The wife and mother, singer and song-writer's first album, What I Wanted to Say, was released in 1997, followed by Ordinary Time in 2000. She spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake from her home in Nashville, Tenn., about her most recent album, Lighten Up, which is scheduled for release in June.
How did your family form who you are?
I grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., as one of six girls and two boys in a family of 10. My dad was a pathologist and my mom was a stay-at-home mother. We were one of only two Catholic families in the entire high school.
One of the great things about my family is that they were playful. They liked surprises and loved to laugh. They wanted to conform their lives to the truth, but they lived their life in a kind of play-it-by-ear way, which is contrary to the control-centered culture of death. I think that was a very beautiful thing that my parents passed on to us.
Was there a time when your faith proved most important in your life?
Yes; shortly after our marriage, we moved to Singapore. It was a very stressful time in my life, when my faith pulled me through.
I was very fortunate to have been plucked out of America at a very crucial time. We were newly married. Bill was working constantly. We were separated from friends and family, and we had a new baby. We were Catholics in a pagan country suspicious of Catholics.
It was there that I first learned undiluted doctrine through a priest at a Catholic study center. It was there that I learned the Christian message of sacrificial love as a mother and a wife — the very message that has been obscured in American culture. When I returned to America, I had three children and was too busy for the distractions of American culture, which would have pulled me away from that message.
How did you begin making music?
I've always sung, but the song-writing didn't come until I was 34 and pregnant with my daughter who is now 7. I never set out to write songs; it was just a fun thing that I started doing that just came together.
I don't sit down and say, “I'm going to write today.” I do it as I'm doing the dishes. Most typically, as I'm battling around in the kitchen, some line or an image will come to me.
You have eight children now. Do you find that it gets any easier?
Yes, I definitely do. Our oldest is almost 15 and the youngest is 3. We have settled into a routine where the kids have to help, even if it isn't the fashion. Many of the kids' friends have very little expected of them at home. In a big family, you can't live that way.
We're raising our children in a culture of death, and so much of the media and entertainment is about escaping from relationships. Thankfully, it has less of an impact on larger families because you are in such close and unavoidable contact. We are supposed to smooth out each other's rough edges. Big families are an inoculation against the culture of death.
Tell me about your new album.
This album is going to be about forgiving one another and letting go of yourself to find the joy around you no matter where you might be. The title Lighten Up is like a note to myself.
There was a point where I realized that I was burnt out trying to do everything just right. You think you're relying on God, but you're really relying on yourself and it catches up with you after a while. I felt like I had run out of love and realized I couldn't manufacture it myself. I had such high expectations for myself, and that's really not what a faithful life is. That's me, myself and I. When you find that you're doing a whole lot, but you're not really doing any of it with love, then you just have to stop. If we can't smile at our own family, that's not good.
We cannot hide our weaknesses from God, and we cannot earn God's love. He already loves us. There is a lot on the album about God's loves for us.
How does this album differ from the first two?
I was a little more careful to keep the deep, introspective songs out and to make sure that each song had an answer. The production is also different. It has more of a bluegrass flavor. I like bluegrass — it sounds happy to me and down-to-earth. It's not a grandiose or hyped sound. It's playful. When I sing in concerts, the songs on this album are very fun to sing.
I listen to music when I'm cleaning the house, doing the dishes or when I need a lift. I kept that in mind as I put this album together. It's the kind of thing you can turn on at four in the afternoon when you're bottoming out and you know you still have to make dinner.
You've inspired many stay-at-home mothers with the gift of your music. What is the primary message you hope to pass along?
What I strive to do with my songs is address the loneliness and isolation of mothers to help them to lighten up a little bit. It's easier to do something if you know that others are doing it.
There are a lot of women all across the country doing really heroic things and no one knows about them. A lot of my messages are things people already know but have simply forgotten. I'm trying to remind them, with my music, that what they are doing is important and noble.
Is this the first album that your children sing on?
They sang a little on the first album, at the end of “Without You I Can Do Nothing.” On this album they sing on “Mother, You Are Worried About Many, Many Things.” It is a song from children to their mothers asking them to slow down. Today's ultra-busy parenting style destroys family life.
Mothers are frantically driving their children to multiple activities but the kids have no time to be kids. Everyone loses. When you are overwhelmed by all of this recreational stress, it gets harder to see the beauty of your children. Parents need to realize that the children do not need all of the activities. They need to realize that they are enough.
What do you have planned next?
Six songs have already come to me for my next album. When there seems to be a critical mass, I'll go ahead with it. It will probably be a very simple album … more acoustic.
Clearly many of these songs come from personal experience, don't they?
I'm 42 and have eight children to raise. I want to be loving. I always used to squash all of the little things that bugged me. I thought that was forgiving. But lately I can't spare that kind of energy. I found that I was getting mad about nothing and mad about everything. It's a bad example for your children and yourself. You have to really forgive each other, and that is also how you convert each other. The song “Lay It on Down” came from me saying over and over again, “I've just got to lay it on down.”
There are several songs about marriage, seeing the humor in the whole setup, and the need for good-old garden-variety everyday forgiveness. My husband is a marriage counselor, so I know there is a lot of trouble out there. Every marriage has its crisis and it is an invitation for actual love — self-sacrificing love. This is the way God arranged for our sanctification. It's right there in every moment of the day.
My song “Round and Round” is about how we are attracted to our opposite and then we're mad because they are opposite. You don't know how it's going to turn out, but when you start chipping away at yourself then you see beautiful things begin to happen.
Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Well I don't know who started this, and I don't even care
But the pressure's getting to me and I think I need some air
Cause the e-mails and alpha males are making my head spin
Then there's the world, the flesh, the devil, and I can't seem to win
So I sat down and made a list of everything that's wrong
What's wrong with you, what's wrong with me and how that list went on!
Do you think you could forgive me for trying to be so right?
Cause hearts were made for better things, they were made to catch the light!
Lighten up, lighten up … The sins of all those fathers, how they take their toll
Generations bumble on, searching for their souls
But oh, the sweet salvation, from just one loving cup
Yes, hearts were made for better things, they were made to lighten up
Cause mothers dance while folding clothes
Babies throw the Cheerios
Kids lie awake nights just to suppose
There are signs and wonders everywhere
Joys and sorrows enough to spare
And glorious mysteries in the air
Lighten up, lighten up …
So the sun's bright lights are blinding and you'd rather stay inside
Brooding in the darkness, scheming and preoccupied
Well have a laugh and keep the faith
And check that baggage at the gate
Cause hearts were made to love and lighten up!
— Marie Bellet