Plumb's seventh studio release, Exhale, follows the success of her previous album Need You Now, an intense collection that coincided with the artist's personal struggle in her marriage that led to her family's restoration. This story ultimately led to Tiffany Lee writing her memoir, "Need You Now: A Story of Hope." Exhale is the resulting collection of songs filled with worship and thanksgiving, coupled with Plumb's distinctive sound.
Throughout her memoir, the line "hope is oxygen and we all need to breathe" is vital to the themes of Tiffany's testimony. The idea behind the title Exhale came from a sermon by Pete Wilson of Crosspoint Church, Tiffany's home church in Nashville. Pete shared the concept that Christians exist to come into the church community to breathe in grace and hope, which they can then breathe out to a hurting world. These concepts form the core of Exhale.
This album has been described as Plumb's most personal and worshipful yet. Even the album cover features her handwriting, showing how deeply her story has shaped these songs. I had the chance to speak with Plumb's Tiffany Lee about "Exhale."
Please tell me the personal story behind this song.
I love telling this story. My husband Jeremy and I separated on a Tuesday, and the following Sunday my tour manager brought him to church. Consequently, we reconciled and remarried, and that has become our home church. God has used that church in a very big way in our lives. The very first Sunday my husband visited that church, very broken, facing divorce, the pastor Pete Wilson came out and said "Here at Crosspoint Church, it's okay to not be okay, everyone is welcome, no one is perfect, and anything is possible. That's our motto, and you can belong long before you believe. This is a safe place, and you can rest here no matter what you've brought in with you. You're loved and you're not alone."
My husband, while separated from me and resolved that our marriage was over, came to me and told me he went to church and the pastor said something to him that stood out to him, and he felt that He heard God speaking directly to him. We were both broken for different reasons, and I was in a very willing and desperate place, and he was not at the time. Jeremy told me what he heard, and about not having to believe to belong, and that it was okay to not be okay. He shared that it was encouraging to him, and that was a starting point for us reconciling and being made new.
Fast forward and now that is our home church. Pete Wilson preached that "We do not exist for ourselves. We come to breathe in grace and exhale it out to others. Whatever job you go to, God wants us. If you aren't in a right relationship with Him, we miss out, not God. If you've made mistakes, God can use that. His mercies are new every morning. He forgives you, brushes you off, and you can start over. When I breathe in that type of grace, I'm so grateful, humbled and loyal to that, I want to talk about it, which is why I started this church."
We exist to love and to serve out of the outflow of the grace we've been given. If you don't know what you should be doing, the answer is that you're supposed to love and serve. You're supposed to exhale and breathe out what you are breathing in. I wrote this song based on that sermon.
Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?
Genesis 2:7 (VOICE): One day the Eternal God scooped dirt out of the ground, sculpted it into the shape we call human, breathed the breath that gives life into the nostrils of the human, and the human became a living soul.
1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (MSG): So eat your meals heartily, not worrying about what others say about you--you're eating to God's glory, after all, not to please them. As a matter of fact, do everything that way, heartily and freely to God's glory. At the same time, don't be callous in your exercise of freedom, thoughtlessly stepping on the toes of those who aren't as free as you are. I try my best to be considerate of everyone's feelings in all these matters; I hope you will be, too.
Psalm 150:6 (NKJV): Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!
2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV): For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (VOICE): All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God's people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work.
What is the takeaway message of the song and album?
We've been made whole, restored and redeemed, and I want to breathe that out, to exhale that. That's the premise of this whole album. On that day in church, I realized that the direction for this album is to exhale what God did in my life and to trust Him. I don't want to get caught up in the numbers or image or marketing, but to just breathe out what God has done in my life.
I open the song with "it's okay to not be okay," which goes back to that black day in January when my husband had left me. "This is a safe place, don't be ashamed, don't be afraid, there's still hope here" is my story. No matter what you've done or who you are, you are welcome in His arms. The freedom in that chorus is celebrated in "just let go." Don't try to figure out God's grace. You'll never understand it and it will never make complete sense why God would die for you, forgive you over and over, and promise you the hope of Heaven. Just surrender to it.
As you're breathing in God's grace, let it break your heart in the best possible way. God's grace restores you. Breathe it out and exhale. I wanted the album to be one big exhale. I want people to be free from bondage, to tell them that when they aren't sure what the right thing is to do, if you choose kindness and love, it will always be the right thing to do. Rather than putting so much weight on yourself about your decisions, know that you exist to breathe in forgiveness and share it with the world in the most loving, servant hearted, gracious way that you can. We exist for Him.
To not be okay
This is a safe place
This is a safe place
Don't be afraid
Don't be ashamed
There's still hope here
There's still hope
No matter what you've done
Or who you are
Everyone is welcome
In His arms
Just let go
Let His love wrap around you
And hold you close
Get lost in the surrender
Breathe it in, until your heart breaks
And exhale, exhale
Tear down the walls
That only You can
That only You can
Reconcile, this heart to Yours
Right now God, right now
We breathe in Your grace
We breathe in Your grace
We do not exist for us
But to share Your grace and love
Plumb's return with Exhale has been highly anticipated for me as Need You Now was my 2013 Album of the Year. The first time I heard Plumb's song "God-Shaped Hole," released at the end of the 90s, I immediately connected to the catchy melody and poignant lyrics. Throughout her career, she has continued to entertain and challenge listeners in that way, looking to point us to the One who can fill that "God-shaped hole in all of us."
I was already familiar with "Lord, I'm Ready Now" and "Faithful" from last year's Need You Now Deluxe Edition. The picture of God's unconditional love for us after all that we've done wrong is profoundly captured in those songs. God wants us to know that He's faithful to complete what's He's started in all of us who have put our hope and trust in Jesus.
In listening to Plumb's journey over the past few albums, you can hear how her life and faith is reflected in her art, and never more so than on Exhale. You can hear Tiffany's vertical expressions of relying completely on God for His breath and Holy Spirit to sustain her. I absolutely love Tiffany's intentionality and complete focus on God's provision in her life. Continuing the discussion about how she's suffered from panic attacks, shortness of breath, and praying, "God please take this" from her song "Need You Now," this song celebrates God's breath, His Holy Spirit being breathed into her life and her marriage.
This worship album really engages me from start to finish in my own time of worship and reflection about the attributes of God. Tiffany writes and sings her breath, given to her by God, into anointed new songs for the church. You'll be blessed by this powerful song which is a stand-out anthem with a convicting declaration: "Oh God, We do not exist for us, but to share Your grace and love and exhale." Amen to that!
(Watch Plumb sing the song here.)
NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.