Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of June our writers will explore the way that God, grace, and the gospel show up in pop culture. This piece, in which Aimee models how one might engage devotionally with a piece of art and it’s creator, originally appeared on Family Compassion Focus. Sara Groves’ album Floodplain was released in November 2015.
Your new album, Floodplain, is a gift. I have been listening to it at my desk, in the steam of my shower, while the kids shout in the car, and stirring pots in the kitchen. I bought it this week for my friend going through a intense crisis. I didn’t know what to say, but I thought your album would make her feel loved and understood. Because that’s what your songs always do.
The poetry on this album translates so much of what I’m feeling as I explore surrender. I’m deeply thankful. I first found your music 13 years ago, totally taken in by the first line of the first song on All Right Here, “It’s been a hard year, but I’m climbing out of the rubble.” I had found a friend who would understand. I listened nonstop. I’ve been learning from you ever since.
I’m not a music reviewer. I cannot speak to the technical aspects, overarching artistry, or industry comparisons of your music. But I’d like to share how your words, images, and vulnerability have filled my heart, like the gold powder in the cracks with kintsukuroi. It’s helping all my pieces fit together.
Thank you for all 12 beautiful songs on Floodplain. Here I’m only going to focus on six. Each of them were like carefully wrapped packages you left on my doorstep. I’ll share my favorite lyrics, an insight from the the commentary you did with Toby, and why it spoke to my heart.
Floodplain – Track #4
“some hearts are built on the floodplain
keeping an eye on the sky for rain
work for the ground that gets washed away
when you live closer,
closer to the life and the ebb and flow
closer to the edge of I don’t know
closer to the edge that’s the way it goes
some hearts are built on the floodplain”
From your commentary: “I have struggled the past few years, really on a journey to figure out some of struggles with anxiety and depression, and there’s just a lot of guilt and shame around that. I feel like, ‘Why can’t I just get my stuff together?’ People’s responses when you’re trying to share your journey do tend towards ‘Why don’t you just buck up?’
Here is a video of Sara Groves talking about the song:
My heart: My heart is built on a floodplain, too, Sara. I have shared my struggles with worry, anxiety, and shame with friends. I wish I was tougher and happier. But I’m not made that way. “Closer to the danger and the rolling deep” is what I’ve been talking about it in my stories of “2015: The Year of Living Dangerously.” I’m heartened to know I’m still not alone.
Thinking about the Floodplain got me thinking about Like a Lake, how I’m still struggling to “lay myself wide open.” And even if no one else understands it, I’m trying to keep remembering that “this journey is my own.” I like how all these songs are slower, quieter, and intimate.
Enough – Track #5
Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock
There’s more than we see
These patches of joy
These of stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There’ll be enough tomorrow
From your commentary: “Here’s my tender heart. Here are the thin places….In my experience, God bends very low to care for me. And I often feel cared for…”
My heart: Surrender is a big struggle for me. I forget that God is good, and that he loves us relentlessly and fiercely. I often think that trusting God really means accepting only pain and hardship. But he promises to provide what I need for my body, mind, spirit, and relationships each day. (I listened to Enough over and over while I wrote the post Sweetness).
I struggled when I first heard What I Thought I Wanted and Jeremiah on The Other Side of Something, too. It was hard to face that I actually didn’t want God’s best for me. I didn’t like seeing my unbelief, but it was necessary. Accepting that God’s will for me will be Enough is a continuing part of The Long Defeat I must keep choosing.
I Feel Love Between Us – Track #9
Baby this isn’t like young love
No, this is like an underground river…
Love is a diamond
hidden in mountains
covered in danger in dirt
I’m on the outside
digging and digging
I’ve seen and I know what it’s worth.
From your commentary: “We just celebrated our 20th Anniversary.”
My heart: You capture married love so well. I knew just what you were talking about when I first heard Fly, I thought of how my stomach flipped when my husband “wink[ed] at me across the room.” I understand the humility of Roll[ing] to the Middle after a night of dumb fights. I have experienced the shocking, life-giving grace of “loving a person just the way they are” “when it was over and they could about it and they were sitting on the couch.”
We just celebrated our 19th Anniversary. It is so different than our first, fifth, and 10th. I’m learning to love better. I like the hidden “underground river” in our marriage. My understanding is deeper. My words and perspective are softer. I’m proud of how we’ve faced, weathered, and conquered so many unexpected difficulties together. If I could mine those, like a rock hidden in mountains, I’d have a 12 karat diamond on my finger. (I also hear Peter Gabriel Secret World drums in this song. Chris and I love that album.)
Signal: Track #10
Your heart goes out
I can hear your song
Your signal is getting stronger
From your commentary: Here is the official music video:
(Oh, how I cried.)
My heart: When I first heard You Cannot Lose My Love in 2002, I was aching for children, in the middle of long infertility. I dreamed of children who might lose their “baby teeth and faith in me.” When Station Wagon came out I was with twin baby toddlers every minute of the day. I have every word of that album memorized. I whispered the words to Beautiful Child as I looked at my babies in the rearview mirror. I faced my fears about surrendering all three of my kids to God as I meditated on Prayers for This Child and Songs for my Sons.
My Zoë is 11 now. Both feet on the bridge to womanhood. She’s grown five inches in a year. Her long red hair is lush and curly, her legs are long and slender. Her thoughts are deep. Her questions are deeper. She is figuring out who is she is and how the world works. Having heard us quote Buechner so many times: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” she knows God is calling her. I’m so curious about her future. I’m listening. Her signal is getting stronger.
Your Reality: Track #11
You, find me in the playback room
playing back everything I’ve said
every little thing I’ve said
You, when I cannot trust myself
and the soundings are deep are lonely
and I seem to have lost my way
Your reality is my good medicine
Tell me who we are and who I am…
From your commentary: “This songs is about you [her husband], my mom, my girlfriends…they reflect back to me what’s really true and happening in the world. Sometimes that inner dialogue will go pretty dark for me and be full of all this second guessing, and all these fears and everything….”
My heart: I resonate with every line of this song. I can perceive drama/trauma in almost every scenario. I’m so thankful for my patient husband and long-listening friends that help discern when I have turned reality into hyperbole and catastrophe. I’m learning how to be that kind of listening, patient, gracious friend to my family and friends now, too.
I love your friendship love songs. You illustrated the generous grace of truth in friendships so well in Undone and Twice As Good, too. I have sat with friends in my car, listened to these songs, and thanked them for loving me.
My Dream: Track #12
“you are standing in the driveway
as I come up the street
I can tell by your movement
you’re not angry
you are waiting there”
From your commentary: Speaking of your grandfather: “He has an image in his head of him walking up a street and that God…the Father is standing in the driveway, and he said, ‘I can tell by his movement he’s not angry, and that all is well.’ He said, ‘That is how I’ve fallen asleep the last year.’”
Your short video for this song:
My heart: Sara, I have listened to this song at least 60 times in the past week. Oh my goodness. It is my favorite song on the album. I listened to it over and over the entire 75 minute drive into Atlanta from our outpost town. I was mesmerized. I quietly thought about how generous God has been to speak love and truth to me through day dreams, prayers, music, poetry, and art my whole life.
I could picture Jesus waiting for me, in the driveway. I pictured the father of the prodigal son, and how many times I’ve made that long trek back home. He’s not angry. He’s waiting. He’s running after me.
Thank you for continuing to tell your hard, precious, tender, consistent story of God’s relentless love for us. I think your latest album is about the hard-won, soft-hearted self-acceptance that comes from years of earnestly seeking. I’m thankful to be on the same stretch of road. On the Floodplain.
Thank you, Sara,