Like so many other artists and authors, Grammy Award winning praise and worship artist Laura Story found herself with a lot of time on her hands last year as the coronavirus pandemic came to fruition.
With concert dates and recording sessions at a standstill, Story asked God what she should do with this unexpected surplus of time. The answer came slowly but soon became crystal clear to her; write a book that demonstrates love, hope, and Jesus.
The end result is her third book, So Long, Normal. In its 240 pages, Story invites people to say goodbye to normal and hello to unshakeable faith. Along the way, she shares from the Bible, personal experiences from her own life, and a few stories from friends. Each and every illustration she makes points to the significance and vital importance of letting go of our plans and learning to trust God’s plan.
I recently spoke to Laura about why we crave normalcy in our lives, how longing for normal affects our everyday lives, and a few tips on how to “find our steady”.
What was the catalyst or the inspiration for writing So Long, Normal?
Well, I began the book in the midst of a pandemic. Everything I had scheduled had been canceled. Okay. Lord, what are you up to just in general? Our world has never seen anything like this before. And what are you up to specifically? What do you want me to do? How am I supposed to be spending this time? And so, the book really wasn’t at all true to me. I’d mastered as much of the promises of God that I was clinging to in the midst of what felt like my own little world and everyone else’s is falling apart. But the neat thing that I saw in the midst of this devastating situation where we’ve seen sickness and death, cancellation after cancellation of things that that we hold dear, we still see simply that God is at work.
And as I began to look more to the Scriptures then to social media and the news like everyone else was during the first few weeks, I realized that I am just this anxious frenzied person right now. And I felt like God began to call me back to himself and say, “No, no, no, it’s okay if you look to the news for information, but you need to be looking to My Word for formation.” And I began to see story after story about God doing these incredible works. In calling His people on these journeys of faith that actually began by calling them to leave their normal and what was familiar. And I thought, okay, God, you’re clearly up to something here, would you give me the faith to respond with an open heart to this, rather than just being anxious because of all the change.
Digging into the book a little bit, why do you think we crave normalcy in our lives? You just mentioned that the last year and a half has been anything but normal, but why do you think we crave normalcy in our lives?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for us to want stability. A lot of it’s our wiring. I’m not smart enough to tell you all of the psychological reasons, but what I do know is Scripture tells us that we were created for a garden. We were created for a garden where we would dwell with God and He would provide for every need. And we would have such deep intimacy with Him and each other. But what we see from the Fall is that was all changed, and creation was marred. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden. And so, once where they looked to a place for stability, for their normal, for their sense of acceptance and security, God can put together his plan of redemption, where we would begin as a people to look rather than to our circumstances for security, we look to Him as a person. We look to a person who is more stable and provides more security, more acceptance, and more validation than this world ever could. So, I think it’s understandable that we’re wanting that. I think it’s understandable that we would long for normal, for that acceptance and security. The beautiful news is that we have that in the person of Jesus, and a security that can never be changed even when our circumstances change.
We have been talking about how we naturally crave normalcy in our lives and how that goes right back to the Garden of Eden. So, from a broad sense, how does longing for normal affect our everyday lives?
I think I felt that even as early as elementary school or middle school. I just wanted to be normal. If Susie was wearing the latest, cool acid wash jeans, I wanted that. I want to be normal. I want to fit in. It’s not wrong to want acceptance, to want normalcy, or even to long for these things. But I think when we look to some sort of cultural status quo to bring us the validation, that really we can only find in the work of Jesus on the Cross, then we are really just going to be continuing to search our entire lives. This is because as soon as we get the acceptance from one crowd, or from one person, it’s based on our performance and we have to keep up that performance.
When we are looking to our jobs for that validation, we have to stay on top. We always have to be the best, and there’s no room for failure. But really, when you begin to look to God for that, when our place as His child and His family who was dearly loved, when that becomes enough for us, when it truly becomes enough, it’s almost like you can live with this freedom to fail, which is just a beautiful thing. But you also can let everyone else and everything else off the hook. Your kids become blessings that you enjoy rather than these offspring that you train. And then, all of a sudden your value is based on how well they live out the things you told them. And I feel less than when they don’t, but really if my validation is from the Lord, I can let everything and everyone else off the hook.
A key component of your book and something that I find found quite compelling is that you interviewed five people or couples who have “found their steady” despite a great deal of chaos in their lives. What do you mean by “found their steady”?
I identified some people, first of all, they’re heroes of mine. They are friends that I’ve been so encouraged by their faith. Anyone that claims to be a Christian, whether they label themselves this way or labeled by the world as a person of faith. But what I’ve found is, and I would include myself in this … so often there are people who are people of faith, but they’re not actually living out their faith. They’re great at trusting God until He tries to lead them in a way that they’re not wanting to go. And so, it was families that either experienced an enormous amount of change unwillingly, or maybe families that God was calling to take a big step away from normal, and how they had to trust God in such a unique and almost more tangible way than they ever had before.
You have this idea. Okay, I’m going to have greater faith. I’m going to trust God more. What does that really look like? Well, a lot of it is trusting the things that God has given us. We look to him as our steady, but He’s our steady through His Word. He’s our steady through His people. So, there were some stories where people were having to choose to believe God’s promises and God’s instruction over what the world was telling them. There were some people that were in such hard situations that they had to lean on God’s people in a greater way than they ever had before. In a culture like ours, that prizes independence and self-sufficiency, that’s a pretty big change. But the beauty is that God actually prizes the tendency as well. It’s in our weakness that He’s seen as the strong God that He is.
You have released a new single that sort of coincides with the new book called, “Hello Unknown”. What can you tell me about it?
It’s the very last chapter of the book. It’s been fun getting to end the book with a song. There’s a passage in Proverbs 31. Proverbs 31, if I can be very honest is the kind of a chapter I don’t reflect on often. I can so easily feel less than when I’m reading about this woman, who’s sewing her children’s clothes and threshing her own wheat. But there’s a line in there that says, “And she laughs at the days to come.” And it just stuck with me because I thought, man, if someone that knows me well, if they were to describe me, they would probably say, “And she rings her hands at the days to come.” Or, “She lies awake at night tossing and turning over the days to come.”
When you look at the brevity of life, I just finally got to the point of saying, I don’t want to be that person anymore. I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want the people around me to develop a small view of God because of how anxious I am about those next chapters to come. I don’t want God to have to give me the blueprint of every plan. I want to step into the adventure with Him simply because I trust Him. I trust His promises and I trust His character. I want to laugh at those days to come.
After people have read So Long, Normal what would you like these folks to get out of the reading experience? What is your greatest hope for this book?
The one thing that I always don’t want people to take out of it is, oh, that’s such a sweet story about how that girl lived out her faith. The whole reason for sharing anything about my life is to showcase how God’s promises intersect with our daily lives even today. With real life, with me, with my disabled husband, with my four kids, living in quarantine, trying to figure out what grocery store has toilet paper, that’s real life. And that is the day God wrote His true score. It’s not just that we need to see the Bible as being relevant, or His promises being relevant now. His Word needs to be the very air that we breathe. It’s so easy in a time of unrest. It’s so easy to constantly be looking so much to our news outlets and so much to social media for information.
If there’s anything that I want people to hear from this book, when you encounter something, when you encounter change, and you’re trying to figure out what comes next, or what do I do now that I’m saying goodbye to normal? Rather than looking to what’s ahead, a lot of times we just need to look through the Scriptures. We need to look to what’s already passed. Look at how God has been faithful to every generation, in every chapter of the church, and every chapter of our lives. And then we do that hard work of truly living out that faith, even in scary times, even in pandemic times, believing what God has planned. And that’s something worth being excited about.
Watch a Music Lyric Video for Laura Story’s Latest Single, “Hello Unknown”: