake uncontrollably. As my son enters the 7th grade, he occasionally dreams out loud about where he’d like to go to college. His list always includes far away, wonderful places. YES! I say. I want you to fly and dream and explore …at the local community college. I want you to STAY.

    My Dad always said GO.

    And if you need me to, I’ll go with you.

    Go allllll the way up to the tree at the end of the street. Pedal hard and then make a big wide turn and ride back to me.

    Go out on that court and play defense like we practice in the driveway every night. Stop apologizing. Go hard.

    (It’s okay. Go tell the coach tomorrow that basketball is not really your thing. Let’s go get ice cream and go home).

    Yes, you may go to the movie with the boy. Go change that outfit, first.

    Go get your oil changed. Check both mirrors. Go slow.

    Slower.

    You want to go to Los Angeles to try and pursue a music career instead of using the college degree I just paid for? I’ll drive the U-Haul. Let’s go.

    Oh. Now we’re moving to Nashville with the same dream? You go, girl.

    The broken marriage is not going to survive? Go gather up those pieces and bring that shattered heart over here, this minute. (and see above comment about the U-Haul). And then let’s go to the Lord about it all.

    Anybody have anything hurtful to say about my girl? Let me tell you where you can go.

    Father’s Day retail displays always make me roll my eyes, a little. I just can’t really buy into the fact that there are so many men for whom meaning and masculinity are found in grilling accessories and electric razors. Or ties.

    Dad, I’ll never be able to really articulate how lost I’d be without you. How relieved I am to know you have my back, always. That I can lean hard into your quiet strength. I’m not even afraid of falling down anymore, because I know whose hand will dust me off. I know whose heart I can trust. And Dad, where words fail me, I really think this “Meat Smoking Manifesto” says it all.

    (This is an actual book, which I’m sure is wonderful).

     This Father’s Day, let’s try to slow down long enough to find some words and pictures and songs to tell the men in our lives what they mean to us. Let’s dust off the older memories etched deep in our hearts…or maybe a few from last week. Let’s find ways to point to the times and the talks that shaped us as children…the ones that are shaping OUR children. Dig out old photographs. Tell him why they are your favorites. And sure, give him a new apron for the grill, but stand out there in the heat with him and tell him who you are because of who he is.

    NN_signature copy

Video

  • No Longer

  • Slow Down (Feat. Pepper Ingram)

  • You’re Here

  • Dear Me

  • Sound of Surviving

  • Every Mile Mattered

  • Slow Down

  • “Name” lyric video

  • Nichole Nordeman – The Unmaking

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