Julie Noyes

I can hang every Andrew Peterson album on a different era of my adult life.

At the turn of the millennium, amidst Y2K scares and the Internet’s transformation of our very existence, I was negotiating life with a newborn. That seismic shift happened my junior year of college, when in September 1999 a nice nurse placed a squalling baby in my arms. I was utterly bewildered--what do I do with this?

Then, someone somewhere put an album into my hands, and the CD itself had the photo of a bouncing, roly-poly baby, a lot like my baby. I plugged it into the CD player of my minivan, strapped the baby into his car seat and took off.

“Give me faith to be strong, Father, we are so weak…”[1] I don’t understand why THIS is all so hard. I don’t know why I’m here trying to do this. I wasn’t made for this. It’s hard to see the light in this.

 “Over the ocean the soldier sailed. The battle is finally won. His mother is pressed up against the railing trying to find her son. Suddenly now she sees a face. Easy to recognize. It’s been years to wait for that sweet embrace, holding him as she cries, ‘You’d better get on home to Shiloh.’”[2] My baby boy will someday be a man…I’ll be seeing him off and praying him home, too.

“Rejoice for the Lord brings back His own!”[3] He loves me. He will pursue me in the midst of my sin and my wandering; he is never far from me.

(I question the wisdom of driving and crying, but it’s happened too many times with Andrew Peterson on a loop for me to be too concerned.)

During Clear to Venus (2001) my husband and I had both graduated college, moved to Kentucky for Seminary, had another baby. Carried Along still carried me along but Clear to Venus and Love and Thunder (2003) got tabled until we moved to Colorado in 2005 for my husband to pastor a church on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. I pulled those CDs out and promptly put them away and forgot about them for another few years.

Also in 2005 I got ahold on Behold the Lamb of God, the most exquisite Christmas album I’ve ever heard, one that recounts redemptive history in such a way that you can listen to it all year and still weep when you hear:

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move[4]

I knew something by now about babies in my womb.

We know that our Savior is coming, a greater David, so that my soul thrills as I zoom down the highway or trim my tree or make cookies or just clean the bathroom, and I hear that promise once again, because Andrew Peterson always points me back to the promise that gives me chills:

Will he be a king on a throne
Full of power with a sword in his fist?
Prophet, tell us will there be another king like this?
Full of wisdom, full of strength,
The hearts of the people are his
Prophet, tell us will there be
another king like this?

He'll bear no beauty or glory
Rejected, despised
A man of such sorrow
We'll cover our eyes

He'll take up our sickness
Carry our tears
For his people
He will be pierced

He'll be crushed for our evils
Our punishment feel
By his wounds
We will be healed.[5]

In 2005 I lived among my little, stinky, messy boys, ages six and two, and attempted to figure out what it means to “be in the ministry”, far from family and the familiarity of my Midwestern home. I was in that Far Country, and raced down the twists and turns of state highways with Ben Shive pounding that piano and Andrew Peterson singing about his little boy’s heart alive, and while I might not be in the city anymore but the remote wilds of high desert mesa country in the middle of the oil and gas patch, boy, I knew:

This is a far country, a far country
Not my home…

To the high and lonely mountain in the groaning wilderness
We ache for what is lost
As we wait for the holy God
Of Father Abraham[6]

How does he always know just what I need to hear?

2006 brimmed with Slugs and Bugs and Lullabies and Andrew and Randall joined us on the hour-long ride to the grocery store or the two-hour ride to the doctor’s office over a mountain pass to deliver my first little girl. “Most beautiful girl in the whole wide world,”[7] that dark little one was and is. Oh, the giggles over Elias the boy who was bored. Or Tractor, Tractor shooting to the MOOON![8] I could probably sing every song from memory right now. But I won’t. You’re welcome. That only happens in the privacy of my own minivan.

The age of digital music temporarily stunted what had been the soundtrack of my life. When Resurrection Letters Vol. 2 came out in 2008 it languished on my laptop for a few years. Ditto for Counting Stars in 2010. I guess having baby number four (another glorious girl, only this one golden) played a part in my inability to know and love new music by the man who, by this time, was living a parallel existence with his family, documenting a similar journey of faith and family life.

I began coming up for air around 2012. By then my children were 13, nine, five, and four. Kids could clean stuff and make their own sandwiches and wipe their own body parts (mostly). Clear to Venus and Love and Thunder gravitated toward the multi-CD player in the SUV (have to get over those mountain passes somehow). We drive a lot for a long time out here to get anywhere worth going. Most days, AP was my co-pilot:

So I will drive these roads in thunder and in rain
And I will sing your song at the top of my lungs
And I will praise you, Lord, in glory and in pain
And I will follow you till this race is won[9]

I contend that a car, like a shower, somehow makes you sound better. 

“The Silence of God” is too real in my life in ways I don’t care to describe.  Motherhood didn’t come easily to me as it does to many women and the “fear that I'll fall one too many times. It's the fear that His love is no better than mine”[10] gave voice to my insecurities.

Resurrection Letters Vol. 2 finally got burned onto a blank CD with my husband’s scrawl in Sharpie marker across the front. I requested many copies and put them in each CD player I owned.

The love of Jesus it is like the widow’s oil.|
When it’s all you have it’s all you ever need.[11]

I was slowly beginning to understand this. (It takes me a long time to get stuff.) “Hosea” recounted a Bible story I never knew very well, even though I played the starring role. And “The Good Confession” is still belted out by my little girls in the car. I pray that they will sing that with all their heart, soul, mind and strength someday.

I was Counting Stars, too. I had four burning suns and silver moons under my roof these days. I was living the same life as Andrew’s beloved, Jamie:

She rises up
As morning breaks
She moves among these rooms alone
Before we wake

And her heart is so full
It overflows
She waters us with love
And the children grow

So many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn

These trees will spread their branches out
And bless someone[12]

These were the echoes of my own heart as I poured out my imperfect life as an offering to the Lord: “Please save these children despite their mother.”

I wasn’t a “Fool With a Fancy Guitar,” heck, I can’t even sing (though sometimes I think I sound pretty good when it’s just AP and me) but for whatever reason this entire song felt like my own personal anthem. Oh, thank God, it isn’t my own righteousness that holds me.

It's so easy to cash in these chips on my shoulders
So easy to loose this old tongue like a tiger
It's easy to let all this bitterness smolder
Just to hide it away like a cigarette lighter…

I've got voices that scream in my head like a siren
Fears that I feel in the night when I sleep
Stupid choices I made when I played in the mire
Like a kid in the mud on some dirty blind street

I've got sorrow to spare, I've got loneliness too
I've got blood on these hands that hold on to the truth
That I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God…

But if it's true that you gathered my sin in your hand
And you cast it as far as the east is from the west
If it's true that you put on the flesh of a man
And you walked in my shoes through the shadow of death

If it's true that you dwell in the halls of my heart
Then I'm not just a fool with a fancy guitar
No, I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God.[13]

I knew I didn’t know what I was asking, but I think it was “The Reckoning” that first opened my eyes to the reality that He was coming again, that the veil would be pulled back, and I would see Him as He is.

By now I was keeping up to date on what was next. Light for the Lost Boy and I cuddled up on the loveseat after everyone went to bed, listening along with the lyrics in the notes to the entire album late into the night. The next day I checked The Yearling out of the library and sobbed with Jody Baxter (READ IT). I knew that I’d blink, and it’d be my daughters’ wedding day.[14] “Rest Easy” brought comfort when I was so beat down by my own sinfulness I couldn’t see the light. I longed to “Rest Easy”, to stop “running like a rodeo clown”[15] and rest in the arms of Jesus.

2014 really felt like After All These Years. I was settling in to the family/homeschooling/ministry rhythm. After all, AP and I had been down these roads before. I parked myself on my daughter’s bed, overrun with dolls and stuffed animals, and neglected all my housework that evening. It was time be Carried Along again. You could call that night my own person tribute to a Poet I have known only through his music.

You walking wounded of my life
Who bled compassion in the heat of strife
You stood between my heart and Satan's knife
With just the armor of a song
You are the heroes and the brave
Who with a slender pen our passions save
And chisel epitaphs upon the graves
Of all the poets I have known.[16]

I can’t think of any poet who has “stood between my heart and Satan’s knife” more than Andrew Peterson.

Autumn 2015 felt like a return to 2000, as I was carried along that Burning Edge of Dawn:

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could see the fields of glory
I could hear the sower's song

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And all that rain had washed me clean
All the sorrow was gone

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could finally believe
The king had loved me all along

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
I saw the sower in the silver mist
And He was calling me home[17]

At no time in my adult life can I recall yearning more for heaven than when I heard this song. It was as if he had given voice to my silent longings, broken through my fear of pain and dying, especially of dying young and leaving my children without their mother. I knew where my home was, and it wasn’t here. Every true, good and beautiful anything just points to the Ultimate true, good, and beautiful Lord who is preparing a place for me with Him.

While I was still fighting to put sin to death every day, AP reminded me that:

Someday the truth's gonna lay us bare
We're gonna raise a glass to the past and say
It's only when the straight line breaks and heals a little crooked
That you ever see the grace
Well I had to find a better place
Maybe the bend in the river's the only way[18]

None of it. Not one broken anything is in vain. Even in the midst of my darkness, I hear again that He offers me “peace, be still” even when the “rain just keeps falling and falling.”[19] This song, played by my husband on his phone over the lunch hour while I was cooking, cleaning, and giving a spelling test, had me crying into the refrigerator.

Of all the albums, I think this one is the most elegant. The season of depression that I use to mark this music hasn’t lifted, but somehow I’m not ashamed to say so. I think because I want to be “kind(er) to myself”. I know that the war that I’m in is just me against me against me, and I need to learn to love my enemies, too.[20] I’ve been “seized by the power of a great affection,” so that I pray the morbid introspection that’s held me captive for so long breaks.

Now this is the theme of my song
Now I will forgive as I'm forgiven
And even when the shadows are long
I will sing about the Son that's risen[21]

My hope isn’t here. I’m not held by the love of anyone but Jesus. I’ve often compared heaven to the absolute peace that a nursing baby feels at her mother’s breast. Everything about that baby’s world is centered on her mother. Her mother’s breath, her mother’s scent, her mother’s softness, her mother’s milk, her mother’s warmth make up her entire universe. She knows no fear. She knows who is near. I long for that day. Maranatha.

Now my CD cases are all in pieces, the liner notes well-worn from reading along to the music, maybe singing if I’m all alone. (I don’t sound half bad with my buddy, AP.)

Recently, I was in Colorado Springs for the Anselm’s Society’s Your Imagination Redeemed Conference, where Andrew Peterson was the featured speaker and performer. During one talk, I required coffee. I told myself that if I had the chance to shake AP’s hand, I would be bold and just do it. Even if I sounded idiotic, who cares? He needs to know how God has used him. I spent the six hours in the car enamored with the snowcapped mountains that rushed past my window and wondered if I’d have the guts to thank this Poet who has been the soundtrack of an adult life that hasn’t gone at all the way I expected it would back in 1999 when I got married.

I shook his hand. He was gracious and kind, as I knew he’d be, and I told him that his music had been a light in a lot of darkness in my life and in my head. He listened and said, “Thank you,” as I’m sure he does to lots of people who come up to him in smaller venues like this. Then we got to talk about Wendell Berry, and I felt as if my fortieth year was complete.

Later that night, I sat ten feet from the piano. Every song he played, I knew. His humor and humility made that show the most meaningful of my life.  His music has guided me as I’ve“walked in the rain of His mercy.” I’ve let that grace “soak (me) down to the bone”. My prayer is that I will learn to splash in its puddles and dance in its streams as I go all the way home.[22]

I always thought I’d have to wait until heaven to shake his hand. I’m glad God sped things up for me a bit.

**

[1] “Faith to be Strong”

[2] “Shiloh”

[3] “Ninety and Nine”

[4] “Labor of Love”

[5] “So Long, Moses”

[6] “The Far Country”

[7] “Beautiful Girl”

[8] “Tractor, Tractor”

[9] “No More Faith”

[10] “Just As I Am”

[11] “All You’ll Ever Need”

[12] “Planting Trees”

[13] “Fool With a Fancy Guitar”

[14] “Day By Day”

[15] “Rest Easy

[16] “To All the Poets I Have Known”

[17] “Burning Edge of Dawn”

[18] “We Will Survive”

[19] “The Rain Keeps Falling”

[20] “Be Kind To Yourself”

[21] “The Power of a Great Affection”

[22] “All the Way Home”

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