Listening In: Katy Hutson

WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you’ll be listening in on my conversation with poet, songwriter, musician, and cancer survivor Katy Hutson.

I first met Katy Hutson when we sat down for this interview in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. But it felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend. We had mutual friends that went back more than 20 years since Katie’s husband, Kenny Hutson, graduated from the same high school I did in Marietta, Georgia, and was hanging around the Athens, Georgia, music scene in the 80s and 90s as the guitar player for the seminal band Vigilantes of Love. That was a time that I was spending a lot of time in Athens as well, and we knew many of the same people. In fact, it was tough to turn off the personal stuff to get down to why I wanted to interview Katy in the first place, which has because she’s a remarkable musician and writer with fascinating things to say about the creative process. Some of that wisdom is hard won, not only because of her struggles as an artist, but also because a little more than a year ago, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer that almost killed her. The good news is that today, literally the day before I interviewed her, her doctors declared her cancer-free, though with the aggressive form of cancer that she had, which we’ll talk more about later in the program, she and her doctors must remain vigilant for a recurrence.

But Katy Hutson doesn’t want to be defined as someone who has cancer or even as a cancer survivor, and for good reason. She’s a wife, mother, poet, and musical artist of the highest order. Over the past 20 years, she’s released solo albums, has contributed to the popular and significant worship music and modern hymn series, produced by Kevin Twit for the Indelible Grace label and she’s collaborated on a jazz album for kids called Cold Train Railroad, and she has another series of children’s albums called Rain for Roots, a project that has now produced two popular CDs with another on the way. But before we hear from Katie, let’s hear a bit of her music from her Cold Train Railroad album of jazz for kids. Here’s a song called “My belly button stays the same.”

MUSIC: My fingers get longer, my legs do too. My nose. Look, No matter what my body has in mind, one thing is for sure, I find. My belly button stays the same, my belly button stays the same, My belly button never changes, no no, my belly button stays the same. My belly button stays the same, belly button stays, my belly button stays the same.

Katy Hutson, welcome to the program. I’ve known about you for a while because of your music. And also we’ve got a guy that I worked with at the Colson Center, Tim Pageant. He said, you really need to interview Katy Hutson some time. And so I’m like, okay, that’s fine. I kind of vaguely know who she is. But, then I heard your interview with Andy Osinga on The Pivot and that hooked me. You, you’re just a, your story and, and I want to get to that, but it’s kind of a Nashville thing, right? I mean it’s like somebody knows somebody who knows somebody and now here we are sitting across from each other.

HUTSON: That’s it. Yeah. That’s Nashville alright.

SMITH: Which is great. I love kinda that aspect of Nashville, which sort of feels like a community in some ways and which is really great. But, but let me get started kind of back at the beginning for you because ah, you were, an Army Brat, right? Raised kind of all over. And, but you went to college, and Nashville wasn’t really a part of your vibe at that time. You started at Grove City College right?

HUTSON: I did. Boy, you did good research. Yeah, I started at Grove City College, but I transferred to Belmont after my freshman year.

SMITH: Yeah. Well the reason that resonated with me because my was because my daughter went to Grove City College, graduated from Grove City College. Yeah. So when you, when I heard you went there, I was like, oh, that’s really cool. But it’s, you know, I kinda had the same reaction that you experienced when you were there, which is a lot of great folks there, it’s a wonderful school, my daughter had a fantastic experience there. Not known for its music performance program.

HUTSON: There were two of us. There were two of us. It was a great school. It was, I mean as far as getting a general, fantastic Western civ education, a fantastic general education and great music. But yeah, just the way it worked out. I had a buddy in Nashville and got a letter saying, hey, there’s this school and you can study all kinds of music. And by the way, there’s this guy named Kevin Twit who does RUF at Belmont. So Reformed University Fellowship. And it just, yeah, at this moment happened and everything changed a bit.

SMITH: So you ended up after one year at Grove City coming down to Belmont. And talk a little about that experience because it was Belmont and that time in, in your history about what was that 20 years ago? I mean that was a real fertile time. And you mentioned Kevin Twit with Reformed University Fellowship. He has been a connecting point for a whole lot of folks that are in the sort of the spiritual formation of a lot of folks in the Christian music industry.

HUTSON: For sure. Yeah, I think, yeah, I think God in His kindness put Kevin in the midst of all of these musicians. So we… a bunch of us were in Sunday school together. A bunch of us went to Christ Community Church, went to Belmont, went to Christ Community. And after a while there, Kevin was always telling us about hymns and telling us how rich they were and how good they were for us and how they connected as deeply to the church spiritually, historically, emotionally. And then he started putting hymnals in our hands. His started handing us Gadsby’s hymns or Harts hymns. All of these old ones. He’s like, hey, these don’t have tunes and the church needs these. You guys write some, write music to these. Okay. And then we started making CDs and that turned into Indelible Grace.

SMITH: Right. Yeah, and, but, but while you were involved sort of in that community and in that I, that vibe, I don’t know what you would want to call it and getting this theological education on the sort of spiritual formation that was happening that, you know, as a part of being in RUF and in Christ Community Church and hanging out with Kevin. But your singer-songwriter trajectory was kinda not that in a lot of ways. Right? I mean you were play, you were playing coffee houses as often as you were playing in churches.

HUTSON: Yeah, we were playing all kinds of stuff. And then for one thing we were young and we could kinda… It’s kinda nice to not be established at something because you can go do anything and no one really, no one’s going to tell you not to. It’s not that …

SMITH: It was also, I guess, before the Internet as well. So nobody could google your name and see all of the, you know, all you, all of your guilt by association. Right?

HUTSON: Exactly, exactly. Which was, which. Yeah, I think you’re kind of hitting on. And we got to a point where we went, oh man, we’re going to have to make some choices as far as how we market ourselves because in a sense it was a, it was a double-edged sword. In one sense, people, if they knew you were a Christian, it immediately closed some doors and it immediately opened other doors. But yeah, there was this sweet, there was a sweet season there where we could get away with singing old-timey, love songs and sing “Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus” in the same set without any consequences.

SMITH: Well, so you, you were doing this and you were playing coffee houses and you were kind of, you know, making your way as a singer-songwriter. I have a recollection of you play in places like Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta or Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which is, you know, these are, these are sort of venerable, storied venues for folks on the singer-songwriter tradition. But you were also kind of, and you made an album about that time too. Talk about those albums, and that experience for you.

HUTSON: Okay. So let’s just all forget. I had… My first album is called Laryngitis. I was a singer-songwriter. Just, oh gosh, what do I say? Okay. Next album was Longing.

SMITH: So you say that so quickly because you really want to forget that first album, right? I mean, was that a learning experience for you?

HUTSON: It was good. It was, it was good. I just don’t want anyone to go digging too deep for it. Just you’re young and stuff, you know? I’m super glad that I did it and I learned a ton in those days. That’s what I, that was my, it’s almost like you could almost call it your senior thesis. It wasn’t officially, but that was kind of the culmination…

SMITH: But you were still in college when that album came out, or just right out of college?

HUTSON: I was. I did it between, I think it was during my junior year of college, so my senior year I was starting to tour and my friend Blayne Chastain then his wife, ended up his wife, Deborah Chastain, later. They ended up going on the road with me. And we just kind of grabbed whoever who wanted to play from Belmont and our whole community and we started going out and playing colleges and clubs and yeah. I had a chunk of that season. So yeah, we did that. And then I did an album with Russ Long who’s an amazing engineer and producer who’s worked with about everybody. Actually I had a season… so how I ended up playing with Russ Long, just side story, was I had a season where I had my heart broken a bit, and for a season I just canceled all my shows because I could not do it.

And I went down and played on the streets in Nashville. Like I went down by the bars and the clubs and my roommate Mandy and I would get our guitars out and go busking, and just go play guitar and make enough money for rent and pizza. And I was down there and I ran into Ken Lewis who is a well-known drummer player and a sweetheart. He’s like, what are you doing? I was like, I’m getting my act back together and taking a break. He’s like, well, how about we go take a meeting or two? Okay? And he was listening to some of my songs and I wrote an album called Longing out of that, which is probably the first good little formative spot in my life where my heart was good and broken and I found out that Jesus went lower than my heartbreak. That was, that was a good testing ground for that in my 20s.

SMITH: Well and we’re going to get to why that was a good testing ground in just a little bit because a part of your story is where is is going to come up where you had a very serious testing of your heart and your faith and your relationship with Christ. But before we get to that, let’s kind of… So, so you had your heart broken, but ultimately you…

HUTSON: Then I ran across Kenny Hutson after a few years. Yeah, Kenny used to play with Vigilantes of Love. Oh, so my buddy Alice. Alice is a person who has been formative at various points in life. There’s this whole crew of people who will recur who came out of that time you were talking about. Like Sandra McCracken and Alice Smith and Matthew Smith and this whole cast of characters who you probably know a lot about. We were all just hanging around being poor, eating and making music together and having meals together and going to church. We all just were in this little pot of life together figuring it all out in our 20s. But Alice one time said, as I was in my sweatpants and pigtails and not wanting to leave the house, she goes, hey, come along with me and come lead my girls prayer group. And I went with her in my sweatpants and pigtails and then, and she invited me along and she invited me along to go see an artist who was playing. And I saw this guy who I had seen this other time. His name is Kenny Hutson. And she said, hey, that’s Kenny. That guy you saw one time who played with Vigilantes of Love. He’s over there on the other side of the room. You should go say something nice. And I was like, that just sounds Christian when she puts it like that. So I walked across the bar in my pigtails and sweat pants and said, hey.

SMITH: And that’s how you met Kenny Hutson.

HUTSON: And that’s how I met Kenny Hutson.

SMITH: That’s a great story. For those that don’t know, Vigilantes of Love, a great group out of Athens, Georgia, in the 90s. I went to school at the University, Georgia. Knew that, you know, Bill Melanie back in the day when he was the sort of the front man for that band. And that, you know, in some ways though, kind of a hard luck story, right? I mean, you know, they, they signed with Capricorn right as Capricorn was going out of business.

HUTSON: I think that a lot of ups and downs. There’s a… But boy, a lot of good music came out of that.

SMITH: Some fantastic music. And Kenny Hudson really established a reputation for, from, at least from my point of view, during that era as being a guy with serious chops.

HUTSON: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think Audible Sigh kind of established that, that album. And then, yeah, so I met him when he was just starting to find his way around Nashville. And yeah, we started hanging out together.

SMITH: And the rest, as they say, was history.

HUTSON: Yeah, and then he asked me to go steady. He kissed me and asked me to go steady. And there we are.

SMITH: So Katy, you married Kenny Hutson and you all settled down and you start having kids. You have a couple of kids and and you kind of come off the road at that point to start raising your kids. You’re homeschooling your kids and you get involved in a couple of projects that are really cool. One is called a Coal Train Railroad, even though it sounds like John Coltrane, it’s coal c-o-a-l train t-r-a-i-n, but it is jazz. And I’ve heard you say, I think that jazz is kind of your default.

HUTSON: I’m just puttering around, I ended up singing jazz.

SMITH: And so you were, you were kind of making up kid songs that were jazzy and that’s what this evolved into.

HUTSON:Yeah, between being on the road, while I was still on the road some. And I was home to pick up some money and because he asked, I started watching Chris Donohugh’s daughter, who was a baby at the time. Chris is a monster of a bass player, great bass player. And I was walking all over East Nashville, which was still a little sketchy at the time. But wonderful, and I had Mave in a little, in a little carrier on my front and I was walking all over East Nashville singing these little jazz songs. And one day I was hanging out with Mave and singing about belly buttons or something. And Chris said, Hey, what’s that? And he said we should maybe do something with that. And Chris became one of my favorite co-writers. He is so fantastic to. Yeah. So we started writing all these songs and it was just easy as pie and delightful.

SMITH: Well, Coal Train Railroad came along, jazz for kids, and then that kind of morphed into Rain for Roots, which is a lot more of a collaborative project. Not that, not that, not that Coal Train Railroad is not, but, but you’ve got one of your founders was Ellie Holcomb, who’s been on the program before. And talk about how that project came about.

HUTSON: It happened. I mean, just like all the other stuff just came out of friendships and relationships. So Ellie Holcomb and Sandra McCracken and Flo Paris Oaks and I were all hanging out and being friends. And we kept kind of going, man, wouldn’t it be great if there were songs about the Bible and God’s truth that we had for our kids that we really liked?

SMITH: In other words, not cheesy songs.

HUTSON: Yeah. And, and I mean meanwhile a lot of good stuff has blossomed. And in that interim, the last seven years or so, that we all started writing them together and it felt so good. And whereas some, whereas some groups specifically shoot for verbatim Scripture, our idea is more to get the big ideas and the big stories of Scriptures in children’s heads. We want them to get the beginning, middle and end and to deal with what they’re trying to understand in between.

SMITH: And so, so you’re a stay-at-home mom. Your husband Kenny is out with, no longer with Vigilantes of Love, but performed with David Crowder and others that, kind of around the country, and you’re, you’re at home. Got these really cool projects going on, which is kind of a interesting integration of who you are as a performer, who you are as a mom and who you are, also, I guess you could say in your faith as well. Nurturing children in the Lord, and you get a scholarship to a poetry workshop.

HUTSON: Up at Martha’s Vineyard, yeah.

SMITH: Up in Martha’s vineyard, and you think, well this is, this is cool. It’s a week long and it’s kind of …

HUTSON: Oh, man, when you’re home with kids a lot, I mean a week to go just study my craft is amazing. So yeah.

SMITH: So you go do that and it turns out to be a great week in many ways, artistically speaking.

HUTSON: Yeah, fantastically. It let me really woodshed a lot of things I’d been thinking on and prepare to do some next projects.

SMITH: But something else happened during that week as well. Can you tell me what happened?

HUTSON: Yeah, and the day I leave, I’m feeling like I’ve got all these skills in my pocket. And I’m feeling ready to go on a bunch of projects. And my buddy Flo’s along with me and we headed to Massachusetts to say with our friend Kelly and to spend a day there before going home. And I was like, Flo, does this ever happen to your body? And she’s like, nope, this never happens to my body. And I had breast cancer. We, over the next couple of days we found out that I had a very aggressive form of cancer called inflammatory breast cancer. And it was literally running, like grabbing my kids in Pennsylvania. Well, going to get the kids in Pennsylvania.

SMITH: Your, your parents were there.

HUTSON: My parents were there.

SMITH: You left your kids with your parents when you went on up to Martha’s Vineyard. So you retrieved them on the way home.

HUTSON: Retrieved my kid’s. Got a mammogram. They said you’ve got cancer. You need to move fast. Because inflammatory breast cancer… Whereas other breast cancers multiply over weeks and months, inflammatory breast cancer multiplies over days. It doesn’t look like other cancers. It looks a lot like mastitis. Your breast gets hot and pink and swollen and it looks like a lot like mastitis. But PSA, if you’re not a nursing mother and that happens to you, run to the doctor. Because it will, because it will kill you quickly. Yes. I was told in no uncertain terms that, that I needed to begin treatment immediately. This was 100 percent fatal, so they were not kidding around. I was glad to have a very feisty, amazing doctor who, who got me, who got me into treatment fast.

SMITH: Yeah. Well, let me pause there if I might just a little bit because what you said is obviously a life-altering event in many, many ways. But here you are one day, you know, your husband has got this great musical career going. You have found a niche that is really cool. This Rain for Roots and Coal Train Railroad.

HUTSON: Oh yeah, it’s like the thing I want to do for 20 years. Yeah.

SMITH: Exactly. I mean, you know, and life is good. You’ve just come away from a week long poetry workshop where you got some really good creative work done. And then this. What was going on in your mind, what was going on in terms of what, what was your conversation with your husband, Kenny, and with God like during that era?

HUTSON: Everything was moving super fast. With Kenny, a lot of it was logistics. I mean the immediate, how do we keep me alive and also the most crucial things rise to the top. I love you. I want to be alive. I want to be alive with you. And my conversations with God were, you’ve said you are who you are. I believe you are who you are. Show me you are who you are. That doesn’t … everything I need from them… I was so thankful to have to have decades of grounding in hymns and deep good truth. And they are the same truths now that they were before. And they’re just, ah, I was thinking about this right before I got here. When I got to radiation, the last step, my, my, my skin literally came off. And I feel like in a sense this year, my skin literally came off. And, but the same stuff is underneath. It’s the same stuff. It’s just, yeah, God is good. This is … life is hard, and He is, he is true. And he will take care of me, live or die. But yeah, these were… So it gets down to real brass tacks conversations. That’s why I started writing.

SMITH: Well before, before we get to the writing, because I know you’ve got a book of poetry coming out and I want to talk to you about that. But again, if you’ll forgive me, Katy, for kind of pushing back on that, because that’s, that’s wonderful that you know, God is good and, but you, you didn’t have moments where you said God, why?

HUTSON: No, I had lots of moments, why. I’ve had lots of moments, why. I’ve had lots of moments wrestling. I’ve had lots of the darkness is my closest friend movements. Lots of them. Yeah. So forgive me. I don’t mean to say that the one is true without the other. I think you can hold both of those at the exact same time.

But there’s also, I guess a little bit of don’t tell me that God is going to do something good with this or don’t tell me that I’m on a, on a spiritual journey that is going to take me to a place of spiritual depth. That’s got to be hard to hear too, right?

HUTSON: Yeah. You edit it if I’m not allowed to say this on radio, but a family slogan that we’ve had and we say a lot is, “Damn the fall. Come Lord Jesus.” Yeah. We feel, yes. We feel strongly the effects that this is a deeply broken world, down to the very last cell. And also that God has, has sovereignty over every last bit and loves it. We feel that deeply. Yes. I, you know, I tend to be someone who comes across kind of rosy and kind of half glass full and I had a wise friend, my friend Margie Hack, at some point this year. She was following along with me as I was writing to friends. She was like, make sure you let it show. Make sure you let, that this hurts. This hurts a lot because people need to know.

SMITH: So, was it a year?

HUTSON: It’s just a, yeah, it’s been a little over a year now. It’s funny. I’m starting to come up across anniversaries now. I was halfway through chemo this time last year and missing hayride this time last year.

SMITH: And, so tell me what your, what the doctors are saying to you now. So, what’s your prognosis? Because, well, I should, the context for that question is something that we’ve alluded to, but which is that if you had not had very aggressive treatment, the mortality rate for what you had is 100 percent. I mean, it’s not like 99 percent. It’s like, you were going to die.

HUTSON: Yeah, I was going, yes, I would have died. And even another thing that I’m forever amazed by, and I’ve thought through a lot and been a bit agog by, is that before 1996 I would have died. They created a molecule in 1996, people created a molecule in 1996, that meant that I wouldn’t necessarily die. That dismantles these, these overactive estrogen receptors that I have. So it’s, it’s a little amazing. Yeah, I would, I would have absolutely died. And that, that definitely changes how you look at life.

SMITH: Well, in what way? I mean, what was the, was it just the moments matter more than the years?

HUTSON: Oh, that’s a good way to put it. It, it gets you down to what really matters and it makes you realize what you don’t care about. And as I get back to daily life a little bit, I mean, I say that with a lot of caveats. I’m working through a lot of trauma. And it’s still distinctly, I’m still on a, not thin ice, but I’ve got to still be aware that this is a very aggressive cancer that I had. I’m called cancer free, but they’re going to watch me real close for a while.

SMITH: So what does that, what does that look like? Every week, every month, every year?

HUTSON: I’m about to go in for a three-month checkup. And I’m about to be on a trial drug that came out of trial, but for the next year I’ll be on a new, a new drug that kinda does what my chemo did, called neural links. But it really kind of makes you aware of what you care about and not care about the other steps that much. I’ve had a lot of friends remark that I’m, I’m more of what I was like before. I had a friend say on a camping trip this week, it’s like you’re just like you were before. I don’t, I don’t quite, but I think I might be more so because it’s the same. I, I, I care less about the things that I shouldn’t care about, I think. And I kind of have to keep my guard up because I get back to daily life to not forget, the gift of cancer, which is to remind me that I’m, that I’m mortal and that everybody is mortal. I had, I had the, had the super tough gift of just looking at it real close. And if I’m going to take the bitter pill of it, I, I am darn well going to take the gift of it too. And that’s the upside.

SMITH: Yeah. Well, I mean, one of the things that I’ve heard you say maybe in past interviews or in somewhere, my research in preparation for this interview was that, you know, that we do live in a broken world that, that, that what you learn from the cancer might be a gift, but that the cancer itself…

HUTSON: Cancer is a product of the fall, it is a product of a broken, fallen world. It’s wrong. It’s bad. It looks just like evil looks. It multiplies. It mimics. It mocks. It doesn’t create anything original. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ sci-fi trilogy, the way that evil is described there. Because evil is, evil is stupid and replicatory and doesn’t do its own thing. It just tries to take over.

SMITH: Katy you set something in that last segment that I, that I wanted to follow up with. You talked about cancer not being original. It’s replicatory. It doesn’t create, it corrupts. And, which I think is a great way to… I mean, let me say it another way, a true way of looking at the fall and the impact of the fall. That God is a creator. He made us in his image. So therefore we are creators. Satan is not capable of creation. All he is capable of is corrupting the good that God has made. I say that as context for this. You view creativity in some ways as a weapon against that darkness, as a weapon against that corruption.

HUTSON: Yeah, absolutely. And I think as far as all of the things I’ve considered as tools for recovering from cancer, worship, community, those things that, that should absolutely be part of bringing you to health anytime and after cancer. I have an element that feels very important to me is play. The idea of remembering how to play. Because there’s a sense in which I think, it’s this great Stanley Hauerwas quote, where he talks about when, when Jesus wanted to show the disciples what the kingdom was like, he put a child in their midst. And I am trying to remember and I am practicing the child-like practice of playing. Because one thing that happens in trauma, is you forget how to play. Your brain doesn’t know how to imagine well. So really there’s a really good book on trauma called The body Keeps The Score by Bessel Vanderkolk. So this here, yeah, that’s my special important practice to me. I am playing with my children in my writing and my music, with my friends.

SMITH: Well, yeah, I mean play in a very real sense.

HUTSON: Oh, it’s serious business.

SMITH: Yeah. But it is serious business and you’re taught, I mean, when we talk about play, we also use that word. We play the guitar, we play the piano, right? It’s a creative thing. It’s a, it’s a, it is a process of making. And you’ve moved back into that this year. So can you tell me a little bit about kind of what you’re doing in that regard, because I know you got a fourth Rain for Roots album coming out and you did a Kickstarter campaign for a book of poetry that kind of blew off the charts in 20 minutes. And you know, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re. Now that you’re, the book is close to fruition now. Is that accurate?

HUTSON: Yes. It’s very close. Yeah. The girls and I are, are getting the, we’re getting all the pieces together for our Rain for Roots album, which is delightful.

SMITH: As the old saying goes, you’re getting the band back together.

HUTSON: We’re getting the band back together. Yeah. We say that, we say that for kicks pretty, pretty often. So yeah, we’re doing that. And, and I am just finishing wrapping up a book called, Now I Lay Me Down To Fight. It’s a collection of all the poetry I wrote in doctor’s appointments, in the middle of the night, as I learned things during this year of cancer. And I am so excited. It’s going to be this beautiful little book. A guy named David King at Extended Play Press makes beautiful little, he hand-makes books. And my friend Jody Hayes is a fantastic painter, illustrator and added a bunch of her work to it. So yeah, I’m hoping that it’s a little meditation that people can keep in their pockets. We tried to make it a size where people can take it along and chew on bits of these things that I’ve learned this year. I hope it’s helpful for others.

SMITH: All of the poems have come from this year of cancer or not?

HUTSON: Almost all.

SMITH: Tell me, tell me about the ones that came from this year and why you picked a few poems from the past that you felt like would fit in this collection?

HUTSON: Well, there were a couple from the week at Martha’s Vineyard that are going in because they lead right up. There were things that I said that I had no idea how prophetic they were the week before. And then again I have this poem from 27 years ago. I had this poem from way back. No, not that long. In my 20s. I wrote this poem that I pulled out. I pulled out when I was waiting for my results of my ultrasound to find out if I had cancer. And there’s a line in it that says that… It’s a love poem. It’s a, it’s a God wrestling with Jacob kind of poem. And there’s a line in it that I wrote this said, out of God’s mouth, it said, I will come like chemo to kill so you can live. And I had never used any cancer imagery anywhere else. And that was the poem that I pulled out of my purse, whipping through all of my old poetry as I was waiting to hear what my results were. And it felt like this moment… It’s how we’re actually going to end the book. We’re going to put that there. It was this little, it felt like a kindness from God to say, this is what’s coming and, and I will see you through.

SMITH: Well, you mentioned that you had your heart broken whenever you were in your 20s and that in some ways that was preparation for this. Can you say a little bit more about that? About the importance of, kind of… I mean, we, yes, we live in a broken world and in, in, and no, we should not. We should fight against that darkness. We should fight against that brokenness is what part of what I’m hearing you say. But on the other hand, one of the ways that we can fight against that darkness and brokenness is to understand it as preparation for something maybe harder, but also maybe something greater coming.

HUTSON: Yeah, I mean, you never, I think it’s a dangerous thing to ask for suffering for the sake of learning. I think plenty will come your way.

SMITH: It’s the nature of being human in a broken world, right?

HUTSON: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so I think it’s, I think it’s going to come, and when it does, how about when it does come? I think the thing that I’ve learned along the way is there’s no sense in going around it. It’s just going to break you and warp you and bend you. You have to go through it, and God and God in his kindness does say he’s near to the brokenhearted. So he goes with us when we’re broken through things. And someone just told me the last couple of days the concept of lawnmower, parenting. Have you heard this? I’ve heard of helicopter parenting, but lawnmower parenting is, I guess, a fairly new concept. I just heard it. Where it’s pave… It’s parents who go ahead of their children and pave the way and take all the obstacles out of their path and make everything as smooth as possible so that their children’s lives work, which I think is distinctly unwise. The children, yeah, that they have to, they have to skin their knees and get their bumps and bruises in, have their heartbreaks and your job as a parent is to tell them what’s true in the midst of those. Because that is, if you, if you don’t start, do that with little things, it’s gonna be real hard to do with big things.

SMITH: Well in that spirit of, and by in that spirit, I mean acknowledging the fact that we all go through heartbreak, that we are all humans and that we all live in a broken world and I pray that a lot of our listeners are not going to have to go through the valley of the shadow of death that you have had to go through in this past year. But all of us have challenges of one kind or another. And I don’t mean to be glib. I don’t want to be glib. And I don’t want to be simplistic about this. But what was helpful for you, from your family, from your friends, from your community? I mean, and what was not helpful?

HUTSON: Oh, gosh. How about let’s go with what was helpful because those honestly stand out because the other stuff you try to let shake off. But things that are helpful. People who listened well. Yeah, people who listen. People who cry with you. People who would laugh with me. And also people who see you as more than just your disease. One of the things that was the most immediately difficult for me, I am someone who likes to think that she is special. Not to get off on the enneagram, but I’m probably a flaming 4. And so I like to think that I am special. And in one sense cancer plays totally into it as something everyone’s fascinated about, about, about you having cancer. And people send you presents and just like it’s Christmas. And on the other hand, it can totally erase everything else. I’m like, cancer is not the primary thing about me. I am a mother. I am a writer. I’m a singer. I’m a wife. I am a friend. I am a child of God. And I am fighting for my life. And friends who talk to me about all the other things, who asked me what I was working on, what I was writing about, how my kids were doing. Those were, those were fantastic. Also people who sent me comedy CDs, chocolate, and tea.

SMITH: Well, you’ve got tea in front of you right now. I can’t take credit for that, but I can at least bear witness to the fact that you are a tea fan. So that’s good. So practical stuff. What was, and I hate to ask because I know you want to avoid that and, but what was not helpful? What were, what were the, you’ve got cancer? Well, I know how you feel. I’ve got arthritis in my elbow kind of a thing. To try to, you know, their intentions are good. They’re trying to be empathetic, but please, right? Not very helpful. Right?

HUTSON: Yeah, a simple, glib God has taken care of you. You know, it’s, it’s kinda like a lot of things. You want someone to listen so that you can say it. But when you tell someone and you try to kind of paste that onto them when their skin is ripped off. And you — it’s easier to listen. And I was glad for friends who would tell me the truth, but people who were kind of say it in passing because they were scared of hearing your hurt and your fear in the middle of it, you could tell the difference between someone who is telling you the truth, in order to help give balm to your wounds and someone who’s trying to cover you up because they were scared that you were going to rock them with your pain and suffering and who are distancing themselves from it.

SMITH: Yeah. We’ll so at the end of the day, I mean, obviously, you know, I, and I’m sure all of your friends and folks listening will pray that this very aggressive cancer doesn’t come back. I know you’re not completely out of the woods, right?

HUTSON: Well, yeah. I think, I think anytime you have cancer, the rest of your life, you’re going to wonder if you’re going to have cancer again.

SMITH: So, but let’s… Praying that you have a long and happy life and die of something else. We all die. We all have one. What do you, what do you want to take from this? What do you want your. What do you want either as either because of something you learned from this cancer or did as a result of this last year. Or what you might do next? How do you want people to remember you? What do you want your legacy to?

HUTSON: Gosh, one of the, one of the lovely things about writing and singing songs is that especially with what we get to do with Rain for Roots, is that we get to hear children singing these truths that we get to give them. That God made them. God loves them. God is the hero. So in a sense, I’m very thankful for Rain for Roots in particular because of the legacy of it. Otherwise, I want to love my friends and family well. I want them to know that they are deeply and lavishly loved. And I want that and I want to live like somebody who is not afraid. There’s a sense in which the curtain’s been pulled back. And I’ve, I’ve seen death a little closer. And it’s a strong reminder that death is both real and a defeated foe. So I live everyday with the same truths just like everybody else does, but I,  they both weigh a little heavier and, I think, than they did before for me. And, yeah, they are my blessings and my — they’re also my thorn in my side.

SMITH: Katy Hutson, thank you so much for being on the program.

HUTSON: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, Warren.

Learn more about Katy Huton’s jazz project for kids, Coal Train Railroad, by going to

(Photo/Katy Hutson, LinkedIn)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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