Is there a gap between your good intentions and your actions (or lack thereof)? Do you want to live boldly out of faith, yet struggle with what it means to protect and provide for your family in the process? Are you able to see the hand of Providence in the midst of what feels like the mundane? In her recently-released album, The Girl With Good Intentions, these are a few of the questions that Jenny Youngman unpacks and explores. The musical is beautiful. Her words are significant. This album has become a soundtrack in our home, forever marking the joys and challenges present in this season of life. Join me as we take a few minutes and hear from Jenny. (You’ll need to supply your own coffee.)
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You’re not just singing about the beauties and complexities in life, you’re living it. Could you tell us a little about your family, your community, and what your ‘everyday life’ looks like?
Well, I have four kids ages 4-10, so our everyday life includes a lot of laundry, dancing, laughing, crying, eating, cleaning, various schoolwork and after-school activities, and always deep exhales and high-fives at the end of every day. Truthfully, and I don’t say this to be grandiose, our life is full and busy and take-your-breath-away awesome a lot of the time. Sometimes my husband and I will simultaneously catch a moment of wonder at our kids or something about our lives and just melt in the moment of it. Then, the kids will start punching each other or break something and the moment is gone as quickly as it came! My husband is a pastor, so we live in a parsonage down the street from the church and our family life very much revolves around the work of the church. When my kids are in school, I think about creative things like songwriting.
The first time I heard the album, I was struck by the hope and prompting to look beyond my “little world” in The Half of It. Were there particular events that inspired that song?
That song is anchored to a sweet friend I’ve had for years. We had spent several long conversations dreaming about what God was up to in us. We wanted to feel a major significance in the world and we were sort of feeling like minivans and soccer fields couldn’t possibly be all that God had in mind for us. One of those times we were talking, she brought up an opportunity that she and her family had to move to Africa. Soon after that, they sold their house and practically everything else to become missionaries in Malawi. I can remember feeling completely excited for them and at the same time feeling kind of left in the dust, like “umm, hey God, I’m waiting for you to do something over here too! Pick me, pick me!” Then, the Lord just began to show me that you don’t have to go to Africa to have significance, that God is moving everywhere and invites us wherever we are to seek and find him. I love the line in that song that says, “everywhere I go there is beauty to behold, stories to be told, mystery to unfold.” That is really what God was showing me, that even right here in my house there is great significance happening and I don’t even know the half of it.
In Life on Purpose, you give a snapshot of living life in community. What role have those relationships played in your marriage, friendships, parenting, and journey with God through the years?
Community can be amazing and also a bit allusive. You kind of have to be intentional about making it happen and then name it so it feels like a real thing. As I write this it occurs to me that I have a few little clusters of “real community” that I have been intentional about over the years. The groups don’t really crossover much, but they have shaped me in their own ways. One of my brothers is married to my best friend and they live only ten minutes from our front door. We’ve been really intentional about family dinners and raising our kids together and loving one another well. I also have a small group of girls that I’ve met with for almost fifteen years now. We used to meet weekly, but now we’re kind of scattered and have families of our own; it’s hard to make time. I guess I have a deep need for connection with people; we all do, I think. Even the most introverted among us wants to feel some connection to others. These kind of relationships, the intentional kind, have made me a better wife, a better friend, a better parent, and a better Jesus-follower. God is relational and I think we’re wired for that kind of deep, intentional community that you have to put a little time and effort into, when it’s not just about what you can get out of it.
You’re gracious in sharing a difficult part of your story through Resilient. How did struggle in life impact your faith and reliance on the Father?
This song almost didn’t make it on the record because I was afraid of being too personal. But, my producer, Andrew Osenga, really pushed me to record it and keep it in the running and now I’m so glad I did. Without spilling my guts, I’ll say that my parents divorced when I was in the sixth grade and for better or worse, that event was a turning point in my story. We hear a lot about living a good story these days in books and conferences. It occurred to me that sometimes events in your story happen to you–the kind you wouldn’t have written for yourself. So then you have to figure out the next part. Like, are you going to let the unwelcome event wreck your story or let God write some twists and turns that lead you to a healing you didn’t know was possible? Those twists and turns led me to a great little university in Kansas where I would learn how to process the struggle and really rely on God. Jim Smith (The Good and Beautiful God and Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven) was my New Testament professor and adviser and he would always say that God isn’t in a swivel chair turning his face to you when he’s happy and turning away from you when he’s mad at you. God is always a good and loving Father who can be trusted. As a kid, you can’t help but wonder what you did wrong or why something like that is happening to you. In the last few years in various ways, I’ve been led to share my story with a few different young people in the same situation. I kept hearing myself say that whenever I felt like I had run out of grace, like bitterness was closing in, that grace always showed up. Then I started thinking about the idea of grace as a resilient thing, that you can’t make it go away and that it seems to show its face at just the right time. The song came easily after that and now it’s one of my favorites on the record.
A very real tension exists between the desire to protect our children (and ourselves) from the evil in the world and the call to live out of God-given strength, courage, and boldness. You address the shift from fear toward freedom in To Be Brave. What has living out of faith looked like for your family or in the lives around you?
Well, I would say that I wrote that song in the middle of the fears and am still aspiring to the freedom the song talks about. I haven’t quite arrived at bravery yet. There are just so many things to be afraid of! But Gary Haugen (IJM) says that Jesus never called us to be safe, he called us to be brave. That idea shook me up and made me think about what I’m doing and how I approach my life. I hadn’t ever looked at the world with eyes of bravery. I had been looking to see what I need to protect myself or my family from. So we definitely have a shift in our family perspective and are less quick to shut down ideas or dreams because of what bad thing might happen. I want us to have a ideas and dreams and bravely pursue them instead of listing all the reasons to put it aside. Our family is trying to do that–whether it’s creative pursuits, missions, or life changes–to be brave and trust that God will finish what he starts in us.
The Preacher’s Wife is a nod to the pastors’ wives in the crowd. What have been the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of your role as a preacher’s wife? What word of encouragement would you share those who are just entering into the early years of holding that role?
Yes, this song is for anyone who finds themselves in a fishbowl kind of life which is right up there in the most-difficult challenges list. The other difficult part is managing expectations, which is probably true for anybody. Some are my made-up expectations, what I think people want me to be, and some are unrealistic expectations some people have for women in my role. I have a lot of women pastor friends, so I always dedicate this song to their husbands and get a good laugh. On the rewarding side, it is so amazing to have such a close-up view of the ways God works in peoples’ lives. I love the way people invite us into their stories and trust us with their heart thoughts, griefs, and joys. For those who are early in their ministry, I would just say that you will never live up to any ideal pastor’s wife you create in your mind, especially if you had some “perfect” examples from your past. There’s no right way to do it except to be exactly who God made you to be and don’t try to be anyone else.
You worked closely with Andrew Osenga on this album. What was that experience like?
It was so great to work with Andrew, and I feel like I’ve grown so much from working with him. It’s a huge confidence boost when someone you look up to so much treats your songs like they’re his own. He really helped me work at every lyric and melody to get it exactly how I heard it in my head. On top of his musical mavericking, he is just a super nice and generous dude.
If folks could walk away from listening to this record carrying one thought with them, what would it be?
I definitely want to encourage people (including myself) to set aside our lists of good intentions and decide to do something. These songs helped me consider the difference between having intentions and being intentional. I have such good intentions to do great things, but I think having good intentions can leave ideas orbiting around our lives without any gravity to bring them down into our schedules. When we decide to be intentional, to really give ourselves to relationships, family, creativity, and justice, we’re more apt to actually do something good. I hope listeners will feel some freedom from fear because fear can be so suffocating to anything good we’ve got going on or want to do. Finally, I want us to remember that we were made by an awesome God and empowered by his Spirit to be brave. I hope people will explore what bravery looks like for them and go for it fearlessly when they figure it out.
Join me in listening:
The Places You Will Go
The Girl With Good Intentions is available here. Go ahead and buy a few for presents – your friends will be grateful that you did.
Want to bring Jenny to your area?
She is currently booking house shows, church concerts, and ministry events for 2013/2014.