I am currently on a flight back home from my time in California. It has been such a special and fruitful time. This is a really full time for me. With the new music rolling out, preparing for upcoming shows, and creating all the content surrounding my new album, I can say that it definitely has been a lot more demanding than I initially thought it would be. But… this far into it, I find that this is the case for most things that are important.
Through the midst of all this exciting news and all my releases, I wanted to take a second and reflect and also give an update on what’s going on with me personally, hoping that I don’t lose the practice of writing about my spiritual and personal growth. I feel like I have been so occupied with letting everyone know music is coming out that I haven’t just had a second to discuss other things with you. Which I miss. I’m going to take a second to update you on all the adventures and good news recently, then I’m going to end with a thought I’ve been thinking about and growing in recently: The idea of responsibility.
So what’s been going on?
In August I started releasing my new music. This is art that I have been working on for the better part of a year, and it feels amazing to finally be able to share it with the world. So far, I have released three songs out of nine. These nine songs will ultimately compile into the full length album titled, “Never A Waste.” I am sorry if it feels like it’s taking forever to roll this stuff out, but I am trying to be strategic in releasing these songs… since I only have one opportunity to release them. Due to the music industry’s shift to a majority streaming model, some seem to believe that releasing songs one by one is a more effective way to put songs out as an independent artist. One of my friends Will told be it’s like releasing blogs versus releasing books. As a small indie building from the ground up, you just keep writing blogs until you’re strong enough to release a book. I like that idea. So, I’ll just be releasing one song at a time to let each song have a moment to shine. I really, really love every single song on the album, and feel like I put 100% into the creation of each piece. Some artists seem to think the singles route is a sell-out or something… but I’ve grown to see it as being smart, patient, and giving all my work equal opportunity to be experienced and shared.
I’ve started playing shows again too. A couple weeks back I played a very special show in Milledgeville. It was the first time I had returned to a city to play again from my first tour last year, and it was one of the first times I could see growth in front of my eyes. Growth not necessarily in terms of numbers (though a lot of people showed up), but growth in terms of meaningful interaction and response to the music I’m making and the message I’m hoping to frame. This show was so so so special… it’s so hard to explain. During one of my songs, “Miles” I heard little hints of people singing along with me… and then when I invited everyone to sing it if they knew it, the whole house filled with voices. It was SURREAL, people knew the words! This moment made me cry because I had such a special moment where I saw that my life’s story was touching people and helping people engage with God in their lives. This show in Milledgeville was such an encouragement to me, and made me feel even more so like I could really do this thing.
This week, I’ve been in Southern California. I came to play for and open for my dear friend Margot Osborne, whose record I produced back in April of this year. I also had the chance to open for my friend David Brymer up in L.A. and lead worship with my friends over at O.C. Worship Nights. The week definitely felt like a sprint, but it was restful and encouraging in many ways as well. I have had multiple people in California that I met this week express that my music impacted them. I was interested to see how my songs would communicate out there, and I was pleased to find that a lot of people seemed to really connect to the music too. One of the ways I described this week in California to my friends Noah and Margot was that I felt like what I was doing was given dignity. I don’t know if that quite translates… but simply put, I felt like the songs I was singing and the person I was becoming really mattered. It mattered to the communities I met, it mattered to my friends, and it really mattered to me. My life is continually receiving dignity. Also, yesterday, I took a drive out to Joshua Tree National Park. I had never seen the desert before so I decided to go see what the hype was all about. It would literally be impossible to try to describe this experience here, so I won’t even try. It was soul-shifting.
I’ve come back to Georgia with wind in my sails, excited to continue creating and growing. I believe more and more in what I’m doing as I keep walking and taking chances. In October I am opening for some of my musical heroes, Will Reagan and Andrea Maria, on their Vacancy and Low Tour. I will be playing in Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville, and Greenville. I have been listening to Will’s music since my first year in college, and a lot of those songs were the soundtrack to my spiritual growth… It’s kind of surreal to have had the pleasure of meeting and working with him this year, and then this?! I am so grateful for this opportunity and am ready to rock in October. One of my dear friends (and favorite guitar players) Brandon Hampton will be accompanying me on this leg of the tour. So, if you’re around these areas, you can grab tickets on my “Shows” Page.
Last music update. I will be pressing vinyl records for the first time ever! This in itself is a dream of mine, to have one of my records on vinyl format. I felt like this album, with everything that went into it, was deserving of this to celebrate the process. This is one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life. Anyways, that is REALLY exciting and those will be ready in December. If you see me around town I won’t have my left arm or leg because of how much these cost to make, but hopefully I will be able to break even on them. And if not I’ll just have boxes of these puppies to hang out with and show my grandkids. Anyways, that’s coming in December. Here’s a little mockup of the art for you. This is the only place that has seen this yet :)
So now that we’re all caught up on that stuff… what I really was excited to share…
Pain & Responsibility.
I am a Christian. I really do believe that my life’s course was altered in the most beautiful way when I chose as a young person to commit to following the ways and person of Jesus. I feel that God is an inseparable part of my life. I cannot un-see and un-experience everything that I have with God. Life proves to be difficult and doesn’t give me much hints that its nature will change, but somehow I know that God is good. I see life and the world through a lens the hopes to focus on faith oversight, which gives me an ultimate hope for my own life, the lives of my friends and family, and the world’s broken systems. What I wanted to write about stems from things I am learning about in my own life and the current idea that I have been chewing on and exploring. This idea has been challenging me to my core, but I’ve found an incredible sense of freedom, sobriety, and purpose through committing to learning about this. I am hoping that this will read as a subtle challenge, and I hope that it will be an encouragement that causes us to pause and reflect on ways we can grow through the difficulty of our lives. Also, since I am writing about moving forward through pain, I am wanting to be sensitive to all of the situations that may be represented out there. I have no idea where you have come from and what you have been through, and some of us have been through some incredibly traumatic and painful situations. I know the answer is far deeper and far more complex than “just go ahead and heal,” so I hope that you hear this blog as me offering my experience for you to take or leave, rather than a blanket statement trying to tell you how to live your life. Again, I don’t know anyone else’s full experience, but I do know my own. And this process of taking responsibility through my pain has changed my life for the better. It has restored my vision and given me a grace not only over my own life, but over the world around me. It’s changed how I see and experience the world. I feel free and empowered as I’ve taken steps towards practicing what I am writing about today. So, that’s my preface to this blog: “Pain & Responsibility.”
Life is hard and people are messed up. We can all agree on this. So how to do we make our way onward and upward through this mess? How do we trudge through all of this nastiness and darkness and come out the other side as whole, useful, loving people? How do we continue to have hope and a direction through countless hurts, failures, and unfulfilled expectations? These are the questions I have been asking myself. Why do some people grow? And why do other people stop? Why did some of my friends become so mad with life and mad with the world? And why do some of my other friends seem to be growing and thriving despite similar challenges? What keeps us from being free?
One thing that I have observed recently as a massive barrier in the way of growth, healing, and ultimately freedom is the failure to take responsibility through one’s pain. I am finding that the people I know who seem the most stuck in their lives are also the people who seem to have taken little or no responsibility over their own mess. Conversely, the most healthy, useful, and loving people I know seem to have taken a sense of ownership over themselves, despite the degree to which they have been burned. These people seem to have an awareness of their own weaknesses and failures, and seem to have travelled down through multiple iterations of forgiveness, understanding and grace. They’ve given themselves over to refinement. In all this I’ve observed that when we stop engaging with this invitation into refinement, we tend to become master blame shifters, since it’s far safer and easier for us to push all of the responsibility onto the people and situations that have hurt and failed us - instead of asking ourselves the daunting and challenging question, “what’s my role here?”
For me, my life began to change rapidly when I began to walk towards forgiveness in my relationship with my dad. It still has a long way to go, but in 2017 I made a conscious decision to try to reconcile our relationship. Facing my dad was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. This is a man who was emotionally and physically abusive towards me and my mom for a lot of my teenage years. He was the one who was supposed to speak into my life and provide a space for me to grow, but instead was someone who would regularly tear me down and tell me that I was never going to be good enough. In many ways, I still feel his absence. And his words still ring throughout every part of me. And for so long, I was so mad and so bitter. I used his absence and his abuse to justify unhealthy ways I was relating to myself, to others, and to this world. Honestly, it felt good to me mad. I loved giving myself the “no dad” pass whenever I would act out of that pain. But eventually, I was faced with a choice… to continue living in the reality that I had always lived in, or to believe that God might have a new reality for me if I was willing to go through His process. I was invited into my responsibility. For me, taking responsibility in this case meant coming to terms with how deeply I had been hurt my by father, but from there making a conscious decision to not let my painful upbringing dictate the rest of my life. I chose to take inventory of my own heart, regardless of the depth of offenses I had experienced - and I chose to release this person from the grips of my inner bitterness and hatred. I realized that, whether I liked it or not, I was given a responsibility because of the damage my father had inflicted on my life. No I didn’t choose it, but the situation was mine nonetheless, and I had face it and grow through it…or my bitterness and anger would still be telling me how to live today. My process with my father is a much longer story for another time, but I look back and see how important forgiving him was, and in some ways committing to that process laid the foundation for the idea of responsibility I am trying to communicate today.
I say all that to remind us that we simply cannot control how the world or the people in it will act. We didn’t choose our families, and we didn’t choose the specific people and places that surround us, or the environment that formed us. And if you sit and think about your life up until this point, the more you will see how so much of it was out of your control. The people who’ve hurt you, and ways they’ve let you down, the crippling losses that you still cannot wrap your mind around - you couldn’t prevent those things from happening even if you tried. And even the situations that you feel like you did choose that ended up burning you so badly… how could you really have known? We are far less autonomous than we allow ourselves to believe, and the idea of control over our own lives is, in many ways, an illusion we pretend to live in. However, What we can control is how we respond to all of it, and how we will move through the inevitable confusion, frustration and mystery that surrounds us each day.
Perhaps we have all found ourselves in this story: When we were given a life we were given this little lot of land with a home and a garden in the yard. With this little lot came a deep sense of purpose and responsibility - a responsibility to care for it so it can yield resources to give life back to the Earth, God, and those around us. The soil came primed. In our youth we planted many seeds. We had hope and joy, and we believed in our garden and looked forward to seeing it grow and flourish throughout the years. We had no fear in planting more seeds because we had no fear or knowledge of death. We’d never seen plants die before. But as we got older, we saw death. We saw our plants dying in front of us. Our own plants died, we watched our neighbor’s gardens struggle. And even though we tried our best to take care of our garden - watering it, pruning it, tending to it carefully… our plants still continued to wither. And as we all experienced this death together, we grew confused and angry. Some of your neighbors came into your garden and stole from it. Others trampled on your garden on their way to their own destinations. You tried to give some of your garden away, but people you trusted were clumsy with your gifts. But, they didn’t know what they were doing. The sense of ownership you once felt got harder to hold onto. You were hurt. You were hurt so bad you even started stealing from your neighbor’s garden - something you still try attempt to justify to yourself. Then, in all your loss, you built a wall around your life… convinced that your garden was hated by the world. You blamed the weather, you blamed your neighbor, you blamed your friends who promised they would help you water the garden but then they forgot. You blamed your parents for never giving you the proper tools to do it right. You blamed the church and all the failures who fill it, who, if you opened them up and took a good look, would look a lot like you. You blamed God and tired of His mystery. Then you become embittered, stuck within your own walls, unable to see that you still have a choice in all of this mess - That you have the power to choose - to keep planting, to keep watering. To keep praying, to keep seeking, to keep letting your neighbor in, even if it scares you to death. You’d gotten so mad that you couldn’t even remember the last time you asked yourself, “how can I respond? Do I matter here?” You forgot that you had an option out of this. How many of us have found ourselves here? Within a dying garden, alone and afraid of the world. Resenting people, questioning the goodness of life? Keenly aware of everyone else’s failures, but somehow blind to our own weak spots. If we hide from our responsibility, we end up here.
I rarely talk about the devil on here because it can sound really weird to some people, and a lot of people, including myself, have been confused in the past because some environments I was in equated every hard thing with the “devil” when actually it was just life being hard, and then it all got weird and over-spiritualized and very confusing, because suddenly everything that didn’t go my way was the devil but looking back it was actually God being kind… yes… all this confusing Christian stuff. But anyways, I do believe that there is a force working against our good and our growth into a higher, more loving perspective. There is a force that keeps us from communion and unity with the Father, because it knows the incredible light and power that comes from that place. And for our sake I will just call that force the devil. But I think that one of the greatest victories for the devil in our lives is if he can keep us in irresponsibility, which inevitably leads to anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness. If we can live in our blame-shifting and anger for the rest of our lives, then evil wins. We’ll never grow beyond our own perceived hurts, which disables us from being real and vulnerable with others. We continue to be blinded by our own anger, unable to move on with our lives to engage with solving problems that our outside our need for personal justice. If evil can keep us embittered, it can keep us crippled.
There is a very beautiful word of advice in the scriptures that I have been thinking about. In the book of Ephesians Paul warns us: “Be angry, but do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” What possibly could this imply? For me, the writer is acknowledging that we will have pain. We will all be wronged throughout our lives, with many reasons to be angry. But he also gives me a course of action and a responsibility through these difficult experiences. To take this verse literally would be super-human, but I think the encouragement in it is so worth considering. How many painful situations in our lives have we lived with, slept with, and held onto for hundreds of sunsets? How long have we convinced ourselves that the bitterness and anger in our own lives was something that other people ought to deal with instead of us? How many of us have come to believe that our bitterness would somehow magically work itself out over time? In my experience, time helps us to forget, but it doesn’t heal. For me, I have been in a time where I’ve decided to face my broken relationships head on. Hurts that have happened over the course of many years that I thought I would one day forget if I kept pushing it under the rug… This has looked like a lot of awkward conversations, nervous coffees, and vulnerable texts… but something in me just knew that it was time to be brave and take care of my garden again. To own my plot of land. And to make peace with my brothers and sisters. And I’ve been finding that with each conversation, I find a new sense of ownership and grace. As I pushed past my fears, I began to encounter the truth of what really happened… which is turning out to always be different than I thought. This has been my way of not letting another sun set on my anger. This has been my way of saying to myself, “pain, fear, and our shared mistakes will no longer writer my story.” This has been my little way of taking responsibility.
As I end this blog, that slowly became a book, I would like to leave you with this. Time is moving on. Days turn into months that turn into seasons that turn into years that turn into your entire story. It is all happening much faster than we could understand… and our lives don’t plan on stopping. I know that you have been wounded in countless ways. Deep and indescribable ways. Ways that I could never really know, but in some ways can understand. This is the nature of our world and its fractured foundation. People know not what they do. But… think about what would happen if the responsibility for your freedom, health, and joy shifted from everyone else to you? What if you no longer needed to wait on the world, your friends, your communities, your circumstances… to align perfectly for you to become whole yourself? What if before the sun set on this day, you could begin to pursue healing in your fractured life? What if you had a choice in all of this? And as you’re reading this… certain people and situations come to mind, I’m sure. Pay attention to those. Within those wounds, God has hidden a gold mine for you. Gold that can only be found by digging past the crust of denial, avoidance, blame-shifting, and bitterness. Facing them will terrify you, yes. You are uncertain of what might happen and the discomfort and additional pain it might bring into your life. But… if you knew of the freedom that was on the other side… wouldn’t it make it all worth it? I am hesitant to offer very specific practicals, because every situation is different, but I do want to encourage you to, again, pay attention to people and places that your bitterness and anger tend to flow, and then follow the trail. Have an honest conversation, spend some time, make amends, take up your side.
What are the responsibilities you can own before the sun goes down?
Thanks, as always, for reading. Hope it helps. Love AB.
*note about the photograph: the blog image for “Pain & Responsibility” was taken in Frankfurt, Germany with some of my best friends in the world. I chose this image because it represented the communion that we share in our relationships and how we’ve gathered around the table to share meals together over the years. I feel that this picture, at this time in my life, represents so well this revelation I am having about working through my mess. These friends are examples to me of people who are doing the hard work in their lives to grow past their hurts. And as we do this together, we can bump into each other and hurt each other, but I am so proud of who we’re becoming - people who don’t quit and people who fight for love and for each other.*