Dove Award-winning singer-songwriter Laura Story recently released her first Christmas album, “God With Us,” and she’s the perfect person to sing about the joy and light that Jesus brings because she was in desperate need of it several years ago. Her husband Martin was diagnosed with a brain tumor and experienced complications post-surgery that left him with lifelong short-term memory problems.
It was a dark time through which Laura struggled to adapt to this new day-to-day reality and questioned the plans she thought God had for her life. But as happens with a lot of people who view life through the lens of faith, Laura grew closer to Jesus and gained new perspective on broken dreams. She shares her story and insights in the memoir “When God Doesn’t Fix It” – and sings about the joy of Jesus’s coming on “God With Us.”
Laura recently joined me on “Christopher Closeup.” Here’s an edited version of our conversation. (The full podcast is below).
Tony Rossi: What prompted you to want to make a Christmas album?
Laura Story: I’m on staff at a church called Perimeter Church in Atlanta, and I’m responsible for their Christmas Eve service every year. So I have the privilege of seeing literally thousands of people come to our church. People in our community that aren’t interested in spiritual things any other time of the year are looking for places to come and celebrate Christmas. I thought, ‘What an opportunity for these people to hear the life-changing news of the Gospel, of why Jesus did come, of what it means that the Word became flesh to dwell among us.’ So for me, the making of this CD is an extension of that.
TR: We all need reminders that there’s more to the holiday than lights and presents, as wonderful as those things are. Have you witnessed that distraction from the true meaning of the season in your own life?
Laura Story: As much as you want to think of the spiritual side of [Christmas], there’s presents to buy and you make plans with the family and no one’s really happy with balancing the in-laws and all the different visits. And then everyone sits down together and opens up presents and you unwrap the sweater you don’t really like and you smile and say, “Oh thanks, this is great!” Then you think, “Man, I hope the receipt’s in this box.” (Laughs) But last year, my little girl Josie was two, and the twins were eight weeks old. Seeing the look on Josie’s face as she began to experience all of this, really, for the first time – whether it was dressing the tree or singing Christmas carols or unpacking the Nativity scene. Her eyes would light up as I’d tell her about these characters. It was convicting for me, realizing how I’ve lost the wonder of it all. And that’s been my greatest prayer, both with the album and for me personally, is that I wouldn’t ever lose the wonder of what it means that a child born a king was born in a stable and lay in a manger, just remembering the miracle that it really was.
TR: You’re also the author of a new book called “When God Doesn’t Fix It: Lessons You Never Wanted to Learn, Truths You Can’t Live Without.” And I have to tell you, this book is a page-turner. I wasn’t familiar with the details of this story, so tell us a little about the health situation that serves as the basis of this book.
Laura Story: About two years into our marriage, my husband Martin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We went from picking out our china patterns to sitting with a neurosurgeon hearing about the surgery that Martin needed and that it was possible Martin would wake up and not remember anything about his life before. I will never forget seeing him that first moment after his initial surgery. As soon as our eyes met, he looked at me and said, “Laura Story! What are you doing here?” (Laughs) Which was my first indication that he knew exactly who I was; he just didn’t know that we were married.
The book talks about that journey of not just the highs and lows of him being in the hospital and relearning so much and how hard that was logistically. It also talks about how we as believers can face disappointments or face what might seem like detours in our lives and still work those out leaning on our faith…It was a struggle, but it also was a process. And it’s a choice every day. We have to choose whether or not we’re going to evaluate our God based on our circumstances – or choose to evaluate our circumstances based on what we’ve always held to be true about our God. If we choose to do the latter, I think that’s the very essence of faith. It’s saying, “God, I’m going to trust You in the midst of the valleys, I’m going to trust You in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the unknown.” I believe that, in some way, all of Scripture speaks to that very motive. It talks about the peace that passes all understanding. It talks about a joy that we can have despite our circumstances changing. And it’s not wrong to pray for a change in circumstances. I pray every day that my husband will receive healing. And right after I pray that, I say, “Okay God, will You open my eyes to the opportunities we have today in the midst of the waiting?”
TR: You just mentioned prayer, and I know that in one part of the book you mention that there was a period when the most you could pray was the words, “Help me, God.” You couldn’t get into it as deeply as you like to. Did you consider that your taking care of your husband and devoting all that time to him in selfless love – that that was implicitly an act of praise to God?
Laura Story: I think so. I had grown up going to church, and as a high school student doing these long, in-depth Bible studies, also in college. Then, during this time with Martin, I didn’t have the bandwidth to seek after God in the way that I had before. We were in the hospital and I was taking care of him. Then after he got out of the hospital, I was taking care of him 24/7 and I didn’t have time to sit before the Lord for hours. What I found is that even in those moments when we don’t have whatever capacity to seek after God, He never stops seeking after us. Even though there were days when me holding onto my faith wasn’t as tight, what I found was that my faith was actually holding onto me. That makes all the difference in the world.TR: You also write that you had always been self-reliant, but as we get older we realize there are some things we can’t do by ourselves. How important was the kindness of others in getting you through this whole experience with Martin?
Laura Story: Oh wow, that’s such a great question. We did experience the church in a new way. I think growing up, church is a place that we would go. And with Martin in the hospital, we couldn’t go to church – but the church came to us. We had people that did everything from bringing us meals to helping sit with Martin through the night during some of those really hard nights so I could get some rest – and people that would go to our home and literally clean our toilet. It was amazing to see the hands and feet of Jesus coming around and serving us. And I think the lesson to be learned there isn’t just, “We have a great church.” I think it’s that God never created us to live as Lone Ranger Christians. It’s experiencing the love of Christ through each other. I can’t tell you how many people [we know] that aren’t Christians who commented on how well our church family loved us – and that’s what made the Gospel and the love of God attractive to them. It was seeing that love displayed to our family.
TR: As heavy as the topic is in the book, there are lots of moments that are actually funny, too. I love the one when Martin, in his innocence, was telling people that he used to star in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” (laughter) Those moments of humor, were they an emotional and spiritual balm for you?
Laura Story: Absolutely. If you were to know us, we’re not very serious people. Whatever life throws at us, we’re gonna have fun with it regardless – and this was kind of like that. Martin…is always the positive guy, which makes it okay to laugh at some of these things. Martin fortunately has enough cognitive ability to actually laugh at himself. But some of the stuff really is – it’s therapeutic to laugh through it…God has many seasons of tears as well, but that’s just life for you. It’s finding the joy, even in the midst of a sorrowful season.
TR: If anybody listening is facing some kind of situation where they have to reinvent the life they had planned, is there a first step you would recommend them taking?
Laura Story: There’s a story in John 9 where Jesus and the disciples are walking by a blind man. The disciples are so hung up on why this man has been born blind. They’re asking, “Why, Jesus?” And Jesus’s response is that “So the glory of God might be displayed.” And it sounds like a funny answer to receive because He doesn’t really say why. And at the end of the day, we know from Scripture – I think it’s Romans 5 that tells us the reason bad things happen, the reason why the man was born blind, the reason why Martin had the brain tumor, all of that is because, through the fall, sin and death entered into this world. And that’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth that the Scriptures give us.
But if we stick to [only asking] ‘why,’ I feel that we don’t gain the traction that God is wanting us to gain. At some point in time, I always encourage people to go from that ‘why’ question to more of a ‘how’ question: how might God’s glory be displayed in this moment? How might He use this trial to build my faith? How might He use that chaos to solidify that peace in my heart that only He can give me? How might He use these jarring, temporal circumstances to show us the importance of having eternal security? The list goes on and on. I think the point is getting past ‘why did this happen to me’ because God doesn’t promise that we’ll have an answer this side of heaven.
TR: I like the fact that you admit this journey of faith is really that: it’s a journey, it’s a process. It’s not like, ‘Laura Story’s a Christian, she sings on stage, she knows everything and she’s got the whole thing together.’ You admit you’re still learning along the way.
Laura Story: Well, if you were to ever meet me in person, you would know that I certainly am so much still in process. I think about Philippians. It talks about He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.’ And I wake up every day saying, “Thank You, God. I’m so glad that You’re okay with me being in process.” I’m always [telling] other Christians that we’re not supposed to wait until we have it all figured out in order to share our stories with others. We’re in process, and other people who are in process want to hear from us even if we’re just a few steps further down the road than they are. It’s not about getting to the finish line, then telling our stories; it’s about being willing to share the most broken chapters of our lives, even when we don’t have that happy ending. I think that’s what true ministry is.
Laura Story: The title “God With Us” is more than just a nice Christmas platitude. The fact that I have not walked through life alone has made all the difference in my life. Even in the most lonely season, God has been with me because of that thing that happened 2,000 years ago when He saw how desperate humanity was and how in need we were of a savior. He sent Jesus not just to take away this problem of sin, even though that was His primary purpose – but so that we would never have to be alone again. I think about Christmas specifically. Some people think they’re alone. And some people spend Christmas with family and friends and still feel alone. So no matter what people are facing this holiday, I want them to remember that the Word truly did become flesh and dwelt among us so that we could feel His comfort and joy.
(To listen to my full interview with Laura Story, click the podcast link):