beyond the bright lights
It’s hard to believe that a little over a week ago, I was in Tennessee, recording songs in a studio tucked away out the back of Franklin, south of Nashville.
The night I began my trip back to Australia, my connecting flight from Nashville to Dallas was significantly delayed, and as the time ticked on, it became clear that I wouldn’t make the plane from Dallas to Sydney. Anyone who knows me will know that I dislike flying with a passion. No matter how many times I’ve been in an aeroplane over the years, the anxious, ‘yuck’ feeling never really gets any better. If you enjoy flying, good for you - it’s just not a thing I would choose to do on my day off. The day I was to fly home, I had asked God to give me supernatural peace for the trip. I knew it would be a long day, and I would need to keep my head together. Standing at the gate in Nashville, waiting and waiting for confirmation of an alternative flight, I genuinely felt that peace. His peace. He sent me a young English couple who were also headed to Australia, and we chatted and laughed about all kinds of things in the midst of our predicament. It never ceases to amaze me, how God meets us where we are, every single time. If only we will ask Him.
My journey took a detour via Los Angeles, and the flight into LA was rough. There were storms across the city which had delayed numerous flights, and after we’d landed we were informed that we were one of the last flights to be given clearance to touch down before the skies became too dangerous. As our plane rocked and swayed around at 28,000 feet, that same peace overtook me.
It was only at work today, back in Australia, as my mind wrestled with the ‘gear change’ that has been the past week of returning home, that I recognised how much more turbulent our own thoughts, actions - selfishness - can make life for us. Up in a plane, I’ve come to grips with the fact that the situation is beyond my control, and whatever happens, God has got me. But back down here on the ground, it’s much easier for me to get in the way of what He is doing.
I guess I have felt compelled to write and let you into that world - the one where a not so extraordinary guy named Jordan wrestles with the bumps in the sky of everyday life. As a creative person, I know it is all too easy to fall into the trap of hiding behind whatever it is I’ve ‘created’ - be it that song I wrote, that performance I gave. That Instagram post or that video that got all the likes. As a classroom teacher of rowdy 11 and 12 year olds, it is equally as tempting to reassure my ego that I am the sum of those impressive displays on the classroom wall which I spent too much time tweaking. Or those neat portfolio folders. Or those beautiful yet often contrived answers that students give me because they think they’re telling me exactly what I want to hear. It’s the strangest thing, to be on the receiving end of a sentence uttered by a student who is secretly crying out for your approval.
Expectation is a funny thing. We are so innately wired to expect things. From the minute we are born, it begins. We expect to be attended to when we cry. We expect our parents to give us whatever it is we are whinging for. We expect to be clothed, to be housed, to be schooled, to increase in knowledge and ability. We expect people to like us and accept us and to know that it is expected of them to do so. As a parent, I expect my child to reach certain milestones within a specific time, because if they don’t, I will be reminded by (what feels like) everyone around me that they are not meeting those expectations.
William Carey famously stated, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God”. If I believe that I am a child of God, then I am no different to any other child who expectantly relies on their parent to meet their needs. When God says He will ‘supply all my needs’ (Phillipians 4:19), He means it. The thing that has been shifting my world recently is the fact that it is up to me whether or not I choose to believe that He can and will meet those needs. Not so I can live a ‘cushy’ life, but because if I allow Him to be my Heavenly Father, then He can tell a story of great love to the world through my life.
Six months ago, I would never expected to have just returned from recording my songs in Nashville. A few years ago, God challenged me to dream bigger in regards to my music. I’d had a good crack at it after I finished school, mowing lawns and saving hard to produce a couple of albums of my songs. People liked the songs, despite their simplicity, and I knew in my gut that God was using them for a purpose much greater than I could understand. And so I knocked on doors, ‘pushed’ my music into peoples ears as much as I could (with the help of my family). But it never went where I expected. In fact, I’ve heard countless stories of my songs turning up in places I least expected.
Fast forward a couple of years. I’d seen many places in the world. I’d come to a point where I’d laid down any plans I had for my life and said ‘yes’ to moving to Thailand for a period of time. I’d collected experiences, friendships, lessons, theories and theologies. My physical body battered, but my heart full, I’d returned ‘home’ to Australia. Married the love of my life. Finished Uni. Become a father to our beautiful daughter. And although God had continued to place songs in my heart, they remained, for the most part, unheard. And after a while, I came to a place of no expectation as far as my music was concerned. I felt compelled to lay it down, completely, and be content with where God had me, as a dad, a husband, and a (very) rookie teacher.
One lesson (among many) that God has been teaching me over the past few years, is that there is no such thing as a coincidence, and nothing is wasted. Every day that I am alive on this planet is another opportunity for Him to build something new in me - be it a skill, a conversation, an experience or even just a period of rest or silence. He will, in turn, use all of it to pour into the lives of those around me. If only I choose to let Him. That is another lesson He has been etching onto my heart recently - the deep knowledge that we are His plan for a broken world. He doesn’t have to use us to reach other people, but He chooses to. I think that lesson is one I’ll write about another time….
So, there I was, somewhere in the middle of 2016, about to welcome our baby girl into the world. And I felt the ‘nudge’ in my gut to dream bigger again in regards to the songs God had given me. I had a friend who’d gone to record in Nashville with some of the best producers and musicians in the world, and after much deliberation, I applied to do the same. I expected that nothing would come of it, and I could at least tell everyone that I’d tried. A few months later, a reply came from the USA. They were keen to work with me. All I had to do was provide the funds and get myself on a plane. It was a welcome response, however, as new parents, we were completely overwhelmed and out of pocket. As much as my passion for crafting songs and sharing them with the world burned inside of me, my love and sense of responsibility for my new little family burned greater. I wrote back to Nashville and said ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. The piano lid remained closed.
Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that God can do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” During that turbulent first year of raising a human being, God surely exceeded our expectations of Him in ways we could never have imagined. He provided for us - physically, emotionally and financially. I’ll never forget the day some friends of ours ‘anonymously’ dropped a Christmas tree and grocery store vouchers at our front door. Or signing my first contract as a teacher. The provision of friends who had travelled the road of parenthood before and those who hadn’t but just wanted to support us. The provision of family who travelled from near and (very) far to remind us that we were loved and were going to make it.
If you are still reading, you really are a trooper. You are probably also wondering why I am taking so long to write about how this recent trip to the USA came about. Honestly, I feel that it is important to record just some of God’s faithfulness to us over the past few years - and my blindness to it! - before I go on.
For at least a year, more and more opportunities had been given to me to share my music. I hadn’t played or sung a note in months, and yet people would ask me to come and share my songs. At schools, on TV, in homes and churches. Whilst I felt like I had very little to give ‘creatively’, God knew the desires of my heart, and the invitations to share were like a stream of encouragement in a dry season. My wife Bekah, despite being in the midst of tackling motherhood for the first time, continually encouraged me to keep making music and go wherever God was leading.
And so, sheepishly, I wrote to Nashville again. This time, there was no reply. ‘That’s it!’ I thought. ‘It’s not meant to be!’. I told myself that I was at peace with the whole idea of not going to the USA, and began to make plans to record new songs in Sydney. I even went as far as booking a studio and musicians.
The day after I began booking the studio in Sydney, a phone call came from the USA. They were still interested in me, and wanted to know when I could come. My window of opportunity was very limited, but hesitantly, I gave them some dates in October. The dates worked fine for them. I hung up the phone and acknowledged the fact that God was trying to tell me something. I was ok with with that, but there was no way we could pay for the trip, and so He would have to speak a little louder before I would stick my proverbial big toe in the water. Bekah and I found some options for flights and had a travel agent place them on ‘hold’. The deadline for payment rolled around, and we had no way of gathering enough funds. I began to stress. ‘It’s not going to happen’, I told her over the phone. ‘I will have to ask the travel agent to try and hold the flights again until we figure something out’.
The minute after I had uttered the words ‘Can you please hold the flights for another day’ and hung up the phone from the travel agent, Bekah called me back. ‘Your flights have been paid for. Someone had paid for them and you’re going’. I shook my head in amazement and began thanking God. He had definitely been speaking louder, I just hadn’t been listening.
And so, this new, beautiful journey of creating music that hopefully speaks something to people’s hearts is again reminding me that it’s not about me. I find myself somewhere in the tension between having no expectations (which can be a good thing) and ‘expecting great things’, because I serve a God whose ability to exceed my expectations knows no limits. It’s not (and won’t ever be) all smooth sailing. I still haven’t finished paying off the recording of these new songs, and fear still creeps through cracks in my heart shouting ‘What if no one wants to hear them anyway?!’. But in the ‘rockiness’ and wrestle, I am being gently reminded to reflect on God’s goodness. His faithfulness. All that He has done. And find peace in the fact that His ways aren’t my ways. He will work out his purpose in me, as soon as I step out of the way.
I’ll wrap this up with a couple of lines from one of the new songs called Dust we recorded in Franklin:
“It happens in the dust
beyond the bright lights
Where no one ever sees
How messy real life is…
You came down to walk with me
To be my strength when I am weak
And there’s no heart that You don’t seek
There’s no life Your love can’t reach”
My hope (and expectation) for these songs - and whatever words I write on this blog - is that they remind people of a God who longs to walk with them in the everyday. In the mess. Through the sleepless nights, the anxious thoughts, the physical ailments, the doubts, the disappointments. Through the glorious moments we love to post about online, and through those moments when we fear we are unseen and of no worth to anyone.
He is always working. He is always good. And He is always faithful to meet our needs and breathe purpose upon our existence.