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Some mornings you wake up and you know you’ve tossed and turned the heavy covers right off the bed in the night, and you wonder “What is this weight on my chest?” and then you realize—it’s THE ENTIRE WORLD. I was having one of those.
I don’t remember the exact circumstances. I just know it had all been too much for too long without a break or a breakthrough, and I was worn out. This must have been three or four years ago. On my way to the Beehive that morning, aiming myself into the day, my phone dinged with an email from Melanie Penn; it was a voice-memo demo of a new song. Melanie and I were just beginning conversations about making a new record together—a follow up to her dear-to-my-heart debut album, Wake Up Love. As I hit play, a scan would have revealed the critical center of my brain opening its doors for business while my emotional core slept off a bad hangover. Little did I know this memo-demo was about to bring my emotional core breakfast in bed.
It’s a long year already,
And only February 4.
The days are hard,
Who are we kidding?
Older we are, we suffer more.
And I think we deserve a song.
I don’t know about you, but I can start to feel like a beast of burden—like my only purpose is to work long hours until my brain is mush and then sleep not quite enough only to wonder where the money went at the end of the week. I know it’s not the truth. Actually, I’m quite convinced it’s a lie of the devil. And Sabbath is the word for God’s answer. And Jesus is the word for Sabbath. Still, I can get to feeling that way. I know for certain I was feeling that way when I first heard Melanie sing these lines. “We deserve a song!” It still brings tears to my eyes to hear my small sufferings identified with and dignified in such a way and then answered with, of all things, a song. My heart recognized it at once as God’s song over me.
And yet, throughout the remainder of Melanie’s gorgeous song “Turnaround” (which now appears as the opening track on her brand new album, Hope Tonight) it’s you and I doing the singing. Singing to gray skies with winter birds. Singing all manner of songs to befit all manner of occasions.
Is it our duty to keep singing,
Whether funeral songs or hymns,
Whether lullabies or battle cries
Until the spring?
I think it is.
Sometimes I’m not sure if I can keep singing when it seems so futile. Why? Why keep singing? Who will hear? Who will care? These questions are ever-present to me. Sometimes when I finish an album for an artist, I feel like I am handing her an enormous burden. “Go now and make these songs heard amidst an ocean of noise, all the while wondering if it’s been utterly vain to write them in the first place.” And yet how can we stop singing? Jesus our Lord did what he saw his father doing—and Jesus’ father is always singing! Singing the song of belonging to the orphan, freedom to the slave, salvation to the sinner. God’s people will never stop singing God’s song in the world.
I would love to tell you more of the joyful moments of making Hope Tonight with Melanie, and perhaps I will in further posts. But I could think of no more fitting way to convey to you the quality of Melanie’s songs than to share with you the way that “Turnaround” came out my car speakers one morning and helped restore my faith.
by Melanie Penn
from Hope Tonight
It’s a long year already
And only February 4
The days are hard, who are we kidding
Older we are, we suffer more
And I think we deserve a song
The love affair from fall is over
It dissolved into the snow
The crowd of comfort from November
Went onto problems of its own
And I think we deserve a song
A song with no surprises in the form
That doesn’t force the rhymes, simple chords
That won’t stay unresolved
Or forget the one it’s written for
And it’ll turn around, things will turn around
I don’t hear it in the city
But I know from where I came
That in the winter while they’re wingin’
They’ll spin a tune to skies of grey
And I think we should sing along
A song that doesn’t take too long to learn
That won’t use any complicated words
A song just for the sake of being sung
Not bein heard
And it’ll turn around, things always turn around
Is it our duty to keep singin?
Whether funeral sighs or hymns?
Whether lullabies or battle cries – until the spring?
I think it is
We deserve a song