Aryn Michelle playing a solo set at the House of Blues (Dallas) Foundation Room.
“In the style of my favorite singer-songwriters Christa Wells, Sara Groves and Ellie Holcomb, I can’t get enough of Aryn’s thought-provoking album Depth, which includes my top “gourmet” song of the year, “Do the Same.” I hear a yearning and longing from Aryn to see Jesus face to face, and the phrase “A precious gift to us sent right from heaven’s door, He is that promised One, the hope of new life,” is something all believers can sing to God. That’s one of those beautiful truths that we can all cling to and get through anything we might be dealing with on this side of eternity, knowing that we have a blessed hope waiting for us in Heaven.
This song beautifully captures the Truth expressed in John 3:28-30 (NKJV). There’s the knowledge that we are the bride of Christ, bowing in worship to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and the humility of our position. We are all called to have the faith expressed by John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
This song is a great way to thank Jesus for our undeserved gift of grace…”
I know that sometimes “keeping Christ in Christmas” can be a challenge. Perhaps it’s because we’re assaulted with songs, movies and TV shows that talk about how the spirit of Christmas is gushy feelings, decorating trees and throwing snowballs. Perhaps some of the blame can be placed on us for giving into the “busy-ness” of the season and making it about parties and shopping lists and Facebook worthy photo-ops.
So how do we focus on Christ this season? We’ve got to keep in our hearts and minds that the birth of our Savior is of the utmost significance. Our almighty, powerful God-creator of the universe, took upon the humility of human form. And not just any human form, the most helpless and dependent of human forms. And He didn’t choose a birth of privilege, but He chose to be born in an average family, from a humble town. I want to have wonder at this miracle. I want to have reverence for a God who would love us in such a passionate way. I want my joy to be found in the truth of Christ’s gift in coming. I want to demonstrate the kind of abundant, selfless love Christ showed to us in that moment. So I challenge you and encourage you to reflect on the significance of God coming to us as a baby; the most perfect gift of all.
Last summer my church took a trip to Thailand to host a conference for missionaries in Asia. I haven’t been able to go on many mission trips in the last few years (hello small children!), but I finally had a window where I could go, and I felt like I could uniquely serve. The trip needed a few musicians to lead worship for the conference, and I hoped that God could use my specific skill set to truly serve on the trip. The trip was very expensive, but I took a leap of faith and by generous support of my family and church was able to afford the plane tickets.
Everything was good to go until God seemed to open another door for an opportunity that was happening at the exact same time. I had won a singing/songwriting competition in Nashville, and because of that I was offered a spot at a songwriting retreat where I would get to meet and work with many talented professionals. For years I had been struggling to “get my foot in the door” and make connections with musical professionals. This was a big break I’d long been praying for God to provide.
But the trip to Thailand and the songwriting retreat were happening at the exact same time.
So here was my dilemma: how do you know what to do when you feel like God has provided you two unique opportunities and you have to pick one?
This is a struggle we all must face time and time again in our Christian walks. How do you know where God is leading? Which path is the one that He wants you to follow, and how do you sort out what’s from Him and what’s giving into your own desires?
I tackled the problem by gathering wisdom from trusted advisers. I talked to my husband, my father, my Thailand trip leaders and the leaders of the songwriting retreat. I searched the Word for wisdom. I just wanted to do the right thing.
In the end, I went to Thailand. I felt like being able to serve missionaries I may never encounter again on this earth and being able to serve my church as it went out to make change for the gospel around the globe was where I wanted to be. Honestly, it was a very difficult decision for me. Turning down an opportunity I had prayed about for years was hard to do, but I went forward with no regrets, trusting that God would use me how He wanted.
My time in Thailand was amazing but very exhausting. The flight there was almost a complete 24 hours, and I never fully recovered from the jet lag. I didn’t sleep but more than a few hours a night, and the changes in temperature and humidity were very hard on my voice. By day three (of seven) of the trip, my singing voice was almost completely gone because of how hard the trip had been on my body.
At first, I was very frustrated with my situation. Why would God allow me to travel around the world with the goal of singing and sharing music only to lose my voice? I had to remind myself that when I’m striving to follow God’s will, I’ve got to be willing to let Him use me however He will (and often it’s not exactly what I would have imagined.)
It turned out that I was also uniquely gifted to be on this trip in another way. A majority of the work our church group did was to provide childcare for the missionaries who attended the conference. There were dozens and dozens of children, many of which were preschool age—and it just so happens that at the time I had a three-year-old and a one-year-old back at home in Texas.
I came for the music but truly got to serve by holding small kiddos, which had recently become a passion and talent of mine. Perhaps I wasn’t needed on the mission trip in the way I wanted to be needed, but I was used in the way God wanted me to be used.
As you consider mission trips, my prayer for you is the same one I pray for others from my church and for myself: that God would uniquely equip each one of us for the specific journey we are on, and that He would keep our hearts open and ready to serve Him in whatever way He chooses.
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
I had a friend mention to me that she was considering becoming a pen pal to someone in prison.
“Someone you know?” I said.
“No,” she said. “I just did a search online and found several Christian-affiliated organizations that will connect you to write letters to prisoners.”
Kinda scary, I thought. Sharing your life with a convicted criminal? Kinda awkward, I thought. Corresponding with a total stranger? Lots of questions. What if they tried to find you? What if they asked you for money? What possible wisdom and encouragement could I have to offer? Admittedly, they were selfish thoughts, but real.
I am increasingly concerned and aware that I do not serve enough the kinds of people Jesus has called on me to serve. How many orphans and widows have I visited this week? How many hungry and needy people have I handed food or clothing to? Do I visit the sick in hospitals? Have I ever set foot in a prison?
This passage seems to lay it out pretty clearly.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matthew 25: 34–46).
When I think about taking time, energy and resources to serve people Jesus has called me to serve, the resistance from inside can come embarrassingly quickly. I don’t have any extra money. I have small children and I have no extra energy or time. I need to do everything that I can to keep my family safe and not expose them to complicated people and situations. My church, which I support with time and money, already takes care of all these things. But lately these concerns have started to seem more like convenient excuses. I certainly have limitations on the time and money that I have been given, but how to use these things must take Kingdom priorities into account.
At the suggestion of my friend, I researched Christian pen pal ministries for incarcerated believers. The process was simple. I wrote an email, said that I was willing, and was given a name and address of someone to write to. All the inmates in the program are professed followers of Christ who are looking for Christian friendship and encouragement, so all I’m required to do is exchange letters with them.
It’s amazing how much I have learned from them. I am heartbroken by their suffering and their difficult lives. I am inspired by their hope and strength. I am honored at the opportunity to show them kindness, forgiveness and truth when they so desperately desire it. Most of the people I have written to have been abandoned by their families. The only hope they hold on to is finding family in the body of Christ.
This post is not an attempt to impress anyone with this very small work that I do. I simply have a great desire to encourage other believers to consider becoming a pen pal to an incarcerated brother or sister in Christ. There are many, many inmates who want to have a Christian pen pal and never get one because there are not enough willing volunteers to write to them. It takes a very small amount of time to write and send a letter, but in doing so, you are serving the least of these. You are serving fellow believers whom society has shunned and forgotten. You are serving the people that Jesus has called upon us to serve. If you would like more information about the organization I work with, please visit Cppministry.com.
I understand the fascination with how songwriters write their songs. I’m fascinated too!
For many years I wrote “song seeds.” My initial idea would come to me as a lyric and a melody already tied together in my brain. These were tiny snippets of songs, some of them just three to four words and notes. I usually work incrementally—a few more notes, a few more lyrics, and back and forth. Only two or three times in my 16 years of songwriting have I ever finished a complete melody or complete lyric without touching the other. I usually stay at a piano or guitar while I work through my songs piece-by-piece, letting the chords go wherever I found interesting.
Prior to my most recent album, I always wrote songs with an instrument. I was in a pre-production session with my producer and he kept commenting that the songs I wrote on piano kept skewing toward a pop/jazz style and the songs I wrote on guitar were leaning more towards Americana—the stylistic direction we were going for on the project. I immediately guessed the source of the problem.
I was a much weaker guitar player, and this was actually helping my style as I was trying to craft a particular type of song. Why? Wouldn’t it make more sense to be better at an instrument to write songs?
What I discovered is that I was letting my chord changes dictate the shapes of my melodies. My melodies were following these random chord changes that I was throwing out as I composed, and I was neglecting to let the melody naturally go where it wanted to go. I wrote better songs on guitar because I could play far fewer chords on the guitar than I could on the piano. With my fancy, complicated chord changes out of the way, I wrote stronger melodies. Because of this revelation, I stopped writing with an instrument altogether. I was still putting chords to my music, but after the melody and lyrics were finished.
So, I decided this was my new method. Craft the shape of the melody (no chords) and then place the lyrics in piece-by-piece.
Now enters Michael Farren. I had the privilege of writing with Michael on one of the last days of a recent Nashville trip for the purpose of co-writing songs with many different talented artists. I was feeling pretty good about my “naked melody” approach and presented him with some song pieces I had started in that way. After I played him one song idea in particular, a song that I thought was probably the least impressive of the bunch, he surprised me by saying it was one of the best ones so far. Why?
He said something to the effect of, “Your lyrics really grabbed me on that one. You started to tackle a very interesting topic.”
I said, “Then why does it sound so average as a song?”
He replied, “Well, your music doesn’t fit the weight of those lyrics at all. You lyrics are weighty and your music and melody are happy-go-lucky.”
He then picked up his guitar and started singing the exact same lyrics with different music—music that near perfectly matched the sentiment of the words. Before the song was kind of boring. Now it was starting to be very interesting.
My “naked melody” approach suddenly seemed not to be the end-all-be-all system for me. As I worked with Micheal that morning, he kept asking me, “How do you feel like you would sing those words?” and telling me, “Don’t think about, just sing it like they ought to be sung.”
We also talked a lot about penning lyrics in a conversational style that was true to how I would talk as an individual. “Won’t you lose the poetry in conversational style?” I asked. “Not if you talk like only you would talk,” he replied. He asked me to describe what the process of forgiveness is like because we were dabbling in a song that dealt with that topic. I said, “I’ve done some things so selfish and insincere that I wouldn’t want anyone to know about.” And he said, “That’s it! The word insincere. That’s a word I would never use myself, so it feels very poetic to me. But it’s a word you obviously use in conversation, so you choosing that word also feels honest and conversational.”
My mind was blown.
Now I’m in a new phase of my songwriter’s life in trying to think this way—by starting with what I want to write about and then crafting a melody based on the way I would talk about the subject. I’ll start with a lyric that is honest and true to my conversational style and then try to sing it the way it wants to be sung. This is a whole new step in my writing style, and I’m excited to see if it makes me into a better writer (and hopefully doesn’t give me a mental breakdown!)
It seems to be another area of life where you arrive and find out the best way to carry yourself is to just be yourself. Like Michael said, “They’re gonna get it if it’s you.”
Aryn Michelle’s Superb New Album “Depth”
Christian Music Review
Aryn’s path to this moment in her career has had an interesting mix of twists and turns, which I’ll share in a moment with her bio below. It’s encouraging to see an artist persevere and finally develop their voice — no easy feat, let me tell you. The music industry is brutal in many respects.
But before you learn more about her story, I’d like to jump right into the music. Her new album “Depth” is, to sum it up in one word, irresistible. All throughout the album, Aryn’s powerful, affecting voice floats effortlessly between that glorious thrump of a stand-up bass below and the high Americana cathedral of a tasteful reverb guitar above — production that is, in some places, worthy of a world-class T-Bone Burnett album. (And if you don’t know who T-Bone Burnett is, then please remember me as the guy who introduced you to him. That would be my honor.)