Senior Gabby Smith finds inspiration and community at Trevecca
by Alyssa Landreth
“You’re allowed to feel how you feel.”
The words hung in the air, lodging in Gabby Smith’s heart and mind.
Those words were like a balm to her soul. The advice meant everything at that moment, but Smith didn’t realize then how much that simple phrase would come to influence and shape her future.
A senior, Smith has walked through a lot during her Trevecca journey. In 2015, when she was a freshman, Smith’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. During Smith’s sophomore year, Hurricane Harvey devastated her hometown of Bridge City, Texas.
But in each instance, the Trevecca community rallied around her. Messages and flowers poured in with the news of her mom’s diagnosis, sometimes even from people Smith barely knew. After the hurricane, members of her Nashville church—Blackman Community Church— showed up on the ground in Texas and went to work providing relief.
For Smith, Trevecca has been a place of connection and community, a safe space to find the freedom to truly embrace and accept her emotions and herself.
And it’s been the place where she found the story she wanted to tell, the song she needed to sing.
Just a few weeks ago, Smith started recording her first album, This Beautiful Life. It’s an album with a storyline heavily shaped by the hardships she’s faced and the lessons she learned in the midst of them.
It’s an album that Smith hopes connects people, drawing them into a shared human experience, but also one that also celebrates the sense of community she’s found at Trevecca.
Are there words to treat this deafening sound? Streams of misplaced love longing - Lyrics from "David's Cry"
When the father of a close friend spoke those life-changing words to Smith—“you’re allowed to feel how you feel”—it was freeing.
Growing up in a faith environment that urged people to push through their suffering without acknowledging the pain, those words began to shape Smith’s personal faith journey. In turn, the encouragement also greatly shaped her work.
“You go through different things in life, hardships, and you go through the joyful times, and you go through the weird growth seasons,” Smith said. “[The album] is just a picture of life and saying that if you’re a Christian, you’re allowed to go through those things, and you’re allowed to feel each aspect of those seasons.”
In 2016, Smith started journaling as a way to grow in her faith. A new practice for her, it felt strange at first.
But the practice also became deeply meaningful for Smith because it was a practical way to embrace that advice to allow herself to honestly experience her emotions, rather than push them aside or negate them as unimportant or unnecessary.
As journaling helped her become more self-aware and honest with herself, Smith says the practice also drew her closer to God.
“I went to trying to figure out who God was,” she recalls. “I figured out who God was in the suffering and just going through life and being in tune with myself.”
That newfound honesty and desire to connect are woven into the upcoming album. A concept album centered on Smith’s life experiences, This Beautiful Life is a way to invite others into her story—and hopefully allow listeners to connect with their own.
“It goes from a joy song to a heartbreak song to a praise song or an instrumental or interlude,” Smith says, describing the album. “It tells a story, but it hopefully makes you relate to your own story.”
A worship arts major, Smith also drew heavily from Scripture for the album. The Israelites’ experience of a faithful God despite their repeated unfaithfulness is a theme.
“There was always deliverance at the end, but there’s still the wilderness,” Smith says about the biblical accounts of the Israelite nation. “The covenant is still there, but life’s going to happen.”
Smith hopes the finished album will leave her listeners with a sense of hope and reassurance of God’s goodness, despite tough circumstances or seasons.
“It’s a message of hope for people, and a message of feeling your feelings,” she says. “It’s a message of deliverance.”
No, I can't see the marks that defined me my whole life. You tore through the veil to take off these weary eyes - Lyrics from "Dear Enough"
While Smith hopes the album allows listeners to connect with her story and more clearly see their own, she’s taking the idea of connection one step further.
An entire team of Trevecca students and alumni—from producers and videographers to marketers—are taking part in the project, bringing a new understanding to the phrase “Trevecca community.”
“These people were brought into my story and my life,” Smith says. “And that’s where the album and the project come together, at the intersection of these people in this story, and this [project] is a chance for you to meet them.”
Cody Hale Williams, a 2015 graduate of the University, is producing This Beautiful Life. He’s excited to help a friend create an album, particularly one that celebrates the sense of self and connection she’s found at Trevecca.
“There are a lot of things that excite me about the album, namely that it’s conversational. By the end of each song, the listener knows a little bit more about Gabby, and the hope is that her voice speaks to the listener’s story,” he says. “The best part is that Gabby isn’t just sharing her story with the music. The whole recording process has brought so many people together already, and it’s just the beginning.”
Williams says the sense of community and connection propelling this album permeates even the recording sessions.
“I love that there’s usually someone in the studio that isn’t there to record, but it’s like their being there reminds us all that this project is for them,” William says. “All of that leads me to believe that all of this will come together in a way that has the community’s fingerprint on it. It’s completely Gabby’s music, and it’s the community’s.”
Smith started recording in early June. She hopes to finish recording by early August—before classes start—and release it as early as January 1, 2019, a date that is significant for her.
“It’s a Tuesday, which is apparently a good day for new artists to release albums,” she said, “but it’s also New Year’s Day, the start of a new year, a fresh start.”
Smith is also hoping to bring a whole host of Trevecca friends into the project by finding creative ways for them to share snippets of their own stories or passions. While she’s not exactly sure what form that auxiliary project will eventually take, she’s excited to be a part of something that’s so much bigger than herself.
“My hope is that it shows something bigger than myself,” Smith says about the entire project. “What makes a story a story is having other people in it.”
Alyssa Landreth is a senior social justice major at Trevecca from Portland, Ore. When not in school, she enjoys all things related to the Enneagram, pursuing natural living, drinking hot chocolate and petting dogs.
Learn more about This Beautiful Life or help fund the project at www.Trevecca.edu/GabbySmith.