“I gave up my pursuit of normal a long time ago,” writes worship leader and Christian music artist Laura Story in her new book, So Long, Normal: Living and Loving the Free Fall of Faith. Laura continues, “Surprisingly, I can say this without shame or regret.”
CCM: You begin your new book So Long, Normal, admitting that you gave up on normal a long time ago. How come?
Laura: Even though normal is this elusive thing we can’t often describe, I think when I set out in life, I assumed my life would be relatively normal. So, when I got married to my high school sweetheart and we started our lives together, it took us by complete surprise when Martin was diagnosed with a brain tumor 2 years into our marriage. And so, even though we were kind of aiming for a normal newlywed season, it was nothing of the sort. For the past 17 years of marriage, we have had to become acclimated to a new normal, and that’s living life with a long-term disability and that Martin must live a life with a brain injury. And that’s hard logistically, but it’s also hard on your faith. My life was looking so different than I expected.
And so, whether someone’s departure from normal is due to a health issue or something completely different, every single one of us has something that’s happened to us where our life looks different than the “normal” that we expected.
CCM: What was it about wrestling with the “contradictions of normal” that compelled you to write this book?
Laura: Well, I began the book about a month after the big news of COVID shut our worlds down. I had been planning for what would be my normal spring and fall—touring, my kids going to school, my family doing various things with various people. Suddenly it was gone. And the thing that was interesting to me was even though I would say I’m a person who is grounded in my faith and grounded in my relationship with the Lord, I was majorly rocked.
And I don’t say that apologetically because I know that a lot of people experienced that. It’s not even wrong to be shaken by such a drastic change of circumstances, but it really caused me to say, “Okay, what am I truly grounded in?” Even though I say that my solid foundation in life is my faith and my relationship with God. . .why am I so shaken when the things of this world shake, if I say that I’m grounded in an unshakeable God?
And so as I began trying to look through the scriptures more than I was listening from the voices of the media or the voices of even well-meaning friends. I wanted to hear from God and just said, “Okay God, what are you trying to teach me right now with the removal of all these things, all these changes that I didn’t expect?” And that was the very beginning of the book.
CCM: Why do we yearn for rituals and a sense of normal in our lives? Does it really date back all the way to the garden of Eden?
Laura: You know, there’s nothing wrong with liking to have a plan in place or liking for there to be familiar, comfortable things in life. So much of what does our heart good—that stability, family, and sense of community—aren’t all bad things. But to begin to understand why we really crave these things, it’s important to understand that we were created for the Garden.
When we look back in Genesis one, two and three, you see God creating Adam and Eve, and then immediately putting them in a place of stability. Well, unfortunately, because of our sin and because of the fall, they were cast out of that garden. But the beautiful thing, the adaptive truth that we see here is, that even though we forfeited that place of security, God himself has always been a person of security.
One of my favorite passages that really highlights this is Psalm 90. The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness and they’re like, “We have no home, we have no security, we have no stability.” And then Moses pens these words and says, “Lord, you are dwelling. You are our dwelling place. You are our God, from generation to generation.”
This is a reminder that even though things in life may change, we were created for stability and for security and for significance and value and all of that. And even when the things around us give way, we have a God who says, “Find that security in me. Find that stability and value in me.”
CCM: What are the five things that every believer must examine their attachments to and why is it so important to leave any faulty foundations behind?
Laura: This is a great question. And, you know, there are so many things that we tend to be attached to in this world. And they’re not even bad. It’s just we have to be careful that our attachment isn’t misplaced (I’ll explain a little bit more that in a second), but every person is born with that need for stability and security, which makes sense because of how God created us. But so often we tend to look for that in the opinions of others or in the situations and circumstances around us. Maybe we want a future that looks similar to the past that we had, or maybe it’s a certain lifestyle that we’ve grown accustomed to, or a lot of us won’t take risks because it’s unknown. The future is unknown just by definition!
But the point is that we don’t want these things of life to keep us from experiencing this exciting, unknown adventure that God invites us on. And so, when you are attached to certain people, are attached to a vocation that you love, or a geographical location you enjoy living in, or a lifestyle you’ve lived in for a while that you have grown accustomed to—these aren’t bad things, but when they become our foundations we need in order to feel secure and stable in life, we realize that we’ve actually distorted our relationship to those things rather than simply accepting them as blessings that we enjoy. They become necessities that we need. We don’t enjoy them. We need them. We don’t enjoy people. We need those people rather than saying, “Okay, my security, stability, and value is found in the Lord. It’s found in what God’s word says about me, so I can let everyone else off the hook. My husband doesn’t have to validate me. I can simply enjoy him as the blessing he is as a spouse. My kids and their behavior don’t have to validate me. They don’t have to be perfect. I can actually be the shepherd of their hearts that God’s called me to be. I can be open to any job, whether it’s a high paying/high-power job or a more menial job. I can be open to any of it. Because I’m not looking to a vocation for my validation.”
CCM: An interesting feature of this book is that you interviewed five individuals or couples who have, to coin your term, “found their steady” in very chaotic circumstances. What do you mean by that term? Tell us a little about those interviews. Who were some of your interviewees, and what did you learn about the gains of saying goodbye to normal from hearing their stories?
Laura: Probably one of my favorite things I got to do in this book is interview some friends of mine, people that I truly admire for living, Boldly! Saying “hello” to the unknown and saying “so long” to normal.
I had a friend who’s family decided to sell everything they had and buy an RV and tour the country. It wasn’t planned. It was just an opportunity that they had. And they just experienced God in a new enriched way. I had another friend that their saying “so long, normal” was when she invited her elderly mom, who was beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, to come and live with their family. Another friend of mine who had five kids already, through a crazy situation ended up adopting five more. They really felt like it was what God wanted them to do.
In each situation, it was them being willing to step into something that seemed a little crazy at first, but they were so sure that God wanted them to. They didn’t want to be held back just because of their fear or just because they couldn’t necessarily see how all of it was going to pan out. And so, I loved getting to share their stories and those are just a few of many stories that I got to share. But I think the reason I love it the most is because I believe that God is so glorified. Not just by his word and by his truth, but when we showcase it, his word and his truth, in our lives and in the decisions that we make, we’re not just sharing our faith with other people through the expository word. We’re sharing our faith by the way that we live.
And that’s what I saw in my friends.
CCM: With his permission, you share a funny story about your husband, Martin, that illustrates an important point in the book: “Jesus came not just to change who we are but how we see things. Because of Jesus, you and I now have a new lens through which to view ourselves, others, and the world.” First of all, what’s that story? and then we’ll talk about the point a little more in-depth.
Laura: I’m pretty sure the story you’re referring to is of Martin getting back into playing baseball. After his tumor, Martin still had all of the physical ability and the mental capacity to do what he had done before with coaching baseball. He’d grown up playing baseball, played in college, and was a really great ball player. The only problem was his vision was so affected by the tumor that he now had double vision and a depth perception issue. And so, when he was getting back out with some of these young guys and coaching them, he knew all the answers. He knew all the stuff to tell them to work on with their stance. But when it actually came to throwing the ball and catching the ball. . . he said he remembers the first time he threw the ball and it went fine. And then someone threw the ball back at him and he saw two of them and wanted her to turn around and run! The reason I share that story, first of all, becauseI just love that about Martin.
And it just makes me laugh every time I think about it. But the truth is, it’s our view of things that really changes who we are and how we see things. It’s when we begin to view life as an adventure and not as this scary thing (that we must know all the answers to and have the plan for how it’s going to look) that we are able to be bold in walking forward.
It’s trusting, God’s so much, that we get the excitement and the wonder of not knowing, but we have the security of knowing the person who was writing our story is someone who loves and cares for us more than anyone in the world.
CCM: Looking through that new lens is easier said than done, isn’t it? Especially in a world where just about everything that Christians say and believe is under attack. How can we as God’s people develop more compassion for others—especially those who oppose us—in a culture that treats “attack mode” as normal?
Laura: This is a great question. The new lens we’re talking about is believing that every single person walking this earth is created in the image of God. It doesn’t mean we’re going to get along with every person. It doesn’t mean everyone’s going to be nice to us. It just means that we’re acknowledging that this person has dignity because they were created by God and in his image.
I don’t think there’s a magic answer for everyone to come together to get along better. People who have opposing views, some of those things can’t be reconciled in conversations, but the truth is our first step should be listening.
I have a friend that gives 4 Ls. He says, you need to listen, you need to learn, you need to lament when necessary, and you need to love.
I feel like so many of our problems begin because when you’re listening to someone that’s different from you, you’re spinning that whole time. You’re preparing an argument for how you’re going to disagree with their point, rather than actually listening to them and seeking to understand and learn whether you are right or not.
So often when people are sharing their experience, they’re sharing it because they’re passionate about something that’s happened in their life. And so often, it’s our inability to acknowledge that hurt or to acknowledge that the feelings they’re having are legitimate.
CCM: You write, “Though the life Jesus calls us to is a life with trials, we are never left untethered.” What do you mean when you refer to Christians having “a tethered life”?
Laura: Oh yeah. This is a good one.
I use the word tethered because one of the illustrations I’ve used a lot in the book is the picture of someone zip lining. I had to zipline when I first came on staff with my church and it was such a grueling experience! I’m someone that does not like heights and doesn’t normally like doing incredibly daring things.
In the book, I tell this story of climbing up to the top of the tower. You have this lanyard that hooks to this rope, and basically you have to take the step of unclipping yourself from one spot and hooking it on to the actual zip line. There was a Wrangler of the ropes course up there, and he was doing this for me, and I’m just clinging to him just for dear life. He could tell I was just so anxious about this so he said to me, “Laura, here’s what I need you to know. I can tell you this line will hold a two-ton truck and that you don’t need to worry. But I know that that’s not what is going to put your mind at ease.” He said, “The truth is courage is not about the absence of fear. Courage is about acknowledging that fear and taking a step forward anyway.”
The reason I love the zip line analogy is once you take that step, that terrifying step that feels like you’re free-falling just for a second, the rope catches and the rope holds you while you’re gliding and soaring because it doesn’t matter that there’s nothing beneath your feet. You are tethered to something stronger than you. As believers, we are never left untethered. We are always securely in the hands of a loving God.
CCM: Talk about where the adventure starts. What four words signal that, and what would you say to someone who is feeling like God is calling them to something that is too big? Something they don’t feel equipped for?
Laura: God is often in the business of intentionally calling us to things that we don’t feel equipped to do. And that’s where faith comes in.
As we are looking at something, we might know that it’s too big for us and I’m not talking about taking on a massive job or starting a huge ministry.
Maybe the thing that’s too big for us is forgiving that person who seemed to have done the unforgivable to us. Maybe our faith adventure begins with saying, okay, God, this is bigger than what I know myself capable to do. I don’t have as much patience. I don’t have this much wisdom. I don’t have the strength that this will take, but I believe that you do.
I love the book of John. He writes a lot about abiding and in John 5:5 Jesus says, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” So in this, we realize that God never sends us out on these faith journeys to do it on our own strength. He actually says, “you’re gonna fail miserably if you try this on your own strength, but if you stay plugged in, we truly can go out and do something extraordinary together.”
CCM: How did coming to that place where you were willing to say “So long, normal” lead to the song “Hello, Unknown”?
Laura: I’d say leaving normalcy behind or being willing to let go of normal are really just two sides of the same coin. So often, we long to be used by God to do something greater and we’re excited about the future, but we don’t like the unknown nature of it.
We know that God has a plan for our lives, so the first step is us letting go of our preconceived notions about what our life would look like. And it’s not just a willingness to think outside the box—I don’t want to sound as if it’s that simple. However, sometimes it is that simple. You have to think “If I believe that God can do exceedingly and abundantly more than I can think or ask, then what are the preconceived ideas about my future that I need to let go of in order to embrace this new, exciting thing that he’s going to do in my life or through my life?”
When we’re able to say “so long” to normal, “so long” to comfort and familiarity, that’s when we’ll really gain the open hands that we need and move toward the exciting future God has in store for us.
CCM: Where can people learn more about you and find your book?
Laura: My website is www.laurastorymusic.com and you can follow me on any social site except Tik TOK. I’m not cool enough to be on Tik TOK. I’m too old for that stuff.
As for finding my book—it’s available anywhere books are sold. Also, I have a bunch in the trunk of my car, so just hunt me down and I’ll have a book for you.
No but seriously, we really would love for you all to get in touch with us and tell us what you think about the book. Tell us ways that we can share some of the stories in a more creative way. We always love hearing back from people to see if we’re really hitting the mark because the reason why I do any of this—the reason why I write songs, write books, any of that—is just to be a good steward of the story that God’s given me. Thanks again for letting me share a little bit about So Long, Normal.