On Thursday night, I was able to check off one of my dreams. Not just “a dream” but “THE dream”. The Big Kahuna! I’ve always loved playing with words and I’ve always been moved by music… so for most of my life I have longed for just one chance to be a part of writing a song that someone other than I would sing. I guess I just wanted to think that, of the hundreds of lyrics I’ve attempted to write during the past couple of decades, just one might be decent enough for public consumption someday.
So there I sat in the balcony of the Grand Ole Opry while a dear friend of mine, gifted comedienne and singer, Chonda Pierce, delivered a song I helped write to a live audience for her next DVD release!! The song is called “This Ain’t Prettyville” and it’s the title song on her new DVD. I was surrounded by my cheerleader–of-a-husband, Scott, our two children, and my parents. We beamed when we first walked in and saw the song title on a sign hanging over the stage, “This Ain’t Prettyville”! I literally used up all the camera battery I had taking photos of the sign.
While we sat, waiting for the music to start, I couldn’t help but reflect on the day last April when Chonda and I reconnected after not seeing each other for years. That day had closely followed a complete crying-and-wailing-meltdown during which I had declared that maybe God was trying to tell me something. That maybe, after years and years of writing lyrics which were lying dormant in a file drawer or my hard drive, it was time for me to admit that songwriting is a self-indulgent dream that I needed to surrender.
I did need to surrender, that was clear. And I did. I told God that if He really wasn’t in this longing, I didn’t want it. But in the process of spilling my guts about how I was tired of trying so hard and tired of being disappointed, I realized that even if no one cared or ever sang words or tunes I had written… I still loved doing it. It’s just part of how I process life. I don’t know what other way to process what God is doing in me other than trying to craft something made of words to sum up what I believe He is trying to reveal to me. That, alone, kept me from burning my files and dumping my CPU into the White River.
As I sat there in the Grand Ole Opry, getting ready to hear a song I had the privilege of co-writing with Chonda and a gifted artist from California named Bryan Duncan (whose music I loved as a teenager and young adult, but I never had the guts to tell him while we were working on this song), I had to smile. The way the song came together was most certainly NOT because I was pushing an agenda or had any hopes of seeing this long lost dream come to fruition. It was the result of Chonda and I venting about the twists and turns life had taken us during the years we had lost touch, and how the ugliest things we’ve experienced have become the most beautiful lessons we could’ve learned about life, and ourselves, and our faith. It was a time of honesty in which I, frankly, didn’t have the emotional energy to “sell a song” or “pitch an idea”. I could barely string sentences together that week.
But God was orchestrating something. Something I didn’t have the vision or the courage to imagine at that point. I was at the lowest emotional place I had been in years. So low, in fact, that my husband kept looking at me with a worried look and checking in frequently with… “Seriously… are you okay?!”
Today, not quite one year after the conversation that began the birth of a song that Chonda would introduce to the world on January 29th at the Grand Ole Opry, I am completely blown away with this God of ours. And I have to laugh that He made this the song the world would hear from me… it’s silly and fast-paced (unlike 99.9% of my others) and it uses the word “aint” in the title, which goes against every literary rule I know, except the one that says, “You have to know the rules before you break them.”
It was a surreal experience to be there Thursday night watching people as the song was sung. Hearing the crowd cheer afterwards (and even during) was an incredible moment because I felt like I had taken part in creating something that worked… it helped to set up an evening where Chonda would work her incredible charm to make people laugh, and eventually cry, with the message that we’re all flawed and imperfect, but God thinks we are pretty and amazing anyway. I’m so thrilled to be a small part of communicating that powerful truth.
I look at this milestone not as an accomplishment but a blessing. Accomplishments take some level of planning and control on my part. Getting a certain GPA in college was an accomplishment. But blessing is all up to God. It is a privilege I could never have drummed up in my limited strength.
I may or may not write another song that means anything to anyone. And, mind you, “This Ain’t Prettyville” isn’t a deeply profound or moving song. But I do know that it was born out of complete surrender. That place of trust is, at once, frightening and safe… heart-rending and peaceful. And I’m beginning to understand that it’s exactly where God wants us; aware of our inabilities and in need of His supernaturalness.
Many of you have asked me where you can hear the song, and Chonda’s “This Ain’t Prettyville” video releases at the end of March. But I’ll post the lyric below. You’ll need this, because when the song is actually sung it moves WAY too fast to catch all the words. But this lyric is proof that when we give up and meltdown at Jesus’s feet, He has a way of turning things around in ways we could never ask or imagine. (It is also a warning not to take yourself too seriously, or your dream-come-true might turn out this silly, too!)
THIS AIN’T PRETTYVILLE
Word by Emily Sutherland, Bryan Duncan and Chonda Pierce
Music by Bryan Duncan
(c) 2009 Red Road Publishing (I think!)
This Ain’t Prettyville… hey read the lipstick on the wall
This Ain’t Prettyville… if yer finding flaws we’ve got em all
We don’t live in magazines, perfect makeup, beauty queens
Cause This Ain’t Prettyville… what woman fits in those tight little jeans?
My day don’t start with no limousine ride..
Drivin’ my brat pack to the brink of my pride…
I’m shopping and mopping up messes by day
My nightlife is “budget gourmet” on a tray!
Don’t call me desperate cause housewife is my job
I’m just keepin my prince from being a slob…
So my drivers license has a couple white lies
I shop at Big Lots for a dress in my size…
This Ain’t Prettyville… Barbie’s made of plastic y’all
This Ain’t Prettyville… I can’t afford that over haul
I’ve had to stretch my beauty mark… bath my skin in Armor All
Cause this ain’t Prettyville… maybe they should upgrade the defects on that doll…
Think Cinderella’s story ended too soon!
Google the dark side of THAT sweet honeymoon!
So where’s the ad to liposuction my pain?
Or Mommy Drano that can unclog my brain…
I’d trade my plumber’s friend for a friend who’d be real…
I’ll clean my calendar just to share how I feel
So let’s get our flannel on… and tidy that bowl
My trouble needs a bubble bath for the soul
This Ain’t Prettyville… ain’t no stones here left to throw
This Ain’t Prettyville… there’s not two ducks here in a row
Our tiara’s might be fallin down… our flowers turned a little brown
But this Ain’t Prettyville… There’s still some grace here to be found
This Ain’t Prettyville… Read the lipstick on the wall
This Ain’t Prettyville… if yer finding fault we got em all
We’d love to have you stick around… it’s just the mask we’re takin down
Cause this Ain’t Prettyville… Thank God there’s grace still to be found!