The irony of choosing a vocational path as an artist and songwriter is that you’re probably a highly perceptive, empathetic, and sensitive, creative personality -- yet you wake one day to find yourself laboring in a music industry where thick skin is required because rejection is the rule and nothing is certain. Very few artists ever arrive. Most walk a high-wire balancing act for the length of their careers. The decision to pursue art-making is often, in itself, a step of faith. And that step of faith has to be worked out in small, daily increments, stewarding one’s artistic gifts, while weathering the constant ups and downs of an industry that offers anything but security. At first blush one might think such tension would kill any real art-making. But for some artists -- including singer/songwriter Lindsay McCaul -- it’s actually the ongoing tension of existing in that vulnerable space that makes their expressions more human, powerful and relatable.
Lindsay McCaul’s sophomore project and Centricity Music debut, One More Step, is artistry born of a willingness to grapple honestly with the questions that arise at that crossroads of brokenness and grace. Tag-team produced by Brent Milligan (David Crowder, Steven Curtis Chapman) and Jeff Pardo (Josh Wilson, Johnny Diaz, Matthew West), the eleven songs on One More Step are thoughtful pop offerings that range from the lush and layered to the sparse and hauntingly lyrical. The project as a whole faithfully chronicles the honest journey of a young woman who has learned that if the expressions of hope and joy are to be real and strong enough to hold us, then they can’t shrink back from the sorrow, the grief, the confusion and the doubt that are also a real part of this shared pilgrim journey. The secret is that it’s all woven together, and if God’s grace meets us, it meets us in the very middle of all that messiness of life, circumstance and emotion. And it’s from that place, and probably only from that place, that songs with the power to give real hope can be born.
“I’ve observed over the last few years,” Lindsay says, “that the songs that connect most with my listeners are the ones I write from a place of wrestling through issues. I write songs about things God is teaching me and the lessons I’m learning -- sometimes even from a place of brokenness smack dab in the middle of learning the lesson. A place of holding my hands open before God and asking Him to grow my faith and help my unbelief. People who connect with my songs have told me they appreciate the honesty and transparency of the lyrics, which means the world to me. We’re all struggling somehow, fighting some battle, and if we could all just be brave enough to be honest with one another about our deep, deep need for Jesus, we could be mutually encouraged, strengthened and sharpened.”
After losing her father to myelofibrosis, losing her record deal, losing her brother-in-law unexpectedly, and losing her roots and community as she moved from Chicago to Nashville, Lindsay found herself in a difficult, and unsettling season of life that had no quick or easy fix. But as she continued to faithfully steward her calling as an artist, pouring out her heart through songwriting, Lindsay found that the body of new songs was emerging as a collective portrait of a Christ-follower “learning to take steps of faith, day by day, little by little.”
The thematic anchor of One More Step is the counter-intuitively celebratory track Empty Handed. The notion that our very weakness and inadequacy might bring us to a place of joyful freedom and worship will likely inspire listeners to pay careful attention to the depths of what Lindsay’s lyrics reveal.
“I wrote Empty Handed,” she says, “based on the apostle Paul’s conclusion that even with his impressive, perfect pedigree and resume, once he encountered Jesus he realized everything he thought he brought to the table was worth nothing compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus and being found in Him. God is continually reminding me that it isn’t about what I come to God with, but it’s HOW I come to Him -- recognizing my utter spiritual poverty and coming ready to receive every spiritual blessing that He promises for those found in Christ. My husband Mark and I haven’t been married super long but already there have been more times than I can count where God has stopped me in my self-righteousness right in the middle of an argument and showed me what real humility looks like through my sweet, humble, quick-to-ask-for-forgiveness (often while I’m still gloating and can’t yet see how ugly my own sneaky pride is) husband. Jesus loves us at our worst, and if we allow it, His love will change us to make us more like Himself.”
While Empty Handed stands as the lyrical cornerstone of the project, the most poignant moment arrives in the minimally produced title track One More Step. One More Step is a starkly powerful piece, with honest vocals layered over emotive piano phrasings. The song paints a portrait of Lindsay’s personal journey through the grieving process as she was losing her father. The genius of the song is that it’s also a powerful and hopeful celebration of the life she shared with her father and of the firm belief that death is not the end.
“I’ve heard other people describe the experience of walking through the last weeks and months of life with a loved one as sacred. I totally agree,” Lindsay says. “God met me and walked with me through that season in a really special, unique way, and He used it to change me. In the song One More Step I wanted to capture three major life moments with my Dad -- big transitions we shared that taught me that this race of life is a series of steps we take with one another. The relationships God puts in our lives are meant to sharpen and refine us as we learn to love one another, support one another, and run to God.”
Additional standout tracks on One More Step include the redemptively confessional and infectious pop song Mess Like Me, the plaintive, centering prayer Jesus Be, and the stirring With The Brokenhearted.
“Psalm 34 says The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,” Lindsay explains. “I love that verse because brokenhearted people usually feel like God is the farthest from them. But God wanted to specifically tell us that He is there with us in the middle of the very deepest, most difficult moments or days or months or years. He isn’t just watching us from afar –He’s near. Even when we can’t see what He’s doing with the situation or understand why He allowed it in our lives, He is with us, aching with us and somehow working all things for good. I love that God knew we’d need to know that about Him. Psalm 34 became especially comforting to me in the season of heartache and loss over my father and my brother-in-law.”
While she’s shown herself to be a formidably talented singer, songwriter and performer (having toured with respected artists including Casting Crowns, Mathew West, Sanctus Real, The Afters, Brandon Heath, and Mandisa, among others) Lindsay McCaul’s most powerful asset as an artist might just be her simple willingness to honestly communicate the realities of her life through her songs -- and to do so in ways that invite listeners to share the journey and to honestly bring their own stories and struggles to God.
“A woman wrote to me from another country,” Lindsay recalls, “telling me that her husband had passed away recently and that God had been using one of my songs to comfort her and remind her He was with her. Shortly after that a second woman wrote to say that God had used that same song to remind her He was by her side as she went in for cancer surgery. Both of those stories deeply resonated with me, and have been a powerful reminder that God can use a song born from one situation in my own life to connect with, comfort and bring hope to someone in a completely different situation (and continent!). I’m so thankful God uses imperfect people for His glory. It’s amazing and very humbling to find myself a part of that.”