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Deeper with JJ Heller

I recently had the opportunity to chat with JJ via email. Since we are both busy moms, email provided the perfect venue for our interview.



In the fading light of dusk, 10-month-old Dorothy and I dance. She giggles as I push my cheek to hers and sing, “You should know, little baby, that I am the lucky one.”

My seven-year-old joins us, swaying on the tattered rug that’s become our dance floor. She smiles, knowing that she too is the recipient of the words I sing, “I get to be the one to hold your hand. I get to be the one. Through birthdays and broken bones, I’ll be there to watch you grow.”

“I Get to Be the One” is the opening track on singer, songwriter, and indie artist JJ Heller’s sixth project, Deeper. And it’s one of my favorites.

Since her debut in 2003, JJ’s acoustic style and simple, yet compelling storytelling has beautifully captured the dichotomies of life. In a whimsical, joyful manner, she sings of life, love, and parenting in songs such as “I Get to Be the One,” “The Boat Song,” and “Sunshine.” I can’t help but smile as I listen to these tracks. Yet, at the same time she speaks of the yearning and the pain that many of us experience. I relate to her cries in “Have Mercy on Me,” “Control,” and “Your Hands.” I can’t help but reflect on my struggles in light of God’s grace as I listen to these.

Her work stirs up in me both a deeper appreciation for the day-to-day, and a reminder that I’m not alone when the darkness overwhelms.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with JJ via email. Since we are both busy moms, email provided the perfect venue for our interview.

Tell me about your background. How did you decide to pursue a career in music?

Ironically, I didn’t listen to a lot of music growing up. I did take piano lessons for several years, and I was involved in choirs at school and at church, but my family was more focused on sports than music. In high school I played basketball, softball, and volleyball. I viewed myself as an athlete, and even played basketball my freshman year of college. That season was miserable and at the end of it, I decided it was time to say goodbye to my dream of playing collegiate sports. The following summer I went on a mission’s trip to Africa, and learned how to play the guitar. I wrote my first song with some friends on the trip, and I loved it! I started writing more and more and soon discovered that people enjoyed listening to my songs.

I never dreamed I would have a career in music, but here I am! I still feel like I’m fairly separate from the industry, since I’m not associated with a record label. From the very start, my husband and I have been basically running a small business in the form of our own record label. It has taken a whole lot of work and self-motivation, but it’s been so worth it!

Deeper is my favorite album of 2011. I listen to it so much even my kids know the songs. How would you describe the project to our readers who haven’t heard it yet?

First of all, thank you! I’m really excited to finally get this collection of songs out to our listeners! We went back to our simple, acoustic roots and used minimal production on the songs. The sound is very similar to what you might hear if you came to one of our concerts — it’s raw and vulnerable, and I pray that it communicates the way that God feels about us as human beings. There are several love songs, and songs about letting go. I try to write about what it means to be human, and where God is in the midst of our day to day joy and pain.

Who are your musical influences and how have they found their way into your work?

I’m notoriously bad at choosing favorites, but enjoy songs by Feist, Ray LaMontagne, Ingrid Michaelson, Patty Griffin, and Adele. There’s a newer artist named Gregory Alan Isakov who I really enjoy. Patty Griffin writes amazing story songs, and she finally made me realize that I could write a story song without making it sound country. I love how she makes ordinary life sound poetic.

You and your husband Dave work side-by-side on the albums. How did you two meet?

Dave and I met in college through Campus Crusade for Christ in California. He was the worship leader for the group, and I decided to join the worship team. I had just started to write songs at that point, so I shared a few with Dave and the worship band. Our relationship and our music grew until eventually we got married and started to pursue music as a career.

What’s your favorite part of working together?

Having a marriage relationship and a business relationship has always gone hand in hand for us, and for the most part, it works. Sometimes it gets sticky when my manager/husband pushes me to write songs or answer interview questions and I don’t especially feel like doing it at the time. It’s great though, because I need someone to push me. Dave is way more self-motivated than I am. My favorite part of working together is simply the opportunity to spend so much time with each other. We love being together.

In your music, you tap into issues many of us who have grown up in the church struggle with but are hesitant to openly admit. For example, in “Control” you speak of perfectionism. How do you hope your songs will encourage authenticity in the lives of your listeners?

I pray that my music communicates the way that God feels about us as human beings. He loves us so much that He gave up everything to be close to us. I also want people to be encouraged with the knowledge that sometimes life is hard, and sometimes life is wonderful, but either way, God is always right there in the midst of it holding our hand. We all experience failure and brokenness, and the more we are willing to admit that, I believe the more that God can use us to bless others.

In an interview, I heard you share that the song, “In Your Hands,” came from a season of severe anxiety and panic attacks. Can you share a bit about this?

It was so hard! There was a time in my life when almost every moment of every day was consumed with fear. I was experiencing severe anxiety and I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t just take it away. A lot of my panic was associated with the fact that I was pregnant with my first child, and I felt overwhelmed and unprepared for parenthood.

Following a miscarriage, I found myself experiencing intense fear and panic attacks. What would you say to me and other women who are walking through this?

That must be so heartbreaking. I can understand why you would have an emotional and physical response to such a loss. When it comes to panic attacks, I would tell you that you’re not alone in this! My tendency as a Christian woman is to isolate myself when I struggle, because I feel pressure to appear perfect. When I try to hide my fear and pain, it just gains power. When I speak up and use my voice, it helps me get out of the mindset that I’m powerless and I can’t handle the hardships of life. The more I’ve shared about my experience with anxiety, the less I feel trapped by it.

In talking to a counselor, I realized that I was under the impression that I was doing something wrong… if I could just pray more, or if I was stronger, then I would get better. I discovered that even though God doesn’t like to see me suffer, He is still using my anxiety and panic attacks to remind me that He is in control… that I can’t do this on my own. It is by His grace that I can face each day, and know in my heart that He is good, and He’s going to take care of me.

At the start of this year, you tweeted: “I feel like God has given me a theme for this year: open heart.” Can you elaborate?

You’ve probably gathered by now that the future has always been a source of fear for me. My first response is to be scared of all of the awful things that could potentially happen, but the Lord is hard at work in my heart. He is giving me joy in the present and hope for the future. It reminds me of Proverbs 31 when Solomon says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing. And she smiles at the future.” God is showing me how to look forward to what’s to come.

What book or books are you currently reading?

I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me: A Memoir of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron.

What’s your favorite way to unwind?


For more information on JJ, visit her website or follow her pinboards on Pinterest. Enter our giveaway below for a chance to win one of three copies of Deeper.

Enter our Giveaway!

JJ and Dave Heller have generously provided three copies of her CD, Deeper, to give away. To enter for a chance to win one:

  • Leave a blog comment that answers: What books are you currently reading?

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  • Follow @ungrind on Twitter. Leave a comment to tell us you did.
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This contest closes on Monday, February 6th, 2012, at 12 a.m. Our apologies to our international readers, but it’s only open to those residing in the United States.

Thank you to everyone who entered! We’ve chosen our winners using’s Integer Generator. Congratulations to our winners Rachel, Bekah, and Gary.

Ashleigh Slater is the author of Team Us: Marriage Together and the editor of Ungrind. As a regular contributor at several blogs and websites, she loves to unite the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage others. She has 20 years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. You can follow her on Instagram here.


When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.



One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.



“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.



Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Deeper with JJ Heller

by Ashleigh Slater time to read: 7 min