In January of 2011 my dad and grandpa came to Nashville to help my brother build a studio apartment in his basement. Tyler and I currently rent that apartment and we were recruited to help with the build. I learned quickly that I am no whiz with a hammer, so I retreated upstairs to bake cookies.
While the cookies were in the oven I picked up my brother’s guitar and fiddled around a bit. I’ve been very inspired by Sandra McCracken over the past couple of years. She has the ability to tell a story in a clear, concise way, and truly paints a vivid picture for the listener. I’d just written Skyline Hill a few weeks earlier, and was really focusing on using imagery in my songwriting.
I had a vision of a girl chasing a red balloon down a dirt path. (I think that most of us visualize red balloons rather than blue or orange or green, etc. It’s rather intriguing.) The balloon was soaring faster and higher, and try as she might the girl couldn’t catch it. I’ve been dealing a lot with issues of failure over the past few years. I’ve been working so hard to be in a right relationship with God and people. I focus so much on what I can do to please God — I can never do enough. My journals are filled with the line, “When will I change?” I’ll decide that I want things to be different and I’ll do something like read my Bible everyday for a couple of weeks, thinking that having consistent time with the Lord is the best way to please God. Don’t hear what I’m not saying – I absolutely think that spending time in the scriptures is an important aspect of our faith. But I was putting my hope in the habit – not the word. Inevitably I’d miss a day or two and feel like a failure all over again. It was like I was running after a balloon that I could never quite reach.
I started thinking of other images that express my feelings of failure. My dad was in the Air Force for 25 years and when I was little we lived in Japan. We lived in a house on the air base and there was a big open space behind some of the houses where the kids in the neighborhood would meet up and play whiffle ball or tag. There was a big evergreen tree (at least it seemed big to my 5 year old eyes) that overlooked the space and I tried to climb it a few times. For some reason I had a fascination with climbing evergreen trees (I tried to climb one in the side yard of a house where we lived in Delaware too). I felt hidden inside the trees — It was my own secret place. Sometimes I would make it to the top of the tree, but most of the time I gave up after a while. It was just too big and I would grow weary in the climb.
That’s truly how I felt about my relationship with the Lord. I was trying so hard and ultimately growing weary. Songwriting is a way that I process my life and in that moment of writing I realized that I was going about things the wrong way. I was focusing so much on striving that I was losing sight of something important – abiding in Christ. I wasn’t resting in his love and grace, and in not doing so I was really living a self centered life. I was only thinking about myself and what I could do instead of the Lord and what he has already done. I realized while I was trying to hold on to the Lord’s hand he was holding onto me. It took a few months for Tyler and I to write the bridge to the song, “no one is able to steal what is in Your hands.” I think in part because it took me a while to actually believe it.
With the help of our friends at Yeah Yeah Creative we made a music video to Little Balloon. (YYC really did all of the work.) The video follows the journey of a balloon through the city of Nashville. He leaves a birthday party all alone and treks through the city, across the Cumberland River, through the rain and ultimately to a field filled with other balloons. He goes from a life of loneliness and despair — nearly deflating during a storm — to a place of fellowship and contentment. When the guys at Yeah Yeah Creative suggested the concept I thought it was a beautiful interpretation of the song. Tyler and I are so pleased with the result:
When Tyler came up from the basement that day I played him what I’d written. The song was a bit different then – the chorus ended differently and I’d inserted a few oh’s that really weren’t necessary. But we knew it had potential so I spent a good bit of time working on it for the rest of the week. I guess not being a talented builder was for the best.