Nichole Nordeman had reached a level of Christian music success that many artists only dream of. She headlined her own tour and opened for Christian music powerhouse Casting Crowns. She commanded the stage, sporting a very pronounced baby bump, at the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards in 2003, taking home statuettes for Special Event Album of the Year (City on a Hill Sing Alleluia), Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year (“Holy”), Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year (Woven and Spun), Songwriter of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, and Song of the Year (“Holy”).
Then, she seemed to disappear. Electing to become a stay-at-home mom to her children, Charlie Thomas (8) and Paige Bennett (2 1/2), Nichole was happy with being away from the spotlight.
“I’m all about staying at home with my kids now,” Nordeman told me when we sat down at the International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta in July. “I don’t want to travel or tour anywhere. I don’t do ‘a little’ very well. I’m either all mommy or all artist. I don’t balance that very well.”
But when long-time friend and manager Norman Miller came to her with a new project, the offer was one that she couldn’t refuse. She has returned to the Christian music scene as the principal lyricist on The Story, a collection of original songs that complement the book of the same name written by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee, well-known authors and co-ministers at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Tex.
“I was all in,” says Nordeman. “It is very rare that I would get to do something so labor intensive and so creative and still get to stay at home, which is where I want to be.”
Paired with producer/songwriter extraordinaire Bernie Herms (“East to West”), Nordeman wrote the lyrics in Texas while Herms set it all to music in Tennessee.
“We were together once. In the very beginning, we all went to Max’s house in San Antonio and sat around with Max and Randy and their spouses and vision casted. After that it just became lots of emails, lots of late-night phone calls.”
Nordeman generally worked from 10:00 pm until 2:00 am while her children were sleeping. Herms, who along with wife Natalie Grant had just welcomed a new addition to their own family, wrote around his turns at feeding and diaper changing. Somehow they made it work.
The result is an 18-song compilation featuring some of the most notable names in Christian music singing in first-person as some of the most famous characters of the Bible. Mark Hall and Megan Garrett of Casting Crowns sing as Abraham and Sarah; Chris Tomlin sings “Your Heart” as David; Mandisa provides a riveting performance of “Born for This” as Esther; and Jeremy Camp brings the Apostle Paul to life in “Move in Me.”
“That felt like a really natural way to approach it because most Christians know the stories. I mean it’s in Scripture, you can read it for yourself, but then Max and Randy took it to the next level with insights of historical context, thought-provoking study, digging layers deeper,” says Nordeman. “Then beyond that I saw it as my job to get into the DNA, the heart and the mind of the character so there isn’t such a disconnect between the character Moses and these heroic things that he does and this amazing legacy.”
In addition to sleep deprivation, Nordeman struggled to remain true to the Biblical record. That part of the process, she says, sent her back to re-reading stories that she had relegated to Sunday School memories.
“The details of how intricately God works in these people’s stories and in their lives I had not been familiar with for a long time, so I really enjoyed dusting off my Bible,” she says. “I hope it sends people to Scripture with a fresh perspective, with fresh eyes and ears.”
Nordeman also hopes that her interpretations will allow people to see the humanity in these iconic Biblical characters. She wants people to relate on a personal level.
“(These Bible heroes) did amazing things for God, but they were people,” says Nordeman. “They were people that were insecure, fragile and fumbling, and just trying to get through the next chapter of their story and making mistakes along the way. What made them great was their availability and their willingness to say ‘use me’ and that’s where we as listeners can go. I so get that because that’s me too.”