For Watermark's Nathan and Christy Nockels, events of the past two years have quite literally changed their lives. A restored friendship was a catalyst to bring this couple full circle, giving them a peace about past wounds and a contagious enthusiasm for their future. It's all led them to focus their lives and their new album on the purest place they can imagine, the center of the heart of God, Jesus.
"The songs on The Purest Place are very Jesus focused," says Nathan. "They are songs of response to who God is and all that He has done in our lives through Christ. The songs from our last record, Constant, were written through a time of learning to be new parents, juggling new responsibilities, and consequently there were many more 'life songs.' The new songs are worship-driven, expressions that we found ourselves singing after God began a deep pruning process in our lives."
After being heavily involved in the Passion movement and CDs for the past six years, it only seems natural that Watermark would be worship-focused in all their recorded efforts. And that is, in fact, how Nathan and Christy first began their musical ministry. But nearly a decade ago the insecurities of youth redirected the Nockels down a different road than what they expected. It's only in recent months that the "pruning process" has taken effect, and God has brought Watermark back to its original calling.
Christy explains, "Nathan and I started leading worship together 10 years ago at our church in Oklahoma with Nathan's best friend, Charlie Hall, and his wife Kimber. Because we were so young, 21 and 22, there was a lot of strain on us being in leadership and having so much responsibility. Kimber and I were the best of friends, each in the other's wedding and generally inseparable. But as the enemy loves to destroy the things of God, a wedge came between Kimber and I. We didn't know how to effectively communicate with each other or how to unconditionally love each other. There were unkind words spoken, misunderstandings, comparison and even jealousy. Sadly, much of it was centered around worship and how we were using our gifts."
Unable to bring peace to the relationship, Nathan and Christy continued to pursue the vision they had for ministry. Though at times frustrated by the lack of outlets for the "orchestras I heard in my head," Christy says she knew they needed to wait on God and His timing. Before long, the Nockels were given the opportunity to move to Houston to lead worship every Monday night for 2,000 young adults.
"I truly believe our move to Houston was a gift from God, providing us the opportunity to move in our gifts," says Christy. "But even though we had moved forward with our lives, I carried those wounds from the early days in my heart. I carried them for seven years and allowed those wounds to tell me who I was, to put chains on me in several areas of my life, particularly in the area of leading worship."
After moving to Houston, Watermark caught the attention of Rocketown Records and signed with the company in 1998. The duo's first self-titled CD was an immediate success with two No. 1 singles, "Take Me There" and "Gloria," and a tour with Point of Grace. A new chapter had begun. But the pain and awkwardness of the torn relationship continued, along with the accompanying uncertainty of what the Nockels' role was in terms of leading worship.
Christy continues, "It wasn't until the summer of 2002 that we experienced a breakthrough. Kimber came to me and asked for forgiveness, and I asked for her forgiveness as well. We were finally 'mended.' Releasing all that pain brought me back to who I really am... a worship leader. It was something I had been running from. I was uncomfortable leading worship because of the pain of remembering those times. Since our healing, there has been a major breakthrough in my life, and Kimber and I have even been able to share our story with a group of women worship leaders... both cautioning them and encouraging them of the deep well that comes with women friendships, especially those in leadership.
"The past two years of our lives feel like a huge purging. God has painfully burned the chaff in many areas of our lives, showing us the things that need to go and showing us the good that needs to be nurtured and developed. We remember 10 years ago sitting in our little one bedroom apartment writing songs until the wee hours of the morning, almost not able to get enough! With this record, and all that has been healed, we felt like we were back in that little apartment. There was freshness and excitement writing these songs. We've come full circle in remembering what is important to us."
As witness to healing in their relationships, Charlie Hall joins the Nockels on their cover of his song, "Captivate Us," on The Purest Place. Another Passion community friend, Tim Hughes, is featured on the title cut, and Caedmon's Call's Danielle Young joins Watermark on "Invade." All of the songs belong under the overriding banner of The Purest Place, a prayer that inspired the title itself.
"As artists, our skin can become thin," explains Christy. "Whether it's a snide remark, a jaded comment, what's popular on the radio at the time... all of these things take its toll on you when you're a songwriter. We have to rest in the fact that God measures the heart. Only God can measure what is pure and what is just. The prayer behind this album's title is really very simple: 'God, let us take our eyes off of the things of this world and focus our love, our attention and our lives on the purest place—the center of Your heart, Jesus Christ.'"
Another song, and the album's first radio single, "The Glory of Your Name" was inspired by the Nockels' viewing of an early screening of The Passion of the Christ with director Mel Gibson. The couple was having lunch with Rocketown President Don Donahue discussing the direction of the new CD when label founder Michael W. Smith and his wife Debbie came up to the table. The Smiths had just attended a screening of the film and were so moved by it that they encouraged the Nockels to attend another screening that evening for artists.
"We were broad-sided by it," says Christy. "I can't really describe the experience. I can only say that we were able for the first time in our lives to come face to face with all that we build our lives around. We hinge our entire existence upon this one man, Jesus… We came home that night, and I started singing the chorus to 'The Glory of Your Name' around the house. It was the first song we wrote for the record, and the rest of the album followed from that night on."
Musically, the new CD benefits from Nathan's solo work as a producer. "I think my working with other artists on their records has greatly influenced our musical journey as Watermark," says Nathan. "Every time I scoot my chair up under the recording console, I learn something new about how music can move people. Both Christy and I are in the unique position of getting to lock arms with some of the best writers and musicians of our genre. When we turn our focus to Watermark, we enter with high expectations to create music that reaches deeper, higher and farther than where we've been before."
With their fourth CD about to hit the street, Watermark is more convinced than ever of their original vision. This time around Nathan and Christy Nockels hope to have a one-on-one, practical ministry to encourage worship leaders as they tour churches nationwide sharing these new songs.
Christy says, "Our dream is that God would be blessed by our work, instead of asking Him to bless our work. These songs have brought us back to truth, to simplicity and to a renewed vision of who we are and what we're called to do. We're excited because we feel freedom. This doesn't mean we have it all figured out, that is definitely not the case, but God is working in our hearts more than ever before.
"Our prayer is that The Purest Place will be a resource for young families and students, a tool to connect them to a God who is already pursuing them. We pray that these songs will be a daily reminder of truth to replace the lies of this world, and that they will bring peace, comfort, and most of all, worship of a holy God into their lives."