For the Days When You Need a Little Hope…

Have you walked through a season – maybe right now – where you feel like your creativity is bottled up inside of you, waiting for a chance to come out?  Since I’m in the throes of early motherhood, that’s me, most of the time!  But every once in a while, despite my crazy, interruption-filled days and miles-long to-do list, something creative leaks out and finds room to breathe.  And that feels hopeful to me.

I write songs for all sorts of reasons: to tuck Scripture inside my heart.  To express myself to Jesus.  To capture a quote I love.  To revitalize an old hymn text.

Mostly, I write music because it gives me hope.

There’s definitely something creative in spreading peanut butter on apple slices for my kids (in between writing these sentences).  But then there’s the specific “art you were made to live”, which Emily Freeman describes in her hope-filled book A Million Little Ways Something deep inside me starts to wither if I don’t intentionally exercise my creativity beyond cooking meals, playing with my kids, and trying to keep my house relatively dirt-free and attractive.

When I feel a song rising in me, it gives me hope that my creativity is still alive despite the fog of fatigue and swirl of mundane tasks.  So I pay attention, and try to write in the little cracks of time I can find.  It isn’t perfect, or as much as I’d like, but it keeps hope alive.

For me, music is a bridge between the seasons of my life.

Rewind ten years to my first stint overseas, fresh out of college.  The young, single me had lots of discretionary time, so that year I wrote a bunch of songs.  Halfway through, my teammates asked me to record them so they could take the songs away at the end of our time together.  A tech-savvy friend lugged his desktop to my school, we insulated the piano with the comforter off my bed, rigged a filter for the mic with a stocking and a coat-hanger.  God brought musicians: an American flutist.  A violinist from Sweden.  The brother of one of my college roommates just “happened” to be on leave from the Armed Forces, “happened” to sit in front of me at church, “happened” to play the cello, and spent a happy evening recording the cello track for the album’s title song in a tiny dorm room barely wide enough to swing his bow.  I’d been carrying the handwritten score around in my bag for weeks, praying for a cellist.  It was a miracle.

Someone did the mastering pro bono.  Someone else provided capital to print a thousand copies, which seemed like way too many to me.  The album quickly traveled all over the world, and within a year or two, all the copies were gone.  I couldn’t believe it.

To this day, ten years later, I still get an occasional email saying, “I was just listening to a song from your ‘Come’ album and was blessed all over again…”  Those emails give me hope that these songs are nourishing a wider circle of hearts than just my own.

{Im in the process of getting that first album onlineStay tuned!}

Fast forward five years, and I was married with an 18-month-old, freshly transitioned to a small village in Central Asia.  Becoming a mother took this sojourning life to a whole new level, and I was having all sorts of fresh realizations and faith-challenges.  Because we were more isolated, I didn’t have musicians to collaborate with like in the big city.  But every so often, when inspiration struck, I would write another song, and my heart kept quietly circling around the dream of recording another collection, this time in a real studio.

So, three years into our village life, pregnant with our third baby, I started thinking about the little window of time we would have in New Zealand later that year.  (New Zealand is my husband’s home country, and we’ve had all our babies there because it’s free!)  That summer, I asked my husband to pray with me about this recording dream.  Could we afford it?  Were my songs good enough?  Should I really put myself forward like this?  To every objection, Jesus brought peace, and as my husband and I prayed together during the summer months, we both sensed God saying, “Yes: this music is part of your ministry!“

“The making of” is quite a tale… but here’s the short version: we did it.  Or, I should say, God did it.  My wonderful, supportive husband looked after our two boys, then aged 5 and 3, while I took part in a full day of score-writing, a full day of band recording (eleven tracks in one day!), several days of vocals with a basketball – I mean, baby – in my belly and the remains of a head cold, and the surreal experience of recording my own songs in a real, live studio.

We finished the last track on my due date.  My producer, Mike, set to work mixing and mastering and creating beautiful album artwork, and…

…five days later, I gave birth to my daughter!

Right after Ruby was born, Mike emailed me the link to the final version of the album, and I felt like I’d just given birth to twins.  More importantly, I felt like these songs captured feelings and realizations I’d experienced during my first years of mothering overseas, and I am so grateful God enabled me to share them with other sojourners – like you.

It’s my prayer that these songs will touch your heart, lead you to Jesus, and give voice to your own experiences as sojourning women.  I pray my story inspires you to explore your own specific brand of creativity, and gives you profound hope.

What is the art you were made to live?  Whats one thing you can do today to nourish hope in your heart?


To purchase your copy of Carolyn’s album Sparrow, visit:

To read more of “the making of” Sparrow, and to find to FREE songs, visit Carolyn’s website at: and click the “Music” tab.

Emily Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways can be purchased wherever books are sold. But if you buy it through amazon a small bit of it will help Velvet Ashes.

Photo Credit: gagilas via Compfight cc


  1. Linda April 8, 2014

    When we went overseas it was with 3 teenagers, second career folks.  I found my creativity in the fabric markets and street vendors with dishes.  I was able to make my home a haven for family, friends, teens, students and visitors.  My art was to create a comfortable home, delicious food and safe for our coworkers. We were blessed with large apartments for meetings, seminars and around the table fellowships. We had folks through our home for meals, meetings, prayer time,studies, fun and overnights probably 2 weeks out of every month.  One single woman told me she loved to come because it felt like a B&B with beauty, food and welcome.  A high compliment.  Now I am passing those experiences good and bad along to other women who live far away from home with the hope if helps them through the pressures  of the day. 

    1. Carolyn April 8, 2014

      Love this, Linda!  “One single woman told me she loved to come because it felt like a B&B with beauty, food and welcome. ”  What a beautiful vision for your home!  I’m taking this onboard today, as much of my time is spent at home and we are praying for teammates to join us… and I’m thinking I’ll be spending even more time at home – and feeling a bit discouraged about that, until I read your vision, and the response you received and the blessing it was!  Thank you for sharing!

      1. Linda April 8, 2014

        My response on reading yours was Wow!  That is encouraging to me.  It is so easy to get “caught up” in our circumatances overseas. Plus how many times did someone need or wish for a haven and there wasn’t one. I could write so much about team and life and min too.  I will pray you find your sweet spot in this adn for new team mates. Let me know how it goes and how you are. It can be hard where you are.

        1. Carolyn April 9, 2014

          A haven.  Yes.  This is so needed – in my own life I feel that need often, and the thought of being able to create this for others is so inspiring!  I love the “beauty, food and welcome” trilogy… mulling  this over today!

  2. Elizabeth April 8, 2014

    Oh I love, love, love this. You are describing some of the journey I’ve been on the last year. I am an engineer by training, I don’t “do” art — at least that’s what I thought. I think that I had trained art out of me.

    We homeschool, and I discovered books that teach drawing skills. So I started learning from my kids’ books and could draw things I never thought possible. (I am by no means a master artist, I was just enjoying learning.) It started to dawn on me that maybe I, too, could learn something from the other arts, that maybe there are small skills I could learn, and then enjoy them, not for anyone else, just for me. Then I remembered that I actually danced ballet for 6 years as a child, and took some piano lessons too, so I did have art somewhere deep in my soul — buried though it were, by time and trigonometry. I’ve always loved to sing (other people’s songs, not my own) and in the last 3 years I’ve loved writing a blog as well. Small bits and pieces of that half of my brain.

    I started to realize that God is a creative God, and since we are made in His image, creativity is one of the things He tucks into our souls’ DNA. So I thought, why should I ignore that any longer? I am a perfectionist, so this was a big deal for me — wanting to learn something and do something just for the enjoyment of it, not for the performance of it. So on our home service I took an adult ballet class with a friend, and I sat at my mom’s piano and looked at old sheet music. I wasn’t very good at either of those things, but it felt so satisfying to try them.

    So I brought some easy piano music back with me overseas (my husband plays pretty well, so we already had an electric piano) and when I get a chance, I play. All my music is very simple, and my playing isn’t superb — I do it when my husband isn’t around to listen. But it’s not for other people anyway, it’s for me. I didn’t know that playing the piano, as poorly as I do it, and as difficult as I sometimes find it, could be more relaxing than watching a movie. Wow. That was a revelation in my life!

    It’s part of learning I don’t have to be perfect, and also embracing the creative parts of me that God made, but that I had neglected. Plus it’s nice to play hymns for my own personal worship times. I feel much more competent at the writing, which I do view as a form of art-with-words-for-the-glory-of-God, but something happens in my soul at the piano.

    Plus this has changed my parenting. I encourage my daughters’ creativity much more now — the dancing in their room, the drawing, the making up of songs, I am much more in tune with how it’s important, and I don’t want to squeeze it out of them or educate it out of them, I want them to embrace it, talent or not.

    1. Carolyn April 8, 2014

      I love this, Elizabeth!!  “I did have art somewhere deep in my soul — buried though it were, by time and trigonometry.”  I loved reading your story of re-discovering those other parts of you that had been buried deep – so much hope there for others to read and savor!  I too am a slowly-recovering-perfectionist, so I struggle like you with wanting to learn something and do something just for the enjoyment of it, not for the performance of it.”  Your honesty is so encouraging for me today!   I also love this: It’s part of learning I don’t have to be perfect, and also embracing the creative parts of me that God made, but that I had neglected. … something happens in my soul at the piano.”  YES!  I feel this with you, and it’s such a good reminder for me of why I love to make music… I forget this too often.  Thank you!

  3. Laura April 9, 2014

    Carolyn, I read Emily’s book earlier this year, but I definitely needed the reminder again to spend time creating, whether life is slow or busy. In addition to writing, I find playing the piano and making cards to be my creative outlets. And often when I’m struggling with creativity in writing, taking time to express my creativity in one of those other ways helps.

    1. Carolyn April 9, 2014

      I like this, Laura.  I like that you use different outlets of creativity to spur you on in ones you’re stuck in. I just read Madeleine L’Engle said something about that in A Circle of Quiet: “When I am stuck writing a book, when I am stuck in a problem in life, if I go to the piano and play Bach for an hour, the problem is usually either resolved or accepted.”  Hah!  I like that.

  4. emily thomas April 9, 2014

    What a fantastic story!  I love that the album was finished as your daughter was born.  What a joyful time!  I also really appreciate the picture you paint of using the cracks of time.  Sometimes I just want to quit it all because I can’t dedicate solid parts of a day to creativity.  There is hope in the cracks!!

    1. Carolyn April 9, 2014

      Yeah, I only use the cracks because I can’t GET any large chunks.  It drives my perfectionism nuts, but maybe that’s a good thing… 🙂 I do have to say, I still chafe at the constant interruptions, mostly by little needy voices, especially when I’ve just gotten something good going… Work in progress, that’s for sure.

  5. Malia April 9, 2014

    The poet in me rejoices at this post, silencing the “you don’t have time” voice ringing in my head. I too have 3 young children at home that often keep me from finishing sentences. But there are always moments in the day, and there is beauty to be seen, captured, and put to verse. I love how you’ve identified that creative rush as hope. It is. And I need it!

  6. Carolyn April 10, 2014

    Yes!  The creative rush is hope-filled.  I need it too, every day!  I don’t tap into it every day, but when I do, it makes my day so much richer and more connected to Jesus!

  7. Clarissa June 8, 2014

    thanks for this. I have only one little one vying for my attention (and another one on the way), but she manages to do a decent enough job engulfing all my time and I feel like the creative part of me is dying. Often when I express this to other moms with little ones, I am given the response that motherhood is the highest calling and that I should not feel like my time is less valuable wiping up messes and sitting on the floor surrounded by pictures books. (And of course I do agree with that!) But it is nice to know that I am not the only one who feel like my creative impulses are shriveling up during this season of life. Thanks for the validation. And the encouragement to find little nooks and crannies in my day to be creative!

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.