Shaping Season is a two-volume project of songs that I wrote roughly between mid-2016 to mid-2018. The first volume was released April 17, 2020. The second volume is set to be released toward the end of 2020 or by the beginning of 2021. What follows is a track-by-track breakdown of Volume 1.
I actually named the album after the album art. The art is of a tree that straddled my next-door neighbor’s yard and my own. In Spring 2018, my neighbor (whose name I shamefully still do not know although to be fair to myself it’s partially because he does not speak English) was in the middle of removing the tree and I thought it was a fascinating sight to see the tree being stripped of its branches. It looked almost symbolic of what Jesus was taking me through, but it also just looked like something out of a storybook. I decided to snap a simple iPhone picture, choose a nice filter, and the rest is history.
Aside from the art, the deeper reason for the title Shaping Season is that the timeframe in which I wrote these songs was one of the most difficult of my life. In Summer 2016, I began to experience unexplained exhaustion and achiness, which over time would lead to constant bloodwork, an MRI, and a trip to the neurologist. The ultimate diagnosis was a thyroid disease and adrenal fatigue. There were times that summer where I thought I was dying. My physical exhaustion also opened me up to fits of depression and sadness that I had never experienced before. Not only were there times when I thought I was dying, but there were times when I wanted to die. And the scariest part was not being able to explain either.
The songs had already started coming before my body started fading. But songwriting as a mode of catharsis wasn’t enough. I took no pleasure in reopening wounds when I wrote songs that simply expressed how I felt without anything more. To quote the wonderful Levi the Poet, “The release is never as satisfying as the promise to fix what’s been sewn.” Man, is that true. It was in understanding that I had to write not just what I felt—for that is an inevitability—but also what I needed that songwriting became less of a venting process and more of a tool for personal sanctification. With music, the Lord was not only giving me something to work on, but He was giving me something to work through. Through songwriting, He gave me an opportunity to bring the hard questions before Him humbly and honestly and to, like the psalmist, endeavor to hope in Him whether or not that question was answered.
This was all where Shaping Season began to take shape as an album. But the season itself kicked into high gear in 2017. It started spiraling that May when my beloved dog Darcy died suddenly in my arms. I drove around listening to the Paramore record After Laughter when it dropped that night. That same record would end up being the last record my close friend Blake and I would drive around listening to a month before he killed himself on September 30, 2017. My mom would break her back less than 48 hours later. Three months after that, in January 2018, she landed in ICU after dire complications during back surgery. We were in ICU with her for three more months. For all my wrestling before this point, it was during all of this that I found out what a panic attack was.
I don’t share these stories as a sob story. I have no desire to make trophies of my tribulations, as tempting as it can be when you are suffering. This is simply the back story behind Shaping Season, a story that is less about the trials themselves and more about the One Who works all things together for the good of His children:
Track #1: The Aching
The Aching feels like an appropriate opener to this project. Not only does it introduce key themes of depression and anxiety, but it also introduces the three key subjects of my songs: God, others, and myself. Each verse addresses each subject one by one beginning with God and ending with me. The final lines are the most important to me. I wrote them after my associate pastor preached a sermon where he compared rejoicing in tribulation to how the sun reflects off of the moon. We may not perceive that the sun still shines while it’s night, but we see evidence of it right in front of us in the glow of the moon. For that we can rejoice always (Phi. 4:4).
Track #2: Fall, Sky
I wrote this song in April 2017. Looking back, it feels eerily prophetic of the days to come. I surely didn’t know what I was asking for with the words of this song or I would have never written them. This song is about welcoming the way everything around us inevitably crumbles in order to embrace the One Who never will. When all around you fails, remember the words of Peter in John 6:68: “Lord, to Whom else shall we go?” Sometimes we need the false gods of our hearts stripped violently away one by one until only the true God remains. It’s a process. Lean into it. Celebrate it even while you’re weeping.
Track #3: Inside My Shadow
Depression. It’s a word that’s used liberally now in our mental health conscious society. I’ve already used it a couple times myself out of both habit and necessity. But strangely, for all the ways we speak of it as reality, it’s a pretty ambiguous term. I often wonder if our insistence on speaking vaguely about the giant all-consuming monster of depression instead of isolating the various components that make up said all-consuming monster is actually more detrimental to our spiritual, mental, and physical health. But I digress. This song is about that monster. And it’s about what happens when that monster becomes so prevalent that Stockholm Syndrome sets in and you think you might make friends with it despite the deepest parts of your soul screaming, “This is not home.” Thankfully, I find that no matter how far I get from home, home always tends to come after me. So endures the relentless love of Jesus Christ.
Track #4: Tax Day (Blessed Be)
This is the first song I wrote for this project (along with a song called “Cell Towers” which comes at the very end of Volume 2). I wrote this in May 2016 after seeing a dear family friend (who we call our “aunt”) for the last time in the hospital before she passed away. At the time, I was still working through college and was taking a world history class. As we went through the Holocaust, I found myself going on a dark rabbit trail of pictures taken during that time. Between the personal loss I was feeling, and the unimaginable loss of the Holocaust, I found myself wrestling with the age-old dilemma of theodicy (the problem of an all-good, all-sovereign God in a world where evil exists). This song was my answer.
April 15th (aka Tax Day) is the day two of my grandparents passed away (my mother’s mother in 1997 and my father’s father in 2010). I’m the youngest child of youngest children, which means the age gap between me and my grandparents was enormous. My last surviving grandparent (my Grandpa) was 93 when he died in 2010. I was 16.
Track #5: Homebody
“Homebody” was one of the first songs I wrote for this record and the very first song I wrote on the piano. This was written as I was emerging from the very bottom of that first hole in Summer 2016. It was the first time I ever contemplated suicide in a very real way, and though I’m still not sure I’d say I’ve ever been suicidal in the sense that the choice was ever realistic or felt imminent, I remember how terrifying it felt to even crack open that door for the first time. When I talk about writing what I need, not just what I feel, this song was the turning point in that. I’d gotten to such a heavy place I couldn’t afford to just wallow in my feelings. I had to speak truth or I wasn’t going to get up. The ending of this song is a paraphrase of Philippians 1:6, which is my favorite verse and has brought me back to reality time and time again.
Track #6: Alone*
An asterisk is typically used in writing to denote further information that the text doesn’t present on its own. For me, it’s that, but it’s also a nifty shortcut to making a common song title a little more unique (I’m a bit OCD about choosing song titles that have been used a lot). The refrain at the end serves as the metaphorical asterisk to my loneliness. No matter how alone and isolated my surroundings make me feel, I’ll never know what being alone is like the way my Savior does. And He is with me.
A side note: When I wrote this back at the beginning of 2017, it was the first song I wrote where I felt like I’d established my ideal sound. I couldn’t stop listening to the demo, not because I thought it was the greatest song ever, but because it sounded like exactly what I wanted to sound like. That was pure magic and a prime example how even writing a heavy song can be joyful if you just flat-out enjoy what you’ve written. I still refer to this one as my favorite on the record even in its fully recorded state.
Track #7: Don’t Be Shaken
This song is simply a retelling of the prodigal son story. I especially took inspiration from the image of the father running to meet the son while he was still a long way off. The love of Jesus is so hard to comprehend. The ending refrain contains the third verse of “It Is Well with My Soul,” which is probably my favorite verse of any hymn. Shout out to Esther Anderson for providing the cellos!
Track #8: Life Noise
I wrote this song after attending an Andy Gullahorn house show in November 2017. I absolutely love his songwriting and I guess I was inspired by the way he seamlessly merges humor with dead seriousness in his songs. I wanted some levity. Plus, I’d written most of the songs for this project and had already aired out my pain and insecurities, but hadn’t talked about my fear of the songwriting process itself. It felt like a good fourth wall break in the album: a song about writing songs. One of my deepest desires in putting music out is to encourage and bear up underneath others with my songs the same way guys like Andy, Levi, My Epic, and Andrew Peterson have done for me. But the tension comes when the means I’m using to encourage necessitate vulnerability on my part, which is basically what songwriting is. I always fear the brutal honesty will cancel out the comfort. But then again, where are comfort and truth without vulnerability? And what comforter’s arms am I trying to usher people into? God’s? Or simply my own?
Track #9: Kalmar’s Song
I don’t want to spoil it, but Andrew Peterson has an incredible book series called The Wingfeather Saga. This song is entirely inspired by the third book in the series called The Monster in the Hollows. There’s a character in the book whose story resonated with me so deeply that I wanted to write a song around him. It was also a way to pay direct tribute to Andrew Peterson’s work. His music has had a bigger impact on me than anyone else’s and it’s the reason any of these songs exist. I feel like he’s discipled me with his music similar to how one of my pastors has discipled me with his friendship. It gave me the courage to start writing and the desire comfort others through my work the way I’ve been comforted through his.
Track #10: Lifted
The outro of “Kalmar’s Song” that I wanted separate from the track just so there weren’t three five-minute songs on the back half of the record. This one is all Allen Odell, my too-close-to-classify friend who produced this record and made all of this happen. If you like how this album sounds, thank him.
Track #11: On Fallen Things
There is a man named Paul David Tripp whose sermons really helped me grow during this period. I built this song around this one snippet of a sermon on YouTube. The moment I heard it I knew it had to be in a song. It also gave me an excuse to bless others with someone’s words that aren’t my own. It’s a personal respite to just sit back in the latter half of the song and listen to Tripp do his thing.
Track #12: Shaping Season
I wrote this three days after my mom entered ICU in January 2018. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was home alone. It was 3am, maybe 4, and I couldn’t sleep. This is the only song I’ve ever written in the middle of the night and I can’t tell you how it came about. I can only tell you that it did. At the time, I think I was trying so hard to process what was going on around me and wanted to condense the events of the last couple days into a song. The first verse is about the spiritual pep talk I got on the way to ICU. All I knew was things had taken a very sudden turn for the worst and my associate pastor drove me because I was so distraught I couldn’t see straight enough to drive myself. The second verse is about my family. I won’t get into it here, but there are stories about what the Lord showed us as a family in those times that are remarkable. I consider the chorus (“There is not a hole too deep for us…”) to be the thesis statement of the album, so it made sense to make this the title track. I consider it the centerpiece of both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 rather than the end of Vol. 1. And it’s blessed me to see the ways this song has already blessed others around me.
Track #13: Nosebleed
There is a place about 25 minutes away from home in the small suburb of Grayson, Georgia called Grayson Coffee House. This is where I did much of my studying for school, a good portion of my songwriting (both there and in the park across the street), and where I played my very first gigs around Gwinnett County. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. It’s also usually what I’m referring to when I talk about a coffee shop or doing coffee with a friend. This one particular time I was meeting there with my good friend Zach who had just come back from his mission field in Nepal (it might have been an accidental meet up because we both had a knack for studying there at the same time). We were having one of those much-needed iron-sharpening-iron kind of talks when my nose suddenly started gushing blood. Since we were outside, he had to run in to grab napkins and by the time he came out there was already blood all over my face. For the rest of the conversation, he kept having to interject where there was still a little blood that needed to be wiped off. I thought, “Life is like that sometimes,” and wrote a song about it. I don’t know where I’d be without faithful brothers walking me through my darkness and teaching me how to live. Many of my songs are built off of conversations, but this particular song is basically a compilation of many different ones. The concluding lines are both a paraphrase of 2 Peter 1:3 and based off a conversation I had with my associate pastor soon afterward (that faithful associate pastor who seems to keep coming up is named Jess Arnds by the way). The line about “chasing ghosts” is from a counseling practicum class I took online, where one of my class partners was counseling me for my anxiety and introduced me to that term. The first verse is where I started writing the song: my friend Gary’s house out in rural Jackson County, Georgia. He gave me that first line so I ran with it (Gary’s house is also where Allen and I recorded the stem for “Tax Day”—the only other recording place apart from our church and Allen’s house). This was also the last song I wrote for both Volume 1 & 2.
Two years ago when I began recording these songs with Allen, I never thought that I’d be releasing this album during a worldwide pandemic that would separate me from all of my friends. Some of these songs feel extra bittersweet because they remind me of times of suffering, but that suffering was done in community. Now it feels like all of that has been taken away. But it also feels appropriate that the Lord would place me in a position where I truly have to rely on Him as I put out a record that’s about just that. Be careful. If you pray for holiness, He will make a way. And that way is not always easy.
I’m looking forward to continuing the story (Lord-willing) within the next year. I’m really excited about this next batch of songs and a few of them are my very favorites on the entire project. If anything, I hope you enjoy the music itself. But my deepest prayer is that these songs invite you into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. He entered into the sin and death that looms over us only to conquer it and cast it off so far that it will be a distant memory. My pastor friend Jess recently said to me over the phone, “When we get home, the water we perceived to be up to our necks will have shown to barely touch our ankles.” If there’s one thing I want you to take from this record, or this blog post, it’s that. Paul wasn’t lying when he wrote in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The suffering is real. But the stories are true. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.