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SO AM I (album)


I wrote and recorded this album during the 14-month life of our forth child, Olivia.

01 SO AM I




I began writing this song years before Olivia was born and then put it aside. At the time, I worked in the Church. I felt frustrated with the way church-culture seemed to set aside humanity in order to elevate Christianity. To me, that never felt right. I have always felt like God's deepest desire is to restore our humanity, not to cover it with something else.

After 30 years in the Church—15 of them part of its leadership—I found myself longing for a more simple and more human exchange. That's how "So Am I" began—as an example of a conversation that, to me, felt more true, more basic, and more human.

I ended up throwing the song out because I didn't want to just write a song about a problem I saw. It didn't feel helpful.

A couple of years later I found myself sitting on the bed in our bedroom, holding Olivia skin-to-skin during a particularly long day of just. sitting.

We couldn't do anything. We just took care of Olivia, kept our other kids alive, and—once in a while for a few minutes—took care of ourselves with a shower or a peaceful coffee. In order to take care of Olivia, we had to let go of everything. So we did. And here I was, sitting all day in bed with my daughter. While I sat, my hopes and dreams about all I would be and accomplish faded away.

I'd always measured my worth by my productivity. Now, I was no longer "productive”. No one saw me. I was no longer on a stage. I was just in this room. Sitting. I felt like I had disappeared. I'd lost all of my usefulness to the world. I just sat.

As I sat there with my daughter—a girl who was deemed "incompatible with life”... a girl who could not hold up her own head or even breath right... a girl who would never do a single "productive" thing—I realized we were the same.

“Incompatible” with life. Yet, very much alive.

Olivia may be the most alive person I have ever known. She did not live the length of time we expect a person to live. She did not accomplish the things we expect a person to accomplish. But she was definitely alive, and the way she lived changed the way I live. She was all her—no one else, nothing else... she just was. She breathed in. She breathed out. She smiled. She cried. She loved, and she was loved. She was anything but incompatible with life. She embodied it. She was beautifully alive.

And so was I.

We're still here. We're breathing out. We're breathing in. We're alive. And maybe life is still ahead.

When Olivia passed away, my wife and I were broken. We could hardly pull ourselves out of bed. I wanted to die. Our daughter was gone and the pain of her loss was too much to carry. The most we could do during those months was to allow ourselves to breathe—not an easy thing to do. But we were breathing. In and out. Even though we were in the worst pain of our lives, we were no less alive than ever before. In fact, we may have been more alive than ever before. Looking back, I now can see that we were beautifully alive. And as my wife and I sang these words at concerts, I couldn't believe how true the words had become for us:

We're still here. We're breathing out. We're breathing in. We're alive. And maybe life is still ahead.

After more of these concerts, I realized that many of our friends were grieving with us. The concerts became a place for us to share those moments of grief together. And as my wife and I sang these words, I looked up and realized that the original purpose of this song had come to being.

We're still here. We're breathing out. We're breathing in. We're alive. And maybe life is still ahead.


02 OLIVA







03 INCH OF WATER



My whole life I’ve felt like time is running out—like there is a bear behind me, chasing me through my life. No time to stop. No time to slow down. No time to think. No time to breathe.

I wrote this song several months into Olivia’s life. Like most of my songs, I was thinking of some other person who needed to hear these words, when it was obviously what I needed to hear.

You have wings. You’ve always had them.

During Olivia’s life, we had to constantly remind ourselves that we weren’t going to die. It felt like we would. And even though Olivia would at some point die, in that moment she was alive… and so were we.

Even before Olivia, I’ve always been afraid to slow down. “The bear is behind me.”

It’s a useful trick. If someone wanted to render my life useless, all they would need to do is put the idea in my head: “A bear is behind you… time is running out… you’re going to die.”  I better run. I better not slow down.

It’s ironic how an actual life-or-death situation can jolt us out of our day-to-day, habitual state of fight-or-flight. Olivia forced us to slow down. I suppose we could have run even faster, but we didn’t want to miss her life, so we slowed down. We stopped.

In our stopping we realized the truth:

Time is not running out. There is not someone chasing you down. You are not going to drown.

What I found in the slowing down, though, is that I don’t run only because I truly believe there is a bear chasing me. Even if I know there is no bear, I don’t know how to stop. I’ve been running this way for so long. I don’t know any other way to be.

It’s become a habit, this running—this day-to-day state of flight-or-flight. Something in me doesn’t want to let that go—it’s too scary… it’s too painful.

But we weren’t made to live like this. We have wings. We were made to fly.


04 REST IN YOU



I recorded this the day before Olivia passed away.

We had experienced so much pain and trauma and sleep-deprivation for those fourteen months. As I recorded these words, I had no idea that the end of that road was coming so soon.

When the road is long, when all hope is gone, in our suffering we will rest in You.

This recording is so valuable to me—it’s the very last thing I recorded with Olivia in my home. She was just upstairs while I recorded. The air I breathed to sing these words is the same air she breathed that day. I love that.



SO AM I (book)


I wrote this book during Olivia’s life—it starts from the day she was born and ends the day she passed away.

This book is not about what happened on the outside (although I did include a journal entry for each month Olivia was alive to help fill in the story). This book is about what was happening inside me during these moments, and a condensing of the lessons I learned about life, living, and letting go from Olivia.

The theme of this book, as was the theme of our lives during these 14 months, is rest in the midst of uncertainty.

We found out about Olivia’s condition while Heather was pregnant with her. The following months were a blur of doctor visits, sonograms, meetings with specialists and grief counselors, planning for the day Olivia would be born… the day we would say goodbye.

Everything was planned. I had a picture in my head. They said there would be a person there with a basket—that when we were ready, they would place her in that basket and take her away. I wondered what it would feel like after that. Would we stay at the hospital for a while? How would the drive home feel?

It turns out that sometimes Trisomy 18 babies do survive birth. Sometimes they even come home for a while. I guess they figured they’d prepare us for the worst. Whatever “worst” is. “Worst” is definitely not synonymous with “most difficult”.

Olivia came home. The following 14 months were full of the most difficult moments of my life. They were also full of the most beautiful ones. They were full of life.

Olivia, a baby girl deemed “incompatible with life”, brought a full lifetime’s worth of life into these short 14 months.

Olivia, a baby girl, deemed “incompatible with life”, redefined life for me and my wife and family.

This book is my best attempt at sharing that life with you. And what I couldn’t fit into words, I poured into music.

As you read the book—as you listen to the music—please let yourself return to where you are. Notice it. And notice that while my story is unique to me, it is also universal—it is your story as well. We all have our own path to walk; we are all on the same journey, somehow.

THANK YOU for traveling these 14 months with me.



DANCE AGAIN (book)


I wrote this book during the months following Olivia’s passing—it starts from the day she died and ends the day our 5th child, Benjamin, was born (about 14 months later).

This book is not about what happened on the outside (although I did include some journal entries to help fill in the story). This book is about what was happening inside me during these moments, and a condensing of the lessons I learned about grief and healing.

The theme of this book is rest in the midst of pain.

On one hand, we had known since before she was born that Olivia would not live long—she was deemed “incompatible with life” due to a chromosomal defect called Trisomy 18. On the other hand, she had lived for 14 months. Around month five, we stopped expecting her to die at any moment. We learned to be with her while she was live. With that decision came the risk—the certainty—of much greater pain whenever it was her time to go.

On March 11, 2016—a beautiful, warm, spring day—Olivia died, unexpectedly. I’m still processing that day. I remember the weather. I remember the way Olivia felt heavy in my arms. I remember the tears of our friends. I remember the blood-red sunset.

I remember the basket—I had been dreading that basket for a year and a half.

I remember praying as a family over Olivia. I remember knowing there was no good prayer to pray, but trying anyway. I remember the feeling after the basket left our front door and the door was closed: like the biggest wave had come and gone… the emptiness of its wake. It was peace… and it was sadness. It was heartbreak… and it was victory.

It was grief… and it was healing.

The following months were possibly even more difficult than the previous ones. My wife and I were slowly deconstructed until all that remained was a pile of parts on the floor.

All I wanted was to get up—to put myself back together. But I could feel a quiet presence (I still feel it now) of a physician, working. Just as my wife was stitched together 14 months earlier after delivering Olivia, just as my daughter was stitched together in her mother’s womb before that, someone was stitching me back together. Quietly. Patiently. Working. Healing.

My battle during these months—and the main focus of this book—was to allow myself to be healed. Even as I type this, I’m overwhelmed by the pain of staying on that operating table—of not jumping up and becoming occupied for the sake of my sanity and sense of whole-person-ness.

My wife and I had a very difficult decision to make on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute, basis: will I settle for an external image of wholeness, or will I wait for real healing to happen inside? The first path was faster. Saner. But the second was intimately tied to the same posture/mindset we had learned from Olivia during her life. “In repentance and rest is your salvation; In quiet and trust is your strength.”

The statistic is something like: 95% of marriages of parents who have lost a child end in divorce. We were right there. We had the conversation more than once.

I become a person I was embarrassed to be. I did and said things which brought debilitating shame, which snowballed into more things I did and said, which brought more shame…

We had four other kids—kids who had been through hell… kids who lost their sister, and in many ways their parents. My heart still breaks to think about them during all of this. We failed them so many times in so many ways.

The urge to jump off that operating table… It was a minute-by-minute battle to stay—to trust that the physician was still working… to trust that there even was a physician.

Even during this period of—when death had had its way, when I had become someone I hated, when even smiling started to feel foreign—we knew that, even here, there was life.

Olivia taught us to live life, life the way it is, in the midst of uncertainty. Now, in her absence, she was teaching us to live life, life the way it is, in the midst of our pain. And in the midst of that pain, in the midst of that fumbling to try to let go and to live these moments, we found healing. Not just healing from our loss of Olivia—we were being healed deeper and much farther back than that.

The pain of loss is inseparable from healing.

Grief is not a series of necessary steps to “get over” a loss.

Grief is being open. Grief is being receptive.

Grief is the absence of certain comforts which give us only the impression of healing.

Grief is the door which leads to healing. Grief and healing are inseparable.

Grief is healing.

This book is my best attempt at sharing my grief, and in doing so my healing, with you.

What I couldn’t fit into words, I poured into music.

As you read this book and listen to the music, please let yourself breathe. Notice your breath. A common translation for the word “breath” is “spirit”—let the spirit travel in and out. Let it go where it wants. And as you breathe—as you let the common parts of my journey resonate with you—see if you notice a physician working on you as well.

This is a hard path to want to walk down, but I believe that deep down many of us are ready and excited to walk it. We are no longer satisfied with an external image of wholeness—we are ready for real healing inside.

THANK YOU for traveling 14 more months with me.


DANCE AGAIN (album)


I wrote and recorded this album during the 14 months following our daughter Olivia’s passing.

01 DANCE AGAIN






This is the first song I wrote after our daughter Olivia passed away.

It had been a few months; I thought I’d better write something. All I could think was, “I don’t want to write another song.” I didn’t want to do much of anything again. I didn’t want to take more steps forward while Olivia’s life was in our past.

I could feel time continuing. I could feel the world continuing to spin. It was early spring and grass was beginning to grow again. I hated it. Something about things continuing to live while my daughter was dead felt so wrong to me.

So I wrote this song.

I don’t want to dance again. Tell the music not to play.

The world kept spinning.

I originally wrote this song as a metaphor. “Dancing” meant writing songs. Working. Going on living. Then, about 6 months after Olivia passed away, in the midst of some of the darkest moments of my entire life, Heather gathered the family to tell us she was pregnant again.

I immediately had a picture of fresh, clean, cold water rushing through deep open wounds… quickly followed by overwhelming fear and anger.

I don’t want to dance again. Tell the music not to play.

We were both angry. We felt guilty for that, but neither of us could imagine having another baby. We could barely brush our teeth. How were we going to take care of an infant? And beyond that fear was a much bigger one: We were going to go to that hospital again. We were going to be in that delivery room again. We were going to walk back through every step we took with Olivia. The sonograms. The birth. The coming home. Holding a crying baby in the living room in the middle of the night, dancing.

I can’t express how badly I wanted to do that again, but with Olivia. If I couldn’t do it with her, I didn’t want to ever do it again.

I don’t want to dance again. Tell the music not to play.

Even scarier than the pain of re-tracing our steps with Olivia was the thought of forgetting her. I was so afraid that this new child would take Olivia’s place, and I would forget her.

Benjamin (means “son of my pain”) Irving (means “fresh water”) Peterson was born about 14 months after Olivia passed away.

Walking into the operating room felt just like it felt with Olivia. I felt 100% sure, deep in my bones, that this baby was about to die. My mind knew he didn’t have Olivia’s condition, but my body was braced for tragedy. The moment Benjamin was born—the second I saw his face—I had the overwhelming sense that Ben was not Olivia. He was an entirely separate person. A beautiful person who I loved. Not in place of Olivia but in addition.

There was no less pain… in fact, there was more pain. But there was also joy. Not in place of pain but in addition.

Thank you Ben for being who you are: cold, clean water—rushing through the deep open wounds of our family. Not to diminish the pain or the memories of Olivia, but to clarify and heal our memories of her.

It just so happens that Ben’s favorite thing is music, and his favorite thing to do is dance.


02 IS IT A SIN?



I’ve never written a song like this. I’ve never written anything like this.

A friend of mine asked me six months or so after Olivia died if I had experienced any anger. I recoiled. “No, I understand why this happened… Things like this happen… It’s okay… It’s no one’s fault…” I felt so defensive. This friend obviously did’t know me. I don’t get angry at people. I’m good at forgiving. And who would I blame, anyway. God? This was nobody’s fault.

Shortly after, I was finishing one of my daily walks a couple blocks from home. I was at the intersection, waiting to cross, and I had this image in my head—of choking Jesus Christ. It was vivid and disturbing. I was filled with guilt, and these words came into my head:

Is it a sin to want to choke the life out of the lungs of Jesus Christ—to watch his last breath since I missed when my daughter closed her eyes?

The day Olivia died, we had no idea it was going to happen. She had a cold. We were all tired and crabby from being up all night with her. Heather suggested I take the kids on a bike ride and I begrudgingly loaded the three kids up and went. We rode far from our house, stopped at a coupe parks, and decided to go all the way to an ice cream shop before heading home. A few minutes before the ice cream shop, Heather called. She said Olivia was in a lot of pain and that the nurse recommended morphine. We’d had this morphine in a box in the back of our fridge since Olivia was born—having to use it felt serious. I told her to go ahead—the nurse knows what she’s doing. She asked if I wanted to come home. I said we were almost to the ice cream shop and that we would head back right after. I wasn’t worried.

I wasn’t worried, but there was a growing, uneasy feeling as we sat and ate our ice cream. It kept growing as we headed back.

About a mile from home I got another call. It was Heather’s friend who had stopped by to visit. She said Olivia had stopped breathing. She said to come back fast.

My oldest son immediately knew something was wrong. He asked if Olivia was dying. “I don’t know. It’ll be okay. But we need to ride fast.”

I had spent the previous 14 months making sure I was always there. I stopped performing outside of Peoria. I was always within a few minutes from home. I had rushed home after calls from Heather for scares before. This was surely just another scare… but I knew this was different. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t there. Please wait for me.

We rode so fast. I had a trailer for my 3-year-old and the two young boys were on bikes. I could feel my oldest son’s mind spinning. I could feel tears streaming across my face. I could feel the wind.

We pulled up to the house and our friend was waiting to take the kids. I jumped off my bike and ran around the back porch, where I’d left Heather and Olivia a few hours before.

I opened the door. Heather was standing there with Olivia. Olivia was still.

I missed it.

We spent hours crying and holding Olivia. We prayed over her and said goodbye. We played a board game as a family. It was a painful, but beautiful night. It was not evil. It felt purposeful. Good, even. And that’s how I pictured that day for six months, until I stood at this intersection and thought these words.

Is it a sin to want to choke the life out of the lungs of Jesus Christ—to watch his last breath since I missed when my daughter closed her eyes?

How much is it to ask? We knew she was going to die. We did everything we could to be good parents for her. I just wanted to be there—to see her off… to say, “It’s okay to go.” Is that unreasonable?

I walked home and wrote the words down. I was filled with rage and hate, mixed with guilt and compassion toward God. I know it must have hurt him—what happened with Olivia, watching my pain, and now hearing these words from me.

Who are you to take her away? Just because you’re God... just because I’m not.

I spent a year working on this recording... and this song spent a year working on me. During that time I struggled about whether or not to share the song. “This isn’t art. People will hate it.”

This particular recording happened as my wife pulled up the driveway with our kids. If you listen carefully you can hear one of the kids knock on my door toward the beginning, and at the very end you can hear my oldest son throwing a fit upstairs. :) I knew this was the take though. It’s not nearly as overtly angry as many other takes. But it has this beautiful balance to it—you can feel me oscillating between anger and gentleness. I love this recording.

I love this song. I know it’s a strange song to love.

It took me six months of intense grief-work to even sense that there was anger under the layers of “maturity”. If this song helps shine light on what is really there, inside another person, I will be forever pleased that I decided to share it.


03 DON’T RUSH TO GET UP



During the year following Olivia’s passing, my wife and I referred to ourselves as a “pile of parts on the floor.” We couldn’t do anything. I mean, we somehow did do some things: Our kids are still alive; I wrote some things; We played some concerts. But we were so broken during that time. I did and said things I can’t believe. We considered divorce. I wondered about suicide. We were finished. Broken. A pile of parts on the floor.

This song is for that pile of a person on the floor.

This time of being so broken—so afraid—was torture. I hated how weak I was. I hated myself. I wanted to get up and be strong again, but I couldn’t. I would… it was just going to take time—much more time than I was comfortable allowing myself. I needed to heal. I was being healed. And it was important that I didn’t give in to the urge to disconnect from the parts of me which felt “weak” in order to get up and be “strong” again. The most important thing for my healing during this time was to be where I was.

It might hurt like hell, burn like coals, but at least right here we know who we are.

I took many months to record this take. I hated how slow I was working. I hated how slow I was healing.

I had this recurring dream: There was a war and my family was separated. I was trying to bring us all back to safety but I couldn’t get us all in one place. I sometimes woke up screaming. Of course I had that dream every night—we weren’t all in one place. Olivia was a couple miles away, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

She’s not going anywhere, and you’re not saving anyone, so don’t rush to get up.

Looking back at myself during that time, and still to some degree today, I see myself on an operating table. Someone was/is healing me. I don’t have to do anything. But I do have to stay. And it will take time. It’s so hard to allow ourselves time. I just want to get up and run.


04 CRY



One night shortly after Olivia passed away, Heather and I were in tears. As we wept, I heard this chorus—a song for Heather.

Go ahead and cry, it’s fine—it’s the only way for you to feel right now.

This song is for Heather… and for me… and I think for many more of us.

I hope this song replaces an unhealthy expectation to be “strong” with permission to be where we are.


05 MARATHON

is coming November 9th





So Am I (book)

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So Am I (record)

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Dance Again book

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