Improve. Get better. Fight mediocrity. Be more. Do more. Have more. Don’t settle. Never give up. You’re a star. Whether these things came from outside voices or just the voice in my head I don’t really know. But I know they have shaped who I am. How I see the world. How I approach my relationships. How I approach God. Be all you can be, right? But, all I can be is me. Whoever that is. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Be driven. Competition is selfish ambition. Don’t lose though. Every thought piles on top of its opposite. I know who I am, I think. Forget it, I am completely lost.
I know that I love God.
By the grace of God, I love God. But it didn’t start out that way.
When I was little I dreamed of moving to Nashville and being a big star. I had an inferiority complex. I thought, that you thought, that you were better than me. We didn’t have a lot of money. Neither did our neighbors. So I didn’t know that I was poor until I went to middle school and saw what an anesthesiologist’s kid wore to school. They were nicer clothes than mine. She had straighter hair and teeth and certainly didn’t have acne. I slowly turned into an aggressive go-getter. Harsh with my words and hard on people. Especially people I loved. Unfortunately they let me get away with it. I called it ‘driven’. Admirable by the world’s standards, right? Do you ever wonder what you look like or how you seem to people through their eyes? I was certain most people saw worthlessness. I was probably wrong, but maybe I wasn’t. Either way the result of these wounds was the same, self-obsession. Narcissism is defined as a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But the truth is that behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism. Boy was I.
I mentioned in the last blog post (which you can read here) that while I was seeking to be made whole and feel validated by the machine called “music industry”, there was something eating at me from within. A tension that I couldn’t name and couldn’t numb. I knew that God loved me, that he had a plan for me. But with one foot firmly planted in the world and one foot firmly planted in the church, it’s hard to take a step forward without tumbling to the ground. I found an old journal today and stumbled upon this entry dated November 19th, 2012. It perfectly illustrates that self-centered inner angst:
“Some people say I inspire them. “You’re so driven”, they say. They don’t understand. Yeah, I’m driven … by selfishness. I’m so much less than I could be. Lord, come to me and give me wisdom. This life I’m living feels worthless. There’s enough “drive” in me to drive me crazy! I’m going through a weird valley here. My circumstances are amazing. I am grateful. Amazing husband, health, living where I’ve always dreamed of living. But there’s something churning on the inside that is very uncomfortable. I don’t understand it. Some days I find myself wondering if I even like making music. If I even enjoy songwriting. Why do I find the thought of sitting down and writing a song repulsive? This is my calling, right? Every time I try NOT to write, to give it up for good, I am miserably pained. But this resistance when I try to write is miserable too. Lord, I need your help. I probably sound like a whiney baby to you. No sense of purpose, no direction. I give it all up to you today. Please change my heart and my perspective. I guess I’m trying to do this on my own. I need you. The voices just keep reminding me of my failures. I need to hear your voice. You’re faithful, I know. I’m sorry. I’m just so confused. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be accepted by the world. I don’t know how to stop. I need you to teach me. Amen.”
You see, self-obsession isn’t always worn with an arrogant and smug smirk, sometimes it plain old insecurity and doubt, clawing at you from the inside-out. It keeps you focused on your own small story. It closes you in and other people out. It closes God out. For me it was a constant awareness of how I didn’t measure up and the fear that it was only a matter of time before everyone knew it.
So after two years in Nashville I started to feel God pulling us back to Washington and in the spring of 2014 we loaded our apartment into an old, red, home-made horse trailer given to us by a friend and made the cross country trip home. What does the world call this? Failure. She couldn’t hack it in Nashville and is headed home with her tail between her legs. But something deep within assured me this wasn’t an ending at all. I might’ve been moving but I wasn’t going to quit making music. The truth? This was only the beginning of a grander story that God wanted to tell with my life, far greater than the one I’d been frustratingly trying to write.
Our first year back we stayed in a twenty-some-odd foot trailer on Duck Lake on Bide-A-Wee Road in Omak Washington. Sounds like a country song to me. A good friend called us up and said he had fishing lures that needed makin’ and a boat that needed a captain. So we started guiding fishing trips where the Okanogan meets the Columbia and when we weren’t on the water we were manufacturing fishing lures. About a year into this new adventure I went to a women’s meeting at our church. There was young lady telling us about how she and her husband go into the Okanogan County Juvenile Detention Center every week and do a bible study with the kids. Something stirred inside me as she spoke. My pulse seemed to pick up and my heart rate soared. I was on the edge of my seat. As the meeting ended and the other women started to leave all I could say was, “Please, tell me more!” This is what we call a “holy spirit” moment. When God sets up a divine appointment and you’re afraid your heart just might come right through your chest it’s being tugged on so hard. I asked her if they had ever thought about having music in there for the kids, she said they’d love it, and after filling out all the paperwork I was in. I couldn’t have imagined how this was about to change my life.
It's been a year now. Week after week we've been meeting kids, mere children, and hearing their tragic stories. Josh started joining us just a few weeks in. We sit with the kids and read right out of the bible. We go line by line and discuss what it means and how it applies to our lives. Afterwards we sit with individual kids in a booking room lined with windows to talk one-on-one and pray. These are the kids that society has given up on. In fact, many of them have given up on themselves. We see 10 year old drug dealers, 12 year old meth addicts, 13 year old mothers, homeless teens, and hopeless kids, doing whatever they can to try and numb the pain and tragedy that marks up the pages of their stories. The myth is that these things don’t exist in small towns, that it's a big city problem. You just can’t imagine these things exist until you’re sitting across from a 12 year old in an orange jumpsuit handcuffed to a chair. He has tears rolling down his face because the high has worn off and he can again feel the pain of losing his mom to an overdose. Oh the irony. The generational bondage.
My life used to center around building myself up, my music, my career, my dreams, my goals. Thankfully God wouldn’t let me be comfortable with that kind of self-centered pursuit. When I'm scared, or lazy, or uncertain, this still, small voice whispers to me, “It’s not about you, Nicole.” This doesn’t discourage me, it imparts courage within me! It also relieves me from the pressure of straining and striving to fulfill the worlds screaming demand that I claw my way to the “top” at any cost and for my own benefit.
The theme of the last couple years of my life can be summed up in something I read in "Lioness Arising" by Lisa Bevere: strength is for service, not status. Not self-preservation. Not self-gain. Service. True strength looks beyond its own story and grabs the hand of those too afraid to cross the bridge from fear into freedom on their own. True strength offers hope to the hopeless.
Serving these kids has saved me from myself. Loving them has healed me. It continues to do so.
We thought God was bringing us back to the Northwest to be fishermen. Turns out he lured us back to become ‘fishers of men.’
What did two 12 year old meth addicts teach me about God? Boy have I got some stories for you next time …
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