After signing an artist deal with the INO Records, her 2008 national debut won a Dove Award for Inspirational Album and earned Laura two consecutive nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year - all blessings, indeed.
But amidst that success a brain tumour hospitalised her husband in 2006. The faith Story sang about was put through the unexpected fires of fear and loneliness; most young newlyweds don’t imagine being kept alive at one point by breathing machines or having to find their way through significant post-operative vision and memory loss. Could grace notes resound from such a life-altering struggle? Laura’s incisive new album, Blessings, suggests they do.
“Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship him,” Story begins. “Martin hasn’t received complete healing - and that can be hard at times when we view God as all-powerful and all-loving. But here we are now saying, ‘Yes, this is how faith works.’ God has proven to be faithful. We have been truly blessed out of a circumstance that at first didn’t seem like much of a blessing at all.”
Among the positives, Laura sees the timing of their new international travel opportunities as no coincidence. Singing and teaching in churches across the United States, Western Europe, and South America, she believes “we have a voice that wasn’t there prior to this suffering".
"I can hardly begin to tell you of the hundreds of hurting people we’ve prayed with, people going through more than we have. This is a chance to share the Gospel.”
Story’s perspective has also changed for the better; the words of James 1:2 (Consider it a great joy . . . whenever you experience various trials) ring especially true and duly influence the joyful, wisdom-loving tone throughout Blessings.
“Don’t get the wrong idea. It hasn’t been easy,” Laura admits. “Everyone wants to be a mature and equipped follower, but would I have signed up had I known what it would take? God has grown us up, deepened our faith, our awareness of our great need for him as a saviour, daily. We knew it before, but we didn’t see it. This is a good place to be.”
Blessings reflects that hopeful place. A worship project at heart with constant threads of pop energy and singer/songwriter warmth, the album was recorded in Georgia at Chris Tomlin’s studio and produced by Nathan Nockels (Passion). Story penned most of the ten songs herself but partnered with co-writers including Brenton Brown and Third Day’s Mac Powell.
The opening tracks exude enthusiastic praise to Jesus, creating a trilogy of modern church anthems, comparable to the Hillsong style, that identifies Christ as the truth in my life . . . my salvation (“This Is the Day”), the gentle namesake in “Friend of Sinners”, and justice from every oppression, forgiveness for every confession, but most of all love in “You Are Love”.
Laura says of the soaring latter selection, “God is the author of love. He made it up and gave the greatest demonstration of it on the cross. I met with some other worship leaders to write about the breakthrough moment when we as believers really make that connection.”
Such a realisation demands a response like that found on “One Life to Lose”, a piano-driven countercultural tune whose premise Story likens to a quote by martyred Christian missionary Jim Elliot: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
“The world supports an idea of self-centered living because ‘I just have this one life,’ but we need to look at it the other way,” explains Laura. “We only have one life to give to God. I don’t want to have held anything back. I don’t want to be a conservative Christian; I want to give with abandon, to be spent, to truly give my life away for the cause of Christ.”
Yet Story knows firsthand the journey to surrender gets complicated—that it sometimes involves having to redefine what God’s “blessings” could mean, a spiritual wrestling match she perfectly encapsulates on Blessings’ breathtaking title track and first single:
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
is a revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
“The song shows that we still have more questions than answers,” Laura confesses. “But there’s a decision that I find God is asking us to make: whether we are going to choose to interpret our circumstances based on what we hold to be true about God, or whether we’re going to judge what we hold to be true about God based on our circumstances.”
Laura and Martin’s circumstances have magnified the blessing of marriage. High school sweethearts, they faced the strong chance their long-awaited bond might last just two years. “Once you’ve rallied through a life-threatening illness together, the rest of it is like a surprise; every day is a new gift that might not have been there. It’s not as big a deal now if he leaves his socks on the floor,” Laura says with a smile.
She likens “Faithful God”, the beautifully sung, highly emotional closing praise song from Blessings, to the Lord entering into a marriage covenant with his people. In fact, when Story is asked about all that she and her husband have been through the past five years, the lyrics provide the answer.
“People ask how we’re doing, and I like to say: ‘We have a faithful God.’ Every promise he’s kept, every need he’s met.”
Without a doubt, blessings abound in Laura Story’s life. Offstage, she and Martin love to be outdoors, riding bikes or trekking their way through the book 50 Hikes in North Georgia. She also meets women from church for coffee a couple of times during the week, talking one-on-one about the lessons their congregation explores in Sunday worship. And it all pours back into her musical gift.
“Life is cool,” she concludes. “I work at a church that lets me be a recording artist. I record for a label that lets me work at a church instead of having to always be on tour. And I love how it all interconnects. This dynamic is what makes me a healthy person. I am blessed!”