Nathan Peterson


I’m an artist living in the middle of Illinois with my wife and five children, a couple hours south of Chicago, where I was born. I grew up a little in Colorado, a little in Germany, and a little in Northern Illinois. In second grade, my parents settled in Sycamore Illinois—most of my childhood memories happen there, riding my bike to the pool, hanging out in cornfields, listening to “echoes” on 92.5 in my red 1988 Honda Prelude with my friend John.

I rushed through childhood. I felt a heavy responsibility to be an adult, way before I was one. I developed a strong work-ethic and a keen ear for “trouble”. I’m now learning how underdeveloped I allowed myself to become in the areas of having fun, playing, and breathing. As a teenager, I explored cutting and suicide. I skipped a lot of the fun parts of being a high-schooler and college student, opting to run my computer business instead. My business didn’t make much money, but it allowed me to stay busy. I almost never stopped working.

In college I met my wife, Heather. She was beautiful (still is!! (good editing catch)) and was an accomplished pianist. We both played in a band as part of a Christian student organization at NIU. In 2001 we were married and moved to Cincinnati for Heather to pursue her masters at the conservatory at UC. I left my technology and business work and took a job as a music pastor at a 75-person church outside the city. I did not, however, leave my work-ethic or my need to stay busy. I kept my dream of continuing our band alive and spent those years learning to write and produce music.

In 2003 we moved to Peoria Illinois, where the other half of our band moved after college. We bought a house, I built a studio in the basement, and I began recording our first album. I took a job at a 150-person church. Our band began playing larger events and eventually we were playing for thousands of students. My work-ethic remained, only now it was applied to my work at the church, my work with Hello Industry (my band), and my growing family—we started having kids in 2007.

In 2012, I felt tired. We were playing out-of-town gigs, coming home at 3am, unloading the trailer, sleeping until 6am, then heading to the church for 3 services. It wasn’t only the schedule that tired me. I was tired of the inner-posture—of always working, of always running. I still didn’t really know how to play—only to work… to fix things… to be “responsible”. Also, I was nagged by the feeling that I didn’t even want to be playing other people’s music—at churches and conferences we played worship songs, like a Christian version of a cover band. It was meaningful and beautiful work, and I was very good at it, but it didn’t feel like me… not fully. I started wondering what that would look like—to be fully me.

It was in 2012 that I heard the word: rest. I’d obviously heard that word before, but I hadn’t considered it in this way before—as an inner-posture. I knew that kind of rest was not something I knew how to do, and I knew I wanted to… I needed to. My family needed it too—they needed me to learn to rest before our home could be a place for them to rest.

It was also in 2012 that my career took a big turn. I decided I was done playing other people’s music. At this point I had released three albums but I very rarely played those songs—just in the cracks between all of the other things. (I believe now that this music—this original writing—was a way for some deep part of me to help answer the question about what it would look like to be fully me. This music was a message, from that deep part of myself to this more conscious part of me—this scared child who was always listening, always working, always running.)

In 2012 I decided to try to learn to rest. It was a very difficult year.

By the following year, I had stopped playing worship songs for conferences and had left my church position of 10 years. I was scared to death. How would I succeed on my own—as only me—not Nathan the pastor, not Nathan the worship leader, but just me—my words, my songs, my voice? All of it was coming from me now. If it was rejected—if it didn’t work—then what did that mean about me?

The very week I began my life as a full-time on-my-own artist, I lost my voice on stage at a gig. I was devastated. This began a long, long journey of exploring and learning about my voice, which eventually became a journey of exploring and learning about my Voice—my true Self.

In 2014, we received news that our fourth child was going to be born with a genetic disease which made her “incompatible with life”. Our lives turned upside-down over the following months leading to her birth. Olivia lived 14 beautiful and difficult months. During these months, more of who I thought I was was stripped away. We were living each moment, not allowed to move forward or backward.

It was during Olivia’s life—through her life—that I was able to learn to rest.

In March of 2016, Olivia passed away. Heather and I began a new chapter—a new process of grieving, of healing. Those months were hell on earth for us. I felt the same as Olivia, “incompatible with life”. I wanted to die. Grief continued to do its work—even while we screamed and thrashed, it continued to heal our deep wounds.

I continued to learn to rest.

Benjamin, Olivia’s little brother, was born in 2017, around 14 months after Olivia died. I was terrified to meet him. I was terrified to lose him. I was terrified to further lose Olivia.

More healing. Benjamin was cold, clean water, rushing through our deep open wounds. It still hurt like hell, but there was a new bright spot when he joined our family.

More learning to rest.

I still live in the middle of Illinois. I’ve had my dreams shattered enough times so that I’m not able to really picture them if I want to. But I’ve heard a voice through all of this whispering, “Nathan, I love your voice. Do what you have in mind. I believe in you. I am with you. I will take care of you. Keep going.” I believe this is the voice of the One who has been healing us, and the One who has been teaching me to rest.

When Olivia was born I began writing a book and an album, both called “So Am I”.

When it’s been far too long and I’m this close to giving up; When the sun doesn’t shine, it’s far too gone and so am I. When it feels all the time like your best is all behind; You’re counting days, you’re killing time, you’re all but gone, and so am I. But you’re still here. You’re breathing out, you’re breathing in, you’re alive. And maybe life is still ahead.

When Olivia died I began writing a second book and second album, both called “Dance Again”.

I may write another song, maybe even the perfect one, but it won’t ever be the same. I may take another try to pick my feet up for another mile, but it won’t ever be the same. I don’t want to dance again. Tell the music not to play. Tell the music not to play. I can see her, I can feel her face. I don’t want to dance again.

These four works have become my “assignment” over the past five years. I don’t know if this is an assignment for my own healing, or for furthering my understanding of rest, or for answering the question “what does it look like to be fully me?” I don’t know if this is an assignment for changing the world. Maybe it’s all of them. I suppose I don’t need to know. “Keep going.”

The forth and final piece of this project releases in December. The other three parts are finished and available here, here, and here.

While my story is unique to me, I believe that much of my journey is common to every person. I hope the path I’ve been walking every day for the past five years can be useful in helping others walk their own journey toward rest, toward their own Voice, toward what it might look like to be fully, and only, them.

NATHAN PETERSON is an American singer-songwriter born in Chicago, Illinois. His albums include So Am I (2017), Matter (2013), HymnSongs (2010), MaryAnn (2008), and Fooled (2006). His books include So Am I: 14 Months of Life, Living, and Letting Go (2016) and Dance Again: Grief is Healing (2018).

Currently Nathan is finishing a four-part work consisting of two books and two albums about the 14 months during his daughter Olivia’s life (So Am I), and the 14 months of grieving and healing after her passing (Dance Again). The central theme of the entire work is Rest.

Nathan lives in Illinois with his wife and five children.