I had the idea a while back to write a post about two of my favorite bands: Waterdeep and Wilco. I like alliteration and alphabetical categories as much as any other former English major, and the comparison of what, in my mind, were two strikingly different groups, with startlingly opposing themes would give me plenty to rattle on about. I was probably also looking to up my cool factor one or two points with all you Rabbit Room geeks, and you know, quoting righteous lyrics from two gnarly bands was really my best bet, right? Right on.
This was way before I knew Don and Lori had moved to Nashville (not that I knew where they had lived before), but I had not yet heard they would be joining up with the Square Pegs. In fact, truth be told, I hadn’t followed their website much, and hadn’t listened to an album since Heart Attack Time Machine, so maybe I was really just a fair weather fan from back in the day, a former college groupie, another Lori Chaffer wanna-be. That’s probably a little more accurate, but there were so many lines to love from Sink or Swim, like “juice and the joints and the motion of life” or the one that says “Sometimes, God, I feel like I’m living in a bone grinding mill,” and who could forget, of course, that awesome song they wrote about you know what.
But along with all those self-serving motives, there was a longing to share something from my heart. I thought about telling you about a memory of working in my new-to-me kitchen in Maryland, a new Mom and a young wife – weary and tired. Waterdeep was my cleaning soundtrack, but when I heard the song “Hush,” I knelt on the vinyl and bawled for the tender love of my own earthly father, and the fractured, complicated relationship I shared with his wife, my mother.
And then there was the time many months later, driving around listening to “When the Cold Wind Blows.” I kept thinking about all the different places I’d lived. Thirteen times I’d moved already, how long until it happened again, I wondered. And still, none of those places ever felt like home. I could not have begun to tell you where “home” was, I just knew I longed to have one. And I dreamed of staying in that car until I could figure out how to drive there. So much driving, so many tears, but at least I had a car, huh?
I believe the plan was to testify about how Waterdeep has translated the language of my heart so many times over the years and how much I love the truth and boldness of their good news songs. To tell you how in the mornings, when I lay in bed awake, when it’s just me and the Jesus whom I thank for another day ahead, as well as the good night’s rest behind, it’s easy for me to believe the face I imagine is real. That He actually has “names for all his stars”, that he will “heal my wounds and kiss my scars.” You are not so far away from me, as I thought you’d be I think of telling him.
After all that, I’d have surprised you by admitting my nighttime struggles which reveal more of an allegiance to Wilco lyrics. How by nightfall, when my energy is spent and I’ve lost my temper over and over again, when tomorrow’s worries line themselves up on my pillow, and I want nothing more than to sleep so I can start over again but there’s a million and one things left still to do. That’s when it’s much easier to believe “Hell is Chrome,” and God’s love is random, because He only speaks in code. Perhaps a few of you would have identified more with Tweedy’s lines at this point, and we could have looked each other in the eyes across computer screens and struggled together to get back on the truth sides of our stories. And in the end I would have tied a neat bow on top and said something about trying to choose the right path from here on out.
But I never did write it, and then we went and had a Hutchmoot. I discovered a mere week before it came, that Waterdeep would be playing at the Square Peg Show scheduled for Saturday night! Would I actually get to meet them too, I wondered, even though seeing them perform live for the first time was certainly exciting enough. By some miracle of the Moot, we ended up sitting at the same table as Don and Lori while we ate dinner, and wouldn’t you know it? Despite their slightly Amazonian proportions, they’re pretty regular, albeit extremely talented, people. I was able to make some regular type chit chat with them, about families and shared histories, without spilling any drinks on myself, or snorting banana pudding during the punch line of anyone’s jokes.
After dinner, it felt almost exactly like Jesus grabbed me by the hand and hurried me to my seat in the sanctuary, and the minute Mr. Walt Wangerin opened his mouth to speak, He poked me on the shoulder and whispered “Listen.” But three hours later, Jesus was still hanging around because he asked Lori to sing that song about Home again, just for me, and I was a completely undone fool on the back row, for like the eighth time that weekend.
Then, after we’d been home a couple weeks, and the dreamy weekend had become hazy memory, I saw that Don was playing a house concert in Knoxville. We scooped up our tickets, begged our grandparents to babysit, and wore out the new EP. In truth, I wished for a show with both halves, but I turned out to be far from disappointed, as yet again, every song seemed chosen especially for me – which of course turned on the waterworks again. So many tries to hold it all together, in a small room full of strangers, three of which we discovered that night, were teachers at our son’s new middle school. I found myself thinking again how prideful it is to wipe away those tears, yet I haven’t figured out how to turn off that instinct.
More powerful than the song selection though, was Don’s determination to spark communion with this random group of fans. Don led us in responsive readings heavily themed with grief and loss, then he shared his own personal poetry, laden with guilt and failure, yet when the show was over, all fourteen of our hearts were undeniably full of hope and love. It was a masterful construct, though I’m sure Don would never take credit for such an effective redemption experience.
I came home and decided it was high time to tell my Waterdeep story. Sometime during the writing process, I realized this post needed a little less Wilco and a lot more Jesus. Not because I don’t like Wilco anymore, but because I just can’t wrap it up neatly and divide these two groups into nice little categories. (Even the picture of Don, along with my husband in a Wilco t-shirt bears witness to that—totally unplanned by the way). And I can’t honestly say that I’ll only listen to spiritually uplifting music. As long as I’m human, I will continue to have days when it feels more natural to cry out against God, than to fall at his feet. It may be a huge assumption to make here, but I think even Waterdeep has its Wilco days. In the end though, Don and Lori confess Christ, and ultimately, they point listeners toward Jesus himself.
So instead of a bow here at the conclusion; how about a song of the day? It’s called “Everyone’s Beautiful” and beautiful is the best word I know to describe this couple who is simply faithful to their craft, their Lord and each other. I hope you take some time today to give it a listen.