Songs about Justice written by a Social Worker

In March, we celebrate that fact that every day, some 682,000 social workers across the nation act as advocates, champions and leaders who make our society a better place to live.
– NASW / socialworkers.org
When most musicians write songs about justice, they might be drawing on a few small experiences…. a sad story on the news here, maybe encountering a homeless person there, supporting a relief organization somewhere else, etc. The lyrics might move us emotionally, but do little to help us understand what is needed to make a difference.
When I write songs, I have a deeper understanding of social issues from being a social worker… actually going into dark places myself, looking into the eyes of the oppressed, and trying to bring some light to their world. From serving refugees to survivors of severe abuse, to people without homes and people with dementia, I bring a unique perspective to my writing.  I approach my songwriting from a place of actually loving people, knowing their stories, and reflecting on things I’ve learned along the way about what is needed to actually help.
Songwriting
Nearly all my song bring some level of being influenced by my social work, but there are a few that are the most obvious…
 – Blog post – Behind the Song
 – Blog post – Behind the Song
 – (coming… on my next CD!)
 – Blog post – Behind the Song
Other Writing
I’ve also written a book, because I didn’t want to just leave you at inspiration.  I wanted to go to the next level of equipping (blog post about that), knowing that even the most inspired compassionate person needs to learn what it actually takes to make a difference in justice.

book cover

Surviving Service: Effective Response to God’s Call for Justice
(paperback / ebook / also available through Amazon, Apple, etc.)
I’ve also been writing a number of follow-up blog posts (Surviving Service) for further equipping of those who are inspired to respond with compassion and hope to various social justice needs all around us.
I hope you will come along with me as I share stories all around me that we can all learn and grow from!
#SocialWorkMonth
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Story behind Above the Clouds

“It’s always cloudy in Rochester” — Rochester, NY, that is… where I’m from.

I used to dream of moving south to the cheery sunny states.  When I’d complain about the gloomy overcast skies, my dad would say, “well there’s always sunshine here… it’s just above the clouds.”

frontcoverforstef - Cropped and compressed - CopyOne of the many times I descended above the clouds in a plane set for Charleston, I got thinking about what Dad used to say to me.  At the time I was struggling to make friends in my new home, and I was yearning for God’s restoration in multiple areas of life. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart the deeper truth of those words:

When I focus on the cloudy, rainy circumstances around me, all seems hopeless and dark. But when I focus on the hope found in the heavens, I see the light and soak it in.

The song also became a prayer that God would send people to shine His light around me… recognizing that as I soak in the light, I can be that for someone else as well.

The light of God’s Son is always there. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

(This is one of my favorite songs I’ve written… if not the favorite. Hoping to record this soon on my next CD!)

It’s always a sunny day above the clouds… It’s always a sunny day above the clouds

When all I see is rain, remind me in my pain that it’s always a sunny day above the clouds

 

All I know has gone away and the sky has turned to a deep dark gray

I need you to shine your light and say that you’re here to stay

 

It’s always a sunny day above the clouds… It’s always a sunny day above the clouds

When all I see is rain, remind me in my pain that it’s always a sunny day above the clouds

 

My feet are stuck on the ground as I wait for the sound of heaven coming down

‘Cause the only hope to be found is above all the clouds

 

It’s always a sunny day above the clouds… It’s always a sunny day above the clouds

When all I see is rain, remind me in my pain… When all I see is rain, Lord, remind me in my pain

When all I see is rain, shine your light so I can say that it is always a sunny day above the clouds

Story behind I Choose

Forget what matters and dig for gold
Climb those ladders to take control
with no time left for you

I
I could
I could choose

But I choose you
I choose you
You’re worth it all

Why don’t I try to do it all
Out all night and please them all
with no time left for you

I will spend myself on you
You’re worth it all

If I’m honest, my family and I have gone through A LOT of difficult loss this past year… multiple kinds.  I’ve done quite a bit of praying and reflecting, and as a result God has reprioritized my life again to things that matter most… things like:

  • relationships and building connections with people
  • walking through hard stuff with other people
  • stopping to have conversations, and just listen
  • giving grace to people when they least deserve it
  • loving people for who they are, not how they’re acting in the moment
  • being honest and open
  • finding gratefulness and joy in the everyday
  • worshipping God through the storms

I had the idea for this song a couple years ago, but only the wisdom gained through this year could’ve written it — this final song written as a culmination of the message of my upcoming CD!

I was having a phone conversation with my close friend, when she brought up things we intentionally give up to have what God wants to bless us with.

  • Sometimes we give up hours working (and therefore income) so we can spend more time with our families.  Or sometimes we work more so we can give more financially to those in need.
  • Sometimes we give up an influential position so we can work on our physical, emotional, or spiritual health.  Or sometimes we walk through hard seasons because God has called us to that position to serve the Kingdom better.
  • Sometimes we give up meeting people’s expectations of serving or just hanging out because God has something different for us to use that time on.

No matter what, I want to consistently intentionally choose what’s better: God, important relationships, and what God has for me to do… rather than going with the cultural flow of seeking money, power, and/or social approval.

I also want my decisions on how I use my time, talents, and treasures to reflect that I’ve chosen what’s better: things that are not about “I” — what “I could” do, or what “I could choose” — but are about my relationship with God, my spouse, my family, etc.  I need to consciously choose to “spend myself” on what matters… otherwise my time, talents, and treasures will be wasted away on things that don’t.

When I get to the end of the day, and “I feel spent,” I want to say so with joy, knowing that I gave my entire being into worthy things that matter most.

 

Story behind Legacy of Love

I wrote Legacy of Love to honor my grandparents.  I thought I’d write about it on the fifth anniversary of my Grandpa’s passing; also my Grandma just came to visit, and my other Grandpa hopes to come next month.

This song reflects back on my grandparents’ marriages, and the example they were of true, devoted love.  As both my husband and I come from divorced parents, they were meaningful demonstrations for us as we started our life together.  I wanted to say thank you in the best way I know how.  I will always treasure the time when I got to play this song for them; seeing their joy was priceless!

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Years ago I was sitting in the hospital room with my paternal grandparents.  My Grandpa was in a lot of pain, and he was struggling to be his loving, patient, and gentle self.  I remember he said some harsh words to my Grandma, and all my Grandma replied in that moment was, “I love you, Bob.”  She stayed with him and loved him until the end. She recalls all the times when her mental illness kept from being able to be of much help; her husband would step up and take over, going to work even in his pain, looking after the kids, and caring for his wife until she recovered. She says that when one struggled, the other stepped up to help.  They always kept Christ in their marriage, following his example the best they could, and that made all the difference.  They loved each other dearly, treasuring their time together; Grandma misses him every day.  As Grandpa passed soon after my wedding, I learned that I need to treasure every day I have with my husband.

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

– Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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I watched my maternal grandparents struggle through the difficult journey of my Grandma having Alzheimer’s for about a decade. She would get confused; she would get infuriated and stubborn.  Slowly, Alzheimer’s took over her memories, then her control, then her body.  Grandpa walked through it with her the whole time.  He would help her as best he could, and never gave up on her, even as he needed to accept her limitations.  He kept her as active as possible.  He would still poke fun at her like they did when they were young, which made her really come alive and be silly back.  He recalls all the times that Grandma would sit in the hospital with him when he’d fall ill.  They were still each other’s sweethearts up until the end.  Grandpa loves sharing stories, recalling their time together with joy.  I learned from them to always have fun with my husband, and to love him well in the good times and the difficult times.

Here’s to my Grandparents: may we all live our lives as you have, in such a way that we leave a legacy of love. 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  I personally know many people who have suffered such abuse and I have done a lot of work with survivors of sexual violence as a social worker.  I wrote the song “Tears Fall” (available here) to encourage those who have suffered any abuse at the hands of another.

To help with awareness this month, I thought I’d share an excerpt from my book, Surviving Service: Effective Response to God’s Call for Justice. (Physical copy or pdf available here, and online in all your favorite book/e-book stores.)

Along with researching what works in improving situations, it’s imperative that you keep learning all you can about the population you want to help. I have heard stories of well-intentioned people messing things up when they were just trying to help.

Sexual Violence: I’ve heard countless stories from sexual assault survivors who had people suggest what they think the survivor could have done to avoid the assault, or to avoid a future assault. Rather than being helpful to the survivor, the survivor starts to think she was to blame, instead of the actual perpetrator of the assault. In reality, most sexual assaults are pre-planned (often by people they know and even trust), and the perpetrator gets the survivor in the most vulnerable circumstance. By then, it’s too late to do anything other than what’s necessary to survive the encounter (fighting back, trying to escape, submitting, etc.).

Domestic Violence: In my educational workshops on dating and domestic violence, I noticed many people think it is best to encourage a victim to leave the situation and relationship right away. In reality, domestic violence victims are most at risk of being seriously injured or murdered by the perpetrator (violent person) right when, or soon after, they leave. It is usually better to remain calm and plan the escape. Help the victim make a safety plan for leaving: When is the best time to leave? Where will she (and the kids) go? How will she safely move her belongings? How will she avoid the perpetrator? What should she do if the perpetrator shows up somewhere? Does she need legal assistance or financial resources to get through this? Who can help support her? Be sure to employ community support and resources. She will then be prepared to leave as soon as it appears safest to do so.

Get involved here: www.nsvrc.org/saam/

#SAAM

Story behind “Ordinary Hero (Song for John)”

Ordinary Hero (Song for John)* – played at his Memorial Service

My Mom asked me to write a song for my Step-Dad a couple weeks before Christmas 2016, when they found out the second chemo didn’t work, and would be trying a third treatment. I told her I would be honored to do so.  I told her I would take some time over my Christmas trip to CT to brainstorm, and asked her to send me anything she’d like to say to John through the song. Then we’d get together again to write the song after Christmas. I knew from the start it needed a slight country twang, for my country-lovin’ Mom and Step-Dad. 😉

I started brainstorming: John lived life abundantly, spending quality time with his family. Him and my mom went on more adventures than I could keep track of… they were always doing something!  (It was an inspiration for me to get out there and do new things with my hubby too.)  Their honeymoon in September fulfilled their bucket-list of a trip down the east coast.  What an adventure!  He lived well.

In the airport on my way home from CT, I got a text that John was headed to the hospital.  The next morning my sister came over to discuss booking a flight up to NY to be with them, for an undefined amount of time.  I quickly unpacked, repacked, and did the tasks I needed to do before leaving. The following morning I had a few hours before we needed to be to the airport.  Since I wouldn’t have my guitar with me in NY, even though I hadn’t gotten my Mom’s ideas yet for the song, I figured I’d better try to write it before I left.  Normally I’d take at least a couple days to finish a song… so I prayed for a miracle! And it came.

As I reflected on John’s life, the term ordinary hero came to mind.  A hero is “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” John certainly had courage, achieved a lot, and had noble qualities… but he did so in a regular, humble way. No matter how much he did to “save the day” in many ways as a heroic firefighter, sincerely caring bus driver, and friend who would drop anything to help out, at the end of the day, he was still just a man: my Mom’s beloved husband and co-adventurer. He was an ordinary man who demonstrated the love of God in those ways:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. […] And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:16,23). “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). 

Although his physical stature might cause you to assume otherwise, it was hard in the everyday to do these “heroic” things.  He would get tired.  There were things he sacrificed.  Sometimes he needed help.  He wished for more time.  As an ordinary man, he needed God to help him and be his hero, even more than he helped others heroically.

All of his life filled the verses and chorus in honor of him.  But I still needed a bridge.  My Mom called later on that morning.  She talked of how loving and gentle he still was, despite waning physical strength and increasing physical discomfort.  That was so telling of who he was.  As I visited with him that evening, I noticed that even in moments of confusion, the topic of conversation was always about taking care of someone or some situation.  It wasn’t about him.

I played the song for him that night; I thanked him for loving my Mom, and told him it’s ok to go rest in the arms of our Hero… we’ll all be there soon.  In the morning he met Jesus face-to-face.  I will forever treasure that memory.

I leave you with the poem my Mom wrote:

God, You Got a Good Man

669 days ago, a gentle man began the fight of his life,

along with his family, friends and loving wife.

With much love for his family, especially fatherhood,

he lived each day doing the best he possibly could.

With great respect for the elderly, extending a hand out,

that’s only part of what this strong man was about.

Loved by the children, and loved the children so,

As he spent many years watching them all grow.

He’d drop everything to help anyone in need,

a wise and sensible man, dependable indeed.

He loved the outdoors, camping, four-wheeling and the farm,

and all who met this man could not resist his charm.

A love for his country, patriotic as a person could be,

A strong and faith-filled man, he was our oak tree.

*If you’d like to have the song, email me at stefaniepottermusic@gmail.com and I will send it over to you.

God Moving through Music

As you all know, last month was a tough one for my family.  Jesus called my Step-Dad home what feels like way too early.

How does this connect to my music?

There were multiple moments in this hard journey that I saw God moving through music… and it reminded me of why I continue to write, continue to sing, and continue to share the gifts God gave me to use for His work.

Ordinary Hero – Of course first I was honored to be called upon by my Mother to write a special song for her beloved husband, John. It meant a lot to me to reflect on his life and what he meant to all of us.  It meant even more to get to tell him and my Mom this when I played the song for him before he passed.  God continued to use this song to help us honor John, and learn from his life of loving service, as his Memorial service.  I’m not sure how I made it through singing it without bawling (I barely did in front of John too), if not for the grace of God.

At first I was hesitant to share this song online.  I didn’t want it to come across as self-promotion or attention-seeking in any way.  But then God gave me peace to share it… to continue to honor John and help his loved ones long after the services were complete.  As friends and family watched, I saw God use it to help people mourn, to reflect on the example of John’s life, to reach out to others, and to remember him with love.  That’s all I could’ve asked for and more.

Angels Among Us – Mom was brainstorming a song to have Chris, Amanda, and me sing at John’s memorial service, as we sang together at their wedding.  She came upon Angels Among Us as a suggestion, and remembered that John always liked that song.  (It just so happened that this was the first song that Amanda and I sang together in church when we were little.)  So we began looking up versions, and found one with sisters singing together… it was a perfect fit!  

Then Mom and Amanda had the idea of having kids sing with us.  The next day Amanda and I were a bit nervous about how we could pull off gathering a bunch of kids to sing.  But we ran it by the Pastor, and he said, “You know, I was thinking it would be nice to have kids participate in the service, since he loved kids so much!”  It was a done deal.  Pastor Ball recruited a dozen of the sweetest kids we could ask for, and took care of everything that entailed to make it happen.  Those kids worked so hard to learn it, and it was such a sweet tribute to John… I’m not sure there was a dry eye in the place. 

15941436_766950943716_3352225706840909034_nAfter the services were over, Mom was downstairs trying to find some papers.  That’s when I noticed this poster above John’s old desk… I’m not sure Mom even realized it!

Later still, we were going through Facebook posts with Mom, and someone they knew had posted that song in honor of John… on the day Mom chose it!  So many sweet confirmations that God had led us to this song for a purpose.

Just be Held – It was clear that God was speaking to Mom and John through music in the previous months.  One Sunday they heard this song in church.   She was so moved by it that she wrote it down to remember for later.  Well she ended up remembering about the song one Sunday after the funeral.  She said she couldn’t remember what it was called, but it would’ve been a good one to sing (but as we saw, God had other plans!).  She planned to look up that service bulletin later to show me.

Well, on that night of going through Facebook, we started listening to a song my cousin had posted to her wall… that was the song!  (Ironically, the music video even has Charleston’s famous “Angel Oak”tree featured.)  It was a healing moment of resting in God’s Love. 

There was another song posted by a friend, “Jealous of the Angels” that said so much of what we were feeling, and even some of what I’d said to John before he passed.  One of many moments that allowed us grace to mourn.

Then yet another friend dedicated a song to John in church, that just meant so much to us!

I could go on…

My friends, this is why I write, this is why I sing, this is why I continue to share the gifts God gave me for his work of grace, restoration, healing, and love.

More Meaning behind “Not Alone”

Not Alone

…This one’s going to get even more personal than normal (if that’s possible).

One foot in front of the other

On this beaten ground

With every bit of dirt uncovered

Wonder will this be the last you’ve found?

And the crowds seem to disappear, the farther down you go

’til it’s just me saying, I can’t

promise you an easy road

But you’ll never be alone

You’re not alone

As you wish upon those stars

That light the darkened way

Why is it they seem so far?

And one by one they fade away

And the crowds seem to disappear, the farther down you go

’til it’s just me saying, I can’t

promise you an easy road

But you’ll never be alone

You’re not alone

But I can’t do this on my own

The burden is too deep

I’m scraping for that bit of hope

To hold me when I’m weak

Who will hold me when I’m weak?

                           

I take a breath as You tell me

that I’ll never be alone

I’m not alone

 

I wrote this song as a promise to my loved ones that I’d walk through the tough stuff with them, as I held to the promise that God would walk with me.  

At that time, the context was my sister’s adoption journey.  It’s been awesome to see it finally come to fruition!  But at the same time, the journey has only begun.


14290019_747133752526_6526974859986928038_oHowever, recently this song took a different meaning for me.  The past month I’ve walked with my mother through the loss of her beloved husband.  It’s meant a lot to her and us how much her family, friends, and community has come around her and told her in many ways, “I can’t promise you an easy road, but you’ll never be alone.”

Personally, I’ve been mourning along with her on multiple levels in multiple moments, including when it was time to leave her and head back to Charleston. On one hand I know God has her back and will continue to care about and for her even more than we ever could.  I know God will send her the people and the help and encouragement she needs.

 However, even as she is surrounded by friends and a caring community, I think about how she feels not having her husband with her… her best friend–her person–is in Heaven. She may feel alone… although she is not.  

Please join me in praying that my beloved Mother will continue to know and feel God’s personal and loving presence with her, and have peace that she will “never be alone.”

Story behind “Home”

“Home” starts at 4:40

This song is one of the oldest songs that we still play.  It was originally a slow song.  Back in August 2015, we put on a fundraiser concert for Doors to Freedom, supporting their effort of opening a home for DMST survivors.  We felt like the message was totally appropriate for the event, but we had too many slow songs. So we worked rearranged it to be a knee-slappin’ folk song… and we’ve loved playing it ever since!  (This video is from playing it at the Chonda Pierce event.)  I’m hoping to include it on my next CD.

I wrote this song in college, back in 2007.  This was the very beginnings of my sense of “home” being redefined.  Ever since then, with each move, the feeling that no place is actually totally home has just amplified. When I visit family, I say I’m going home.  When I come back to Charleston, I say I’m going home.  At the same time, I’m leaving home both ways.  When I think of Texas, it feels a bit like home.  When I think of my husband’s family in CT, it feels a bit like home.

I wrote this song to honor my relationship with God and my family.  Back in college, I realized that I feel most at home where people know and love God and each other.  I also feel most at home around my family… wherever that is.  When you’re home, you’re free to be yourself… and that’s a beautiful thing.

When I first showed this song to (my now husband) Chris, he thought I wrote it about him.  But I wrote it before we started dating… sooo it really wasn’t about him at first. 😛 As much as we each secretly wanted it to be!  But as we opened up about our love for each other, it became about him.  So I eventually re-dedicated it to include him.  As we’ve grown united in our marriage, I can now say it is most true about him, second only to Christ. What a blessing!  Together, we are home. ❤

Story behind “Yankees in Texas”

A little silliness for us…

Moving to Texas was a CULTURE SHOCK!

My husband and I lived there for a couple years when we first got married.  It didn’t take long to fall in love with the people there.  But I tell you what, Texas is a different world from what I grew up in…

I wrote “Yankees in Texas” within my first year, as I found all the little differences funny.  The biggest thing for us to get used to was the overall lack of sarcasm… which my husband and I are fluent in. There were multiple times when we had to explain, “Sorry, we’re not saying what we mean. We’re not being mean. We’re not stupid either. We’re just being silly. Assume the best intentions.”  Texans know how to have fun, joke around, and be silly… ours was just a little different flavor. lone-star-state--texas

Another thing was the friendliness. We LOVED it, as people (especially Fellowship Church) welcomed us so well in a time when we were separated from everyone and everything we knew.  Although our worldviews/ideologies differed some, we were able to find great unity.

But sometimes the friendliness freaked me out a bit.  I remember one of my co-workers being so kind by trying to get to know me, but she asked some questions that were probably normal to a southerner, and I (slightly weirded out) was trying to keep a safe distance.  Of course we ended up becoming super close friends… but it took me breaking down those Yankee walls and realizing her best intentions for that to happen!

There wasn’t much to do within a 1 hour radius of us.  (Although they’re used to driving hours, like it’s no big deal!)  So the friendliness of people worked in our favor.  I can’t tell you how many dinners and game nights we shared.  Even the workplace was different.  Relationships were valued as much as productivity.  The pace was rarely frantic, like we find other places.

Of course there are a lot of Spanish-speakers down there.  So my “mastery” of Spanish in high school did not prove sufficient when compared to native speakers applying for the same jobs.  Along with that came Tex-mex.  That was the normal go-to food… so we had to get to know it and figure out what we liked in that style.  That made me realize that pasta dishes (our go-to) were not the norm to much of the US.

I also can’t describe how many country music stations there are… where stations come in, that is!  Cowgirl boots are essential fashion. BBQ is done right. Rodeos and ranching are a way of life.

Although I missed the amount of trees we have back East, I LOVED the big blue sunshine-filled skies.  It was like catching up on all my 25 years of missed Vitamin D… while realizing how beautiful the world can be, and how insignificant we are compared to God.  I also loved the small-town feel.  I felt much safer in the “sketchy” areas of Bryan/College Station than I did in the gunshot-laden inner city of Rochester.

Texans love Texas.  Although the amount of lone stars seen around are a bit excessive, in many ways, I can see why.  The idea of moving to Texas never came to mind until it was a reality, but I’m so grateful that we did.  Some days I miss it.  But everyday I’m grateful that a couple of Yankees were able to survive there for a while… and they survived us! 😛

An adventure to treasure…