Ellie Holcomb’s raw, honest, sophomore album, “Red Sea Road,” was born out of the darkest season of her life. “Red Sea Road” is the product of sorrow and joy.
Because it’s easy to rejoice when things are going well: when you’ve been promoted, your children are excelling, or your marriage is naturally fulfilling. But what about when you get that phone call? When you literally cannot stand, or breathe or pray? How do you rejoice then?
Ellie Holcomb says to look at the Red Sea road and let God meet you there.
Rejoicing in the Darkness
Since her last album release in 2014, Ellie Holcomb has been on a roller coaster. She’s been busy building a family with her husband, Drew, and welcoming two beautiful children. At the same time, she has held the hands of close friends as they walked through losing their own children. And she’s faced the specter of cancer in her family. Her sophomore album, “Red Sea Road” is a chronicle of her story of God bringing joy in deep sorrow.
“I didn’t even know if I was going to make another record. I just kept writing songs that my soul needed to sing.”
I didn’t know I’d find you here/in the middle of my deepest fear/ but you are drawing near/ you are overwhelming me with peace.
Written during one of the darkest hours of Holcomb’s life, these “Red Sea Road” lyrics of “Find You Here” are her declaration of joy. Holcomb crafted this song as a spiritual response to the explosive news of her father’s cancer diagnosis. Holcomb’s words in “Find You Here” tell a heart-wrenching story of finding peace despite the overwhelming dread of losing far too soon the man who raised her.
Leading recording producer Brown Bannister (Amy Grant, MercyMe, Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman, Avalon) is Holcomb’s father as well as her producer; this blow didn’t just come to her personal life—it impacted her professional career, too. His cancer diagnosis came just as the album was heading into early production, rocking Ellie emotionally and professionally.
But instead of watching her parents crumble under the weight of an unsure and terrifying cancer diagnosis, she watched as they hosted an evening of praise and worship.
“It was my mom’s birthday when they found out about the cancer, and I felt like I got to watch my parents run into the darkness and the unknown with their hands raised in the air praising God,” said Ellie Holcomb. “It felt like the most unnatural thing to do in light of what they were facing. But we experienced the peace that surpasses understanding and reason that night.”
Holcomb wrote “Find You Here” a few days later and headed to the studio to record it at the very moment her father was being wheeled into surgery. She recorded a draft that day and was able to greet her father in post-op with the song. Tears were inevitable.
“There were tears of joy and gratitude. We were in the middle of such unknown and fear of what the future held; yet we felt the nearness of God. We had this overwhelming feeling of gratitude.”
Seasons of Sorrow
The news of her father’s cancer came in the midst of a season already drenched in sorrow and grief for the Holcomb family. While they joyfully welcomed the birth of their son, they wept with some of their closest friends who had lost their sons.
“It has been a really heavy two years for our community,” said Holcomb. “But in the midst of these couple of years, I can honestly say I know more of God’s faithfulness and His ability to draw near when our hearts are breaking than I’ve ever known before. God was a man of sorrows who knows what it’s like to lose a son.”
Holcomb found comfort in writing with her team and dealing with her hardships through songs they created. It was during one of their sessions together that they came across the powerful imagery of the “Red Sea Road” through a good friend Ann Voskamp’s blog.
Holcomb immediately connected with the beautiful word-painted picture: a group of Israelites following a path God created to escape the enslaving Egyptians; a path that led them to freedom that looks like a vast and impassable sea; a God who parts the waters and asks them to trust that moving forward will bring them to safety, not death.
“What we wanted to write in the title track, ‘Red Sea Road’ is that He’s with us,” Holcomb says. “He makes a way when we can’t see one, and reminds our souls that He’s worth trusting.”
The story is sweeter still knowing that Holcomb and her team were able to return the inspiration back to Voskamp after the song was written. They shared it with Ann at a moment when she, too, needed to be reminded of God’s nearness to the brokenhearted.
Holcomb described that moment as a feeling of communion and broken-bread fellowship, a sorrowful, yet joyful, unity.
That’s ultimately what Holcomb hopes to accomplish. She wants to remind people who have found themselves in funeral homes, hospital rooms and places they never thought they’d be that God is still near in those moments. Ellie wants her story to inspire hope and her words to tell the story of God: He promises to be close to the brokenhearted because He’s been brokenhearted.
She wants to show the world how God turned her sorrow into rejoicing, just as the Bible says He does.
“Red Sea Road” (Full Heart Music) released January 27, 2017.