The Playlist Project

It’s surprising what depression can take from you.

Appetite, sleep, energy, hope, health… all of the things.

At different times over the years, I’ve experienced the loss of all of those – usually not all at once, thankfully… although the darkest of my seasons have genuinely sucked it all away.

Including my love for music.

These days I’m trying to get that back.

Back in 1993, when Mark and I were living 683 miles away from one another, we fell in love. We met through some mutual friends, fell hard and fast, and then romanced one another long distance for the next seven months. #longstoryshort

We were pretty creative with it – crafting cute little ways of cultivating our love and commitment to one another even though the distance between us was so painful.

For instance, I made him a calendar using pictures of myself (stop it) posing in some cute-of-me poses for each month until our wedding.

And stop it. #notthatkindofcalendar

Mark surprised me by showing up on the doorstep of my parents’ house in Colorado one weekend when things were particularly hard in my home because of my father and his addictions. Not much will romance a girl better than her prince’s willingness to be present with her in her family drama.

The wait times between face-to-face visits were agonizing to our tender, young-and-in-love hearts, and the expressions of love given across the miles helped to soothe the pain of the separation.

For Valentine’s Day that year I bought a plastic bubble gum dispenser and filled it with enough Smartie heart-shaped candies to allow Mark two-a-day as we counted down the days until our wedding.

This was one of my personal bests. Although Mark’s office mates kept stealing candy and throwing off our count. On purpose. So rude.

Mark’s specialty, though, was the mix tape.

His ability to wax poetic using a mixture of other people’s songs was extraordinary. He has always been a music connoisseur and even then, during his post-college, on-the-edge-of-poverty season of life, he had an expansive, ALPHABETIZED, collection of music – much of which was unfamiliar to me. The tapes he made were love letters to me. I listened to them about one hundred million times, and each time I did I could feel Mark talking to me, soothing me, and reminding me we would be together again soon. You guys… if swooning were my thing, I would have swooned.

As it was, he had me hook, line, and sinker.

Music has often been a great soother of my soul. Although my exposure to various genres of music was quite limited, due to my parents’ belief that secular music was the gateway to sinful living (sheesh), as a child I found a piece of myself that I actually liked within the world of music. I grew up singing in the children’s choir at church, then the youth choir, then public school choir, traveling chorale, madrigal ensemble and show choir (#jazzhandswerenotmyjam). During my middle and high school years, I was in all-state choir in Tennessee, Alabama and Colorado. #nottobragbut

When I was ten, my mom traded babysitting for piano lessons for me, so piano became another outlet for my musical passions. In fact, my 1940s-era upright wooden piano was one of three pieces of furniture that my parents managed to hold onto during our transient years. I think maybe that saved my life.

In high school, when my musical tastes, along with my parents’ musical boundaries, expanded to include Contemporary Christian music, I found great comfort and connection in the youth group music culture. My first real concert was Petra’s Not of This World tour – a mind-blowing experience for me. I will be forever grateful to the brave few new friends in Alabama who took it upon themselves to beg – literally beg – my parents to let me go because, you guys, I had no idea. I soon discovered Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith – two musicians with an enormous catalog of songs helpful to me in countless ways. Before long, I was a full-fledged Contemporary Christian music junkie. Amy comforted me with My Father’s Eyes, while Michael’s Friends became my theme song, and I listened to it ad nauseam – finding a bit of an outlet for the losses that came with each move around the country.

I attended a Southern Baptist university and was very active in the music program there – traveling with the university chorale as well as the jazz ensemble. One of my besties at school was friends with the members of the Christian rock band, White Heart. She brought me along whenever the guys (I can call them that because we were pals) had a concert within a reasonable traveling distance from us. I think White Heart’s Freedom is still my favorite Christian album of all time. Or maybe Russ Taff’s Russ Taff. It could also be Amy Grant’s Lead Me On or Rich Mullins’s A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. I loved them all.

Until Mark showed up, my exposure to music outside of the Contemporary Christian genre was mostly limited to the major pop artists, and even then to the major hits of the major pop artists. I knew some, but I didn’t know much.

The breadth of Mark’s music knowledge is outside of my ability to describe with the written word. Whatever kind of song you need, Mark knows the name of it, the artist who recorded it, the album release date, and various details about the band, the producer AND the label. Total immersion in the world of recorded music is just a part of living with Mark.

So for the last 25 years, his tastes and musical interests have (mostly) become my own, and we’ve shared many moments singing our hearts out to a song we both love. You should hear us do harmonies. #weareawesome

It was natural, then, for Mark and me to pull our children into our love of music. We were the family in the minivan with three kids in booster seats, windows rolled down, sunroof open, and Eye of the Tiger reverberating in the air as we drove by. We found great joy as parents in introducing our favorite artists, albums, and songs to our children. We were also (mostly) pretty happy to join them in singing their favorite preschool songs from Blues Clues, The Wiggles, and Sesame Street, as well as They Might Be Giants and Weird Al.

I was so very happy when the Weird Al phase was behind us.

Music kindled connection in our home. When the kids’ tastes collided with ours, we made some pretty lovely memories together – making dinner or cleaning the house while we sang our hearts out.

We still do this.

The very first time our son-in-law joined us for family dinner, his sweet blue eyes bulged out of his head as the entire family began spontaneously singing – in harmony – Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody while we finished dinner clean-up. Bless him. We are a lot. Of course, now he joins the party, and he can out sing and out dance the best of us.

Although for the vast majority of my life music has been a source of great comfort, in the last decade my senses have become more or less overwhelmed by all sound – including music.

There were other factors at play, of course. With the arrival of Davy also came a need for the entire family to often mute ourselves in order to keep his little, constantly-overwhelmed self as calm as possible. He loved music, but it most definitely had to be experienced on his terms. We learned to whisper-sing. These were the years when autism made connection challenging for all of us. Even The Happy Birthday Song had to be sung in hushed tones. That said, before he could talk Davy communicated to us through his own musical tastes. He was all about Coldplay before he was even two years old. Coldplay was our shared language with David. We were so grateful for it.

But this state of high alert concerning Davy’s needs, added to the chronic oversensitivity cultivated by my depression, grief and chronic pain, became so taxing for me that I found myself as hypervigilant to sound as Davy ever was.

As part of my healing journey, my therapist Melissa has often encouraged me to embrace music as a balm for #allthethings, but I have to say, sometimes it’s just too much damn noise.

But I’m trying.

I know that, just as Mark kindled the fires of our romance with those mix tapes, God loves to sing songs over us, birth songs within us, and help us find the means by which we can express our own emotions and desires in the music that we play and the songs that we sing.

So, I’ve been working on a little project of sorts.

I call it The Playlist Project, and in it I’ve been crafting playlists of songs that help me lean into some of the emotions and feelings that I often prefer to keep at a distance.

What’s been extra fun about this endeavor of mine has been the participation of the family. I knew they would all have songs related to each emotion – songs that resonated with them when they were feeling sad or angry or afraid. I wanted to know those songs. I sent the clan a text asking for songs relating to the target emotions, sorted through their submissions, and chose the ones that resonated with me the most.

It’s been so interesting to see the varied responses. For instance, our daughter, Morgan, a woman who has brought joy, light, and positive energy to every room she has entered since the day she was born, experiences anger through the lens of her deep desire to avoid ever hurting the people she loves. To me, her choices were mostly apologies for feeling angry (which I really do understand #likemotherlikedaughter). This is reflected in submissions like The Bleachers’ I Want to Get Better and Beat It by Michael Jackson. Baylor, on the other hand, leans into slow, brooding songs that feel sad and reflective to me and not so much angry. Jackson needs songs that explicitly say all the things he is thinking and feeling.

Charlie is currently in an anger-free season of life. #jealous

For my part, though, I need anger songs to be intense, loud, and driving – even better if there’s also a hint of cynicism in there. Mark knows me well, and his submissions, like Green Day’s American Idiot and Pink’s So What, hit me right in the center of the anger target.

So far, we’ve done Happy…

Raw (Sad didn’t seem to capture it)…


and Afraid.

I don’t think the lists will be static like the mix tape was. I like to think that these playlists will have a life of their own that grows and adapts as I grow and adapt.

The Playlist project is helping me to lean into the feelings I am feeling – to notice and to stay with the sensations in my body when I experience big emotions. There’s something quite satisfying about blaring Famous Last Words by My Chemical Romance with the windows down, air blowing in my face and hands beating on the steering wheel. And Rich Mullins’s Hold Me Jesus is so raw and honest that I am comforted just knowing I’m not the only one who feels that way.

I guess you could say that I’m romancing my Self with the 21st-century version of a mix tape. #myhusbandisveryproud

4 thoughts on “The Playlist Project

  1. Thanks, Kaysie. Love this note that you’ve written – playlist away to your heart’s content, and may your soul and spirit soar – as your body is refreshed. We love you and The Steele Family!

    Liked by 1 person

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