Jessie Early on Marriage, Creativity, & Singing When the Mortgage is Due
Jessie Early, 27, is a songwriter, artist, and worship leader. She lives in Nashville, TN, with her husband Aaron and their dog, Cash. She’s an accomplished songwriter and worship leader. She’s as comfortable on stage leading people into intimate moments of worship as she is joking across from me as we interview, half-singing some answers and making jokes, regaling me with stories of her college radio show. She moves with ease from lows to highs because she’s seen them all. She’s learned to embrace them, and from times of pain and grief has found faith and joy.
Tell me about your childhood. What is your background in faith?
I was born in Portland, OR, and then we moved here when I was four. When we moved to Nashville we started going to this really cool Church that was really charismatic and full of the Holy Spirit. I grew up being very acquainted with the Holy Spirit.
My mom’s a worship leader now, and both my parent play on the worship team. For them, I think that was foreign when I was growing up — to actually use your gift in the context of church and the context of ministry. I watched my parents discover that as I grew up.
One of my first experiences with the Lord was getting baptized in the Holy Spirit when I was 8 years old, plastered out on the floor at kids camp. Obviously I knew God and I had asked Jesus into my heart — but the first person out of those three that I encountered was the Holy Spirit.
Can you explain what relationship with the Holy Spirit looks like on a day to day level?
I’m a pretty feelings-based person. I experience the world based on how I feel and I’ve realized that I can hear God through that. You can walk in a room and have a feeling — that’s one of the ways I experience the Holy Spirit. Or you might feel compassion for someone. That’s one of the ways I experience the Holy Spirit on a day to day basis.
Sometimes it feels like what people talk about as a “still small voice.” It might even be super clear, but to me the Holy Spirit feels like peace. All the time.
I know that if I've had a really stressful day or I’m feeling insecure about something I’ve made, I can always stop and take a deep breath in — and to me, that feeling that comes when you stop and listen, that’s also the Holy Spirit. When you stop and breathe in and feel that peace in the middle of the noise and the chaos and the crazy.
How did growing up in musical family influence your understanding of how you could relate to God?
From a young age I always knew that I felt the most alive when I was singing or when I was creating, just being in the corner doing crafts.
I forgot who said it, but I heard somebody talking about anointing and they said, “Anointing is when you feel God smile.” I just love that. It’s one of my favorite things. Growing up and being in a musical family, being musical, being creative — that was just the thing that I always felt God smiling over.
"Obviously you aren't your gift — your gift doesn’t define you. You don’t have to “do anything” for God. But you know when you’re doing the thing, the thing you're made to do, you can feel God smiling. And I like that."
I think a lot of people feel like they write music but it’s not “Christian” or they paint paintings but they’re not of “Christian” things, and they’re not sure if that’s okay. I’m super passionate about people discovering their voice and knowing who they are and letting that change the world around them. It doesn’t have to be limited to this little box. That’s one of the things I saw my parents discover when I was growing up. My parents were in 80s hair bands and making crazy pop music. Both of them were writing songs and traveling. When I was little my mom was a country music artist and had music videos on CMT.
It was really fascinating to watch them wrestle through questions like, “How does what we’re doing fit into the Church, how does what we’re doing fit into our faith?” It’s a journey I've also gone on. Knowing that the things I make and the voice that I have, the Lord has put all of that in me. He’s done it for a purpose. The Church needs it, the world needs it, and my community needs it.
That journey is one of my favorite things about the making of your EP. You found a way to be who God made you to be and not have it be like what anyone else in worship or pop music is doing. You found something in the middle that’s actually Jessie. What did that journey look like for you? What’s different between Jessie three years ago and Jessie now?
Aaron and I got married about five years ago. The beginning of our marriage was really hard. Two or three years in, I hadn’t written a song in couple years — and I felt like the Lord said, “Hey, what if you do a worship album?”
And I said, “Hey, what if I didn’t?”
And he said, “Hey what if you did?”
And I was like, “Ew, what if I didn’t? I just want to write pop music, I don’t want to do that.”
But then a wise friend said to me, “Jessie, what if this doesn’t look like what you think it’s going to look like? What if the Lord is actually inviting you to step into something that's really cool?” And I liked the possibility of that. Begrudgingly, I was like, “Okay Lord, I don’t know what that’s going to look like, because I know what I don’t want it to look like… but sure, why not? Let’s go for it.”
The process of me writing started out as writing songs for a certain group of people at a certain time, as in our church, right now. All of that is great, but none of it felt true to me. And so I started digging. All of this stuff I really liked was more about the really hard stuff we went through in our first couple years of our marriage. Trying to trust God in the middle of all of that, which is really hard, and exploring pain, grief, possibility, uncertainty, and doubt. The songs that ended up on the EP are those songs. They tell the story of the first couple years of our marriage and the Lord being really faithful through it all.
"I felt all of this pressure to make something that looked a certain way and as soon as I let that pressure go, all the songs just started coming out. It was really amazing. I'm super proud of my songs and my project."
Part of the journey of the last couple of years was this: around that time I thought “Who cares if I'm good worship leader, a good songwriter, or a good artist if I'm not a very good wife?” I’ve been on this journey because I want to be a good friend, I want to be a good wife, I want to be better. I want to watch the fruit of the Lord work in the relationships in my life. I want to make cool stuff, but I also want to see everything in my life flourish in abundance.
What is the relationship between you getting those core things like relationship right and the rest of your life flourishing?
I realized I needed to prioritize loving Aaron. If you take the time to seek the Lord, if you take the time to listen and really prioritize the people around you, and you prioritize your relationships, the rest of your life starts to flourish. I think that’s something that the Lord really honors. He honors when we take time to have our hearts right and really dig in the process of whatever he’s inviting us into with him.
Sometimes it feels like, “Oh, God, I don’t know that I want to work on that right now,” and he’s like, “Oh, but the fruit of working on that is going to be so much greater!”
You talked about learning about grief and pain during the first few years of marriage. What did those seasons teach you about your identity?
That I’m loved. The groundwork for me is that God is so good. That’s 101. He’s super faithful. That’s been The Story for me the last couple years — and of my life. He’s faithful to know exactly what we need. He’s faithful to provide right when you need it. There were so many times when I would be asking how he would work it out or if he would come through — and he always does. He’s so steadfast and so faithful. That’s the center of it for me. His goodness and kindness are beyond what we can even comprehend. I’ve been stunned at how good God is.
If that’s true about God, how does that translate into your life? How has it changed you?
It’s helped me to relax a lot. It’s helped me to chill out a bit. I get overwhelmed by the bills and the mortgage. Just knowing that the Lord is faithful helps me stop and know that he knows exactly what I need. Sometimes I just get in the car and there’s no music on and I just hum and sing: “You know exactly what I need.” It’s just simple. I love that about the Lord. It’s simple. He can take our faith even if it’s really, really small. He doesn’t need this big bravado of faith.
"A lot of the time my faith is just me singing, Okay God, I gotta pay the mortgage and you know exactly what I need. I know you’re gonna come through even though it didn’t all come in this month. That to me is intimacy with the Lord right there. It’s really simple."
So I’ve just learned to stop, but sometimes I don't stop. I just keep going and freak out and Aaron really hears it from me when I freak out. But it helps us both to just stop. Last Christmas we had an argument going on and I said we both needed to take five minutes with the Lord to talk and come back with what we heard about what we should do. We both came back and felt like we needed to do the same thing. That’s the faithfulness of the Lord, learning how to walk in that and exercise it practically.
What is intimacy with the Lord like?
Growing up in a spiritual church that valued the Holy Spirit, I always thought that people were more spiritual than me or having more intimate encounters with the Lord. In the last year or two I've realized that intimacy with the Lord is simple. It’s like being with a friend, knowing each other and having conversation and laughing.
One time I asked the Lord, “Where are you?” I saw this picture of Jesus sitting on my kitchen counter. For me, if I feel at home somewhere, I’ll sit on the kitchen counter. I know that someone feels at home with me if they’re sitting on my kitchen counter. That picture of Jesus on my counter changed everything for me. I realized he was so real and relatable. He’s not threatened by my dishes or my laundry. He’s so personal. That's the thing I really love about relationship with God: he’s so personal and he knows us so well.
"Relationship with him could be simple. He feels at home in my house and he feels at home in my company. That was a really big revelation for me."
How does your understanding of your identity influence your creative work or marriage?
Literally every time I sit down to journal with the Lord, the first thing he says to me is, “Jessie, I’m proud of you. I love you so much.” Every single time, without fail. My response is something more like, “Are you sure, are you sure you’re so proud of me? I’m not proud of me today.” And he’s still so proud. He has an unwavering, unrelenting love towards us. It’s mind boggling.
One of the biggest things creatives struggle with is comparison. Especially with my music, I’ve struggled with doubt and insecurity and if what I’m making is even good. All of us as creatives really struggle with that question: “Is what I'm making awesome? Is this cool?”
So I started declaring over myself: “The Father is thrilled at my creative projects. He breathes on everything I do because he loves it, because he loves me.” I started declaring that over myself and everything was making.
I realized I don't have "do anything” for God. I could not write another song for the rest of my life and he would just love me. Which is hard thing to think about — what if you stopped doing the thing you love so much, imagine whatever it is — the Lord is still going to love you. You don’t have to do anything for him.
You don't have to prove yourself because he’s already proud of you. That’s something I've found to be true. When you know who you are and you know you have a voice, it lets you be more creative. It lets you take more risks. I love this whole thing about uncharted territory and pioneering. When you know who you are, you get to partner with God and pioneer something new and discover new creative territory. That is the most exciting thing ever.
"Everyone is creative and everyone has a voice. The Lord has given you a unique voice that only you can express. It’s fascinating that each of us have our own song, our own voice, our own offering. No one else can respond to the Lord the way that you can. He doesn’t need another me or another Alaina. He needs a you."
For me it’s remembering that the Lord loves me, he loves what I have to say, and he loves my dreams. My response to him is the only one I can give. I can't give someone else’s response to the Lord. That’s really exciting, that we each get to discover our own voice, our own journey, our own vocabulary, our own unique relationship with him.
I’m passionate about people finding their own voice and using it.
What would you say is at stake when we don’t risk going into those uncharted places with the Lord. What’s at risk if we don’t believe that he loves us and is proud of us?
You risk being unhappy. You risk not having joy and being constantly bound by comparison. Constantly feeling ashamed and angry.
It would be such a shame if we couldn’t be ourselves. The world would miss out. What’s the world going to miss out on because you’re not fully you? Maybe they miss out on a brilliant creative thing or someone misses out on having a really amazing friend.
"If we’re ourselves, our community, our cities, our relationships, and our families are more filled with joy. They’re all better if we’re all ourselves."
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All photos by Bree Marie Fish.