Living Outside the Box
by Helen Smallbone
I confess I’m my happiest when I’m behind the scenes. I have spent my life in the background—but there I was, lit up on stage with my husband, David; Joel and his wife, Moriah; and Rebecca, who was emceeing. Luke would have been there, too, but he was recovering from vocal surgery. It was June 12, 2021—the night before the K-LOVE Fan Awards—when AccessMore put on “An Evening with the Smallbones.” There were a couple of thousand people in the audience who wanted a more up-close look into our musical family, sometimes referred to as the Australian von Trapps. Some have even likened us to that of a farmer’s family or a circus family in that the children have grown up as a vital part of the business. However, we have been a touring family for the past twenty-seven years, with much of it in the spotlight in some way or another.
It was a very sweet night, and we had some fun laughs and meaningful discussion that, I think, gave a glimpse into some of our family’s dynamics. Then, when our time was over, and with the cameras that were viewing for the public turned off, Joel addressed the audience. He announced that he and Luke had been writing a new album, and they wanted to premiere a song they had written for me called “Unsung Hero.”
In that moment I was very grateful I had previously heard the song. They’d played it for me on Mother’s Day, and I could tell then that Joel and Luke were both very proud of the piece and keen to see my reaction. I knew it was written from a deep place and was being presented to me as a thank-you gift for being their mum. It was an honor I wholeheartedly accepted—not only for my years of hard work but for all those fellow mothers out there who pour their hearts into their families. Deep down, I believe every mum is an unsung hero.
As Joel introduced the song to the audience, I realized our son Ben had put together a video to go with the song—a video I had not seen on Mother’s Day. There were photos and videos of my parents; of David and me when we were dating; of us when we were married; and photos of the kids when they were small, right on up to Luke’s wedding day and for KING & COUNTRY performing on stage. By the time it was over, there was not a dry eye in the place. It was all so very precious, and watching it quickly took me back and flooded my mind with the journey God has brought me on from my childhood in Australia where I grew up to our family farm in Tennessee where David and I live now.
It’s been quite a journey, filled with the testing and growing of my faith and how God has led us all step by step toward living “outside the box.” I never thought my life would unfold the way God has led it. Living outside the box is countercultural and has, without question, been a different path from the way the world says we are supposed to live. There is a certain expectation from the world about what life should look like. It is expected that we are to graduate from high school, go to college, and get a job that takes us from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. five days a week. “Normal” people should prepare for retirement, have medical and life insurance, get married, and buy a house. We are supposed to set goals and, when we reach them, get awards and nice vacations. At my age—now sixty-six—we are supposed to retire and attend to our bucket list.
We as Christians do this as well—we often create our own agendas and goals, then attach God’s name to them. We ask Him to bless our plans and efforts to live out what we want.
After we left Australia, we were forced outside the box of normal, as you will see. It is not a journey I would have chosen to live, but I would not change anything about it. It led us to following God in ways I would not have thought possible. We have lived in the extraordinary, where we have had to rely on God to provide and where we have seen His hand actively working in and around us.
Part of the reason I wanted to write this book is to encourage and challenge other families to live differently, to get out of their box. I want others to have courage to seek His will rather than their own and to let Him use them however He wants in His bigger plan. His plans don’t look like the world’s definition of success, but they always include lasting, eternal purpose and value. They also include His presence, leading and guiding us into adventures and valleys we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves. Through them, I believe God wants more of us living counterculture to the world’s ways. Sometimes it may even mean we go against a lot of the church’s “religious” traditions. But in choosing His ways, we will live in the miraculous!
I look back on my family’s journey, and I see God’s hand everywhere. I see His phenomena. I see His faithfulness in taking our simple Australian family and leading us to the other side of the world and doing things with us we would never have thought possible. Our lives are a living testimony of believing God’s promises and trusting His timing and His ways—even when circumstances didn’t make sense and were not easy. He was always there.
Our journey has been an amazing one we never would have planned for ourselves. There has been a lot of loss—at one point we lost everything—yet God has redeemed every one of those losses beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined, which is why Ephesians 3:20 is one of my favorite verses: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
This book is a look back from this mum’s viewpoint of my own family’s transformation from living more in the world’s way into God’s way. It’s filled with life lessons that, hopefully, you can apply to your own life and to your own journey. David and the kids would have their own perspectives, perhaps slightly different from mine, but I can only speak from what my experiences have been and the memories they bring—some good and some not so good. In some small ways, I wish I could go back and do some things differently. But in most ways, I wouldn’t change a thing. What we’ve been through is what makes us who we are today and molds us into the instruments God has wanted us to be for bringing Him the glory in our lives that He deserves.
What is exciting to me is I know and fully believe that the faithfulness and favor God has shown me—shown all of us—is the same faithfulness He shows to anyone who fully commits their life to Him. It is my hope that from our story, you will be inspired to step outside of your box and embrace God’s plans for you without fear or hesitation. When you do, His peace will carry you no matter what you face, the same way it has carried me.