Cancer. It wrecks bodies, rips souls, and leaves empty chairs around the dinner table.
It's not a word anyone wants to hear. It definitely caught Ellie Holcomb off guard. The singer/songwriter faced cancer when her father, longtime Christian music producer Brown Bannister, was diagnosed after a routine check up with his doctor.
What do you do when someone you love gets cancer?
Holcomb's been figuring that out. For her, part of the healing came through music.
"When I sing, I believe," she says. "If I can sing something, it's sort of like printing it on my own soul and it helps me believe that it's true…. It has been something that has pulled me out of the pit over and over again; and I am grateful for that."
Trusting God doesn't come naturally to any of us, especially when tragedy strikes. But, for Holcomb, seeing the faith of her father, and mother, lifted her spirit. And her new album, Red Sea Road, is her brand new collection of folk/pop songs that testify to God's goodness.
"I wrote this record about how I'd seen God show up in the middle of all the pain and all the ache," she says. "I know now more than I did two years ago that He's faithful, that He's faithful no matter what we're facing. So this record really tells that story, it's what I needed to sing to my own soul. I wanted to remind myself of the way that He was drawing near to our breaking hearts, because it's easy to forget. So I wanted to declare it, and I wanted to remind my own soul of his ability to draw near to us, even when our hearts were breaking."
Turning heartbreak into God glorifying music isn't an easy process. But, it's been a blessed one for Holcomb.
"It's been a sweet and beautiful journey. Even though it's been one wrought with heartache, I wouldn't trade it for anything because I know the nearness of God in a way that I'm not sure I would know if it hadn't have been for everything that we've walked through," she says.
"Red Sea Road", the album's inspiring title track, has a special place in Holcomb's heart, but it's the record's first song that hits home.
"I wrote this song called "Find You Here" in the wake of this cancer diagnosis for my dad," Holcomb recalls. "And it's crazy, the music video came out on January 18, and it's so—we did not intend for this to happen, but it was a year ago [to the day] that my mom and dad, in the wake of that diagnosis, wanted to have a praise and worship night at their house."
"I will never forget watching my mom and dad run into that bleak, and daunting, and unknown journey ahead of them," she says. "I watched them run into the darkness with their hands raised in the air, just praising God. I felt like that was one of the most bizarre, unnatural responses, that diagnosis in that circumstance, but in the same breath it felt irresistible. Just following them, it was like, I have to follow them."
"That night, we encountered the presence and the peace of God in a way that will mark me for the rest of my life. In that promise, in Philippians 4:4-7, 'Rejoice in the Lord always. I'll say it again, rejoice.' That feels like a hard command, right? In light of everything that life can throw at you, that feels like a really hard command, but I love the following verses. 'Rejoice in the Lord always. I'll say it again: rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.'"
"And as we lifted our hands in the air, we sensed the nearness of God and that mysterious peace that did not make any sense to have in the moment. We experienced that in a way that was overwhelming, and man, I am so grateful that I get to sing about that and remind myself of that hope that we have, because there's no guarantees in this world, with our health. There is one guarantee that I know of, and it's Jesus who died on a cross and walked up out of a grave. And so I'm grateful that He gives us a reason to sing, because we really do have hope, whether it's for healing this side of glory or the next."
Red Sea Road features the "scratch track" (original vocal) Holcomb recorded the day of her father's critical surgery.
"I just took a little MP3 of the track in the hospital where my mom and dad were," Holcomb remembers. "I just actually found the picture on my phone of us just listening, and our hands were raised, and we were just crying tears of gratitude in a pretty bleak place. A hospital room isn't a cozy environment. But man, we were just praising God for the way that He has drawn near to us."
"That's my prayer for this record, that anyone who listens to these songs would encounter the hope and the peace that we found in Jesus during this trial, and that they would know that God draws near to breaking hearts, and that He can bring comfort into chaos, and he can cover our fears with his faithfulness. I'm just so blessed to have experienced that in a very real and palpable way."
Holcomb's dad is now cancer free and her testament to God's faithfulness through it all is forever sealed on her sophomore album, Red Sea Road.