Somewhere just north my 30th birthday I started to realize how much I was hiding. The pressures of trying to appear young, fit, and beautiful all the time as a major label artist had me hiding behind spray tans, sequin shorts, and hair extensions. The pressure of having a reputation as a “strong Christian girl” had me hiding the very serious problems in my marriage from even my closest friends. And the pressures I put on myself to “have it all together” often kept me hiding from myself about what was really going on in my life.
This “perfect on the outside” facade is like a family heirloom at times—especially in the South. We pass it down generation to generation and never deal with what’s really happening on the inside. My family is no exception. As my brother turned to drugs (mainly opiates) as a way to deal with the disconnect on the inside; I turned to perfectionism. And I don’t mean the kind of perfectionism that you put on your resume as one of your fake “weaknesses” hoping your future boss will be impressed with how type-A you are. I mean the kind of perfectionism that keeps your heart at a distance and keeps relationships even further as you build the growing facade of how outstanding your life is. The Instagram version of what’s actually going on.
The first major chink in the armor was when my brother, Grant, died of an overdose in 2008. The second was when my parents—married for just short of 40 years, separated in 2013 and divorced in 2015. Enter “Church Clothes.”
“Last week when you packed a suitcase and came close to getting your own place, oh that’s the stuff that nobody knows when we’re wearing our Church Clothes.”
Have you ever heard a song and thought it was pointing right at you? That’s how I felt when I first heard the demo recording of “Church Clothes.” It was my life at that time. My marriage. My parents’ marriage. Everything seemed to be crumbling around me, and this song told the truth about it—without even know it. My manager and I reached out to the writers and publishers and begged them to let us have the song. As a singer-songwriter who writes most of my own material, it’s a big deal to record something I didn’t write. But it’s also important to me. As a songwriter, I want the best songs Nashville has to offer to get heard. And sometimes, something is so personal, I almost couldn't have written it myself. At least not then in the middle of it.
I began performing “Church Clothes” out in my live shows, and something started happening. Everyone was asking me about this song. Fans were writing to tell me their own “Church Clothes” stories. Even if it was something as small as, “I had a big fight with my boyfriend on the way to a party, and then acted like we were the perfect couple all evening.” Or bigger things like being the kid in the backseat on the way to church and watching parents duke it out before breezing in the sanctuary doors. The song connected with the people that heard it, and it made them reach out and tell me about it. Nearly every day from when I first started performing it in 2013, until we finally were able to release it last month someone has written me about that song on social media or in person. Why? I think because it’s so very truthful.
I found “Church Clothes” in a moment when I just couldn’t fake it anymore. I was so hungry to be known, so tired of keeping up appearances, and ready to be honest. Life is hard. It’s sad. It’s beautiful. It’s fun. It’s fleeting. It’s all of those things. And I needed to start acknowledging the power owning that for myself. And telling the truth about my own story. I’m not talking about false intimacy. Where you spill all the juicy details to get a reaction, or the “feeling” of closeness. I’m talking about sharing the truth in a real way with people that care about you, and are trustworthy to not judge you. When you tell the really hidden truths about your life, you need a safe place to do it. But here’s the thing: intimacy is a two way street. And as you start to share what’s really going on in your life with those around you, they feel permission to tell the truth about their own.
I’m not asking you to air all your dirty laundry. I’m not asking you to be a reverse exhibitionist with the details of your life. But I am telling you that in my experience you hurt yourself and others when you hide. And then you continue to live under the lie that you’re uniquely broken. Or uniquely messed up. You’re not. You’re probably just a regular old human.
So here’s the invitation with “Church Clothes”: whether you’re married or not, whether your “church” has a steeple or not: you can drop the facade. People will still love you. In fact, they may like you even more, because you’ll be one of the few people they know they don’t have to “impress.”
I gotta be honest: I still love spray tans, sequin shorts and most of all extensions (long hair don’t care) but I also know what they are. They’re my costume for my job—a job that I LOVE doing. They’re my armor when I go out on stage. They’re my “Church Clothes.” But they aren’t “me.” And that’s a pretty big difference.
For more on the creation of “Church Clothes,” check out the clip below of me, producer Jason Lehning, and writers Liz Rose and Nicolle Galyon talking about the song itself.