Beauty from Brokenness: A Conversation with Ellie Holcomb | Wycliffe Bible Translators

Beauty from Brokenness: A Conversation with Ellie Holcomb

  • February 22, 2019
  • By: Beth Matheson
Ellie Holcomb

Award-winning singer and songwriter Ellie Holcomb has a beautiful life.

After touring for several years with her husband’s band, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Ellie began a successful career of her own. She released two acclaimed full‑length albums, “As Sure as the Sun” and “Red Sea Road.”

Her days currently overflow with opportunities to sing and speak God’s Word, as well as to enjoy her family and friends at home in Nashville as she awaits the birth of her third child.

But the beauty of her life didn’t just come from the sweet moments.

Having walked with people she loves through deep valleys of suffering and loss, Ellie has found a richer beauty rooted in the truth of Scripture.

Recently, I had the joy of talking with Ellie about her journey, music and the power of Scripture in her life and songwriting.

A Season of Brokeness and Healing

When I asked what led Ellie to begin writing her own music, she candidly described her personal journey to me: “There was a lot of brokenness that I’d spent my whole life running from. [My counselor] repeated the invitation that Jesus gives to all of us — that where there’s truth, there’s freedom.

“In standing up in some of the truth of the pain and mistakes I had made in my life, what happened was I started realizing the power of the gospel to minister to our most broken places. I had spent most of my life running and hiding from that, and being ashamed of that.

“So all of the sudden, I was seeing the light of God reach the depth of dark places that I didn’t want anyone — including myself, really — to think about or know about. I was like, ‘I’ve been missing the power of the gospel!’

“Louie Giglio says it like this: ‘God didn’t come to make bad people good people; he came to make dead people alive people.’ And I was coming alive in the most non‑traditional way that I would ever think — owning my brokenness and story.”

At the same time Ellie was unpacking her own struggles, a friend of hers was walking through a dark season of depression. They decided that they should memorize Scripture together, but, Ellie admitted, “It was really hard!”

Even though it was difficult, she revealed that Scripture memorization “was probably the most fruitful thing I’ve done with my time over the past 12 years. God’s Word started changing us. It didn’t necessarily change our circumstances. … It didn’t fix everything that was broken, but it gave us solid ground to stand on when shame storms and doubts and questions started rolling in.”

Songwriting and Scripture

Music cements words in Ellie’s mind, like it does for a lot of people. She began writing and sitting in God’s Word, and letting the music flow out of that practice.

“Because I was so bad at memorizing Scripture,” Ellie explained, “I started writing it into songs.”

At first, Ellie intended the songs to be just for her and her friends. Maybe, she thought, she might even allow other artists to record them. But then she sensed the Lord calling her into the vulnerability of stepping out to share her work with a wider audience:

Would you be willing to share these songs with more people than just yourself, or other artists? Ellie felt the Lord ask. Would you be willing to go out and be a messenger? Because you grew up in the church, and you didn’t know it was okay not to be okay; no one ever preached that from the pulpit. Would you go back and be a mess in front of people?

Ellie laughed as she admitted that she initially kicked against the Lord’s leading, questioning him about her purpose. She wanted him to approve her plan to be a stay‑at‑home mom. Beginning a new music career was the last thing she wanted to do. And yet, the Lord’s prompting was clear, so she obeyed even though it felt to her like stepping off a cliff.

But God met her in the midst of her fears. “The ground has risen up beneath my feet, and it has been such a delight,” she said.

Hope in Suffering

Ellie Holcomb

Over the last few years, many of the songs Ellie has written have come from a very personal place of wrestling with suffering. She shared what comforts her in the heaviness and ache of those places: “I think that, for me, the biggest comfort walking through suffering is that I’ve found — in the middle of a pile of rubble and ashes and things that felt like they had burned to the ground in a devastating way — that Jesus has been right there, weeping with me.

“God’s answer to suffering is, ‘Me too.’ He suffered for us and with us. So [to someone who is suffering, I would say]: ‘I’m sorry.’ And, two: ‘You are not alone.’ Then, three: ‘This isn’t the end of the story. Your suffering doesn’t have the final word. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, there’s an end to the grave — and there’s a better resurrection coming.’”

While words of comfort are important, Ellie pointed out that what people often need most is just someone to sit with them in their pain.

“More than anything,” Ellie told me as she thought of the suffering people she meets, “what I’d like to say is, ‘Tell me what you’re going through. I’m so sorry.’” She also noted that Scripture is filled with people who went through dark seasons.

“I think sometimes in the church, we forget that lament and grief is woven all throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament,” she said. “God gives us a long leash in suffering. He knows that we’re in process.”

Standing with each other in dark seasons is valuable and necessary, Ellie believes: “That’s what we’re called to do — bear one another’s burdens. We’re not meant to do this life alone.

“I’m so grateful for the way I’ve seen that play out in our community here in Nashville — within our family and the group of people we do life with. I’m so, so grateful for that.

“And I’m also so grateful that there’s good reason to hope and sing, even in the midst of devastating loss, because of who Jesus is. This isn’t the end of the story.”

Finding Rest in Him

Like a lot of women, Ellie deals with a constant flow of demands both at home and at work, and she confessed that, at times, she battles the lie that it’s up to her to meet people’s expectations.

She told me, “I’m a worrier in progress, I always say, and a recovering perfectionist.” Whether it’s the pressure to project a certain image or the desire to control life’s direction, it’s a heavy load.

But Ellie is learning how to handle that weight.

“True rest for me looks like surrendering my moments — the ordinary, the hard, the joyful ones …” she said. “And for me to take the burdens that I’m carrying, to take the worries that I have, to take the doubt, to take the struggle, and to be in a continual path of setting that at the foot of the cross.

“That’s when [God] says he’ll give us peace that surpasses understanding: ‘It doesn’t make sense for you to have peace in this circumstance, but I will give this to you.’”

As Ellie lays those burdens down, she is learning to love people out of her identity as God’s child. “I have the authority of a daughter,” she declared. “His blood runs through my veins. He knows I don’t have this all together, and yet he loves me and invites me into this.

“[I] show up as best as I can from a place of knowing that I’m his. And if I can get to that place of belonging and remind my own soul of that, and then pour [out] of that place, then we’re good.”

God's Word is Alive

Throughout my conversation with Ellie, every topic always circled gracefully back to the truth of Scripture and its foundation for our lives.

The Bible is that solid rock in Ellie’s busy day-to-day life, as well as her songwriting. And she’s passionate about the work Wycliffe does to ensure everyone has access to it in their own language. It’s a passion that she eagerly shares.

“I want people to have God’s Word and engage with God’s Word because it’s alive,” she said, her voice thick with emotion as she continued. “I think when you experience something so sweet and rich yourself, you long for that for other people.

“I think [God’s Word] has been an anchor for me, a light for me in some of my darkest moments, and it has changed me probably more than anything I’ve ever experienced. And so, when you experience hope, light, transformation from something, you cannot help but want to share that with other people.”

Scripture is not just hope, light, and transformation for Ellie; it’s also a feast to be enjoyed and shared. Grinning, she told me, “You [want to tell others], ‘This is the best thing that I know. This is the feast. This is what we were made for. It tastes so good! You’ve got to come see this, you’ve got to come try this!”

But that doesn’t mean Scripture is always easy to engage with, either. Ellie acknowledged that God likened his Word to a “two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12b, NLT). And that it can be hard to wrestle with.

How does Ellie grapple with difficult passages of the Bible? “As I’ve put his Word above my own intuition and above what I naturally want to do,” she explained, “I have seen so much life where I didn’t expect it to come from — the least expected places. And so, I think when you experience that enough times, you just go, ‘Okay, I don’t understand all of this.’ And I don’t understand all of God’s Word.”

“But I have seen so much good and so much light,” she added. “And so many things that have felt dead come to life in me because of God’s Word applied to those dead places, that I trust his goodness.

“When you experience that — when you experience peace in the midst of suffering, when it makes no sense — you just want the same for other people.”

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For more inspiring stories about Bible translation and women around the world who have been transformed by Scripture in their own language, visit our Women of the Word page!