Beloved

I was feeling lower than low.  It had been a long day and I was feeling under attack.  Nothing I had done that day had seemed to measure up.  I was weak, defeated, and feeling just plain worthless.  I began going over my failures in my head, and that’s never a good thing to do when you’re already reached the depths of despair.  And then, sins and bad habits came to mind, and I was a mess— brought to tears by the sheer hopelessness that had come over me. 

I cried out to God in confession, seeking repentance for the wrongs I had committed and to find peace in Him.  I recognized that my desperate prayers were falling on the eve of Ash Wednesday, which is recognized in the Church as a day of confession and repentance as we contemplate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in that we are dust and to dust we will return. 

I fell asleep that night, deep in sorrow for my failures, sins, and grief.  But when I awoke the next morning, I was reminded that joy really does come in the morning.  The sun was shining, and although I was still thinking about my prayers from the night before, I did my best to smile as I thought about the promise of a new day. 

I booted up my computer and clicked into iTunes.  For me, it’s always a better day when there is music.  I tuned into one of my favorite contemporary Christian stations, and the morning show host introduced the song “Remind me who I am” by Jason Gray.  Now, I had heard the song before, but at no other time did the lyrics strike me on such a personal level.  The song tells of the shame and guilt that a person can have over past sin and how we can so often lose perspective.  We often forget that we are His Beloved.  The song pleads with God to remind us of who we are in Him.

Moments after the song played, the station played a brief clip from Jason, sharing the story behind the track.  He relayed that he wrote the song in response to the continued reminder of sin in His life.  He said that the times he felt excessive guilt over the wrongs he committed was the very time he needed a reminder of his identify in Christ.

The same was true of me that morning as I heard the song and the story behind its writing.  I needed to be reminded of who I was in Him— that I was His Beloved.  I found it equally fitting that I stumbled on some verses from Psalm 51 as I started in on my Lent devotions, and I would like to leave you with these Words of healing and repentance as I close. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).

I am forgiven and I am His!

Just in case you need reminding of His love for you, please take a few moments to watch Jason Gray’s music video for his song, “Remind me who I am.”  I have included the link with this post.  Blessings to you, friends, as you find your true identity, love, and forgiveness in the One who loves you with a crazy, passionate love!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKyY8zfjBMQ&ob=av2n

Three People

Recently, I was asked to share a message at my local church.  For March 4th, we are planning to recognize Disability Awareness Sunday, and I will be preaching from a passage from 1 Corinthians.  In the process of gathering ideas for the message, I came upon an interesting concept from one of my favorite authors.

The writer detailed the calling of someone in the ministry.  He pointed out that even in a leadership position, a person must not become self-reliant on their own strengths and abilities.  In 1 Corinthians 12, this is made clear as Paul emphasizes the spiritual gifts exhibited in each person as they relate to the entire body of Christ.  In essence, we are all indispensable to Christ and irreplaceable within His Body.  But the fact is, even in our individuality and our unique gifts, we need each other more than ever, for if we don’t come together, we will miss out on the joy of serving as one.

The author went on to talk about the three people every leader must interact with in daily life.  The first of the three is a mentor— someone who can nurture and encourage a person in their walk toward the future.  I have several mentors in my life, and I am so grateful for each one of them.  There is Marlys, a woman I have known since I was a young girl, and she has been a prayer partner and source of accountability over the years.  Then there is Pastor Tim, who has walked with me through my early days of music ministry within the church and has given me the opportunity to serve alongside of him in the church.  His encouragement and support has been simply incredible!  And then there is Karen— the mother of one of my closest friends.  Often, I don’t have to go into detail because she just “gets me.”  I have never met someone as perceptive as Karen, and I value her wisdom and nurturing qualities. 

The second person that must be present in a leader’s life is the one who needs mentoring; this is someone who the leader can nurture and encourage in moving toward the future.  I have mentored several individuals over the past few years— teenagers in the YLF program, fellow disabled individuals, and musicians who are looking to advance their skill under my direction.  Each relationship has had its challenges, but as I watch the growth that takes place in the person’s life, I am rewarded with the promise of a bright future. 

And third, every leader needs a confidante— someone to walk beside them through the ups and downs of life.  I have many confidantes, and each one has their value.  With Cindy, I can share my struggles through faith, with Amanda I can relate my relationship concerns, and with Karen, I can recount my concerns about the disability community and other misunderstandings.  And of course, there are just some things only my parents can make right, and it is at those times I find myself confiding in my mom or dad. 

We need each other, and even leaders need to recharge their batteries now and then.  I felt a sense of reassurance when I came to realize that it was okay not to fight through the stresses of life alone.  Now and then, everyone needs someone to lean on, and I am glad that I have those people in my life.  With those confidantes and mentors walking beside me, I will be more equipped to reach out to those who need the love and direction that only I can give.   

 

Temporary Home

Later this week, I will be singing at a local talent show, and I have chosen to perform Carrie Underwood’s tear-jerker, “Temporary Home.”  The song tells the story of three different people who have the same outlook on life.  The six-year-old boy, the young mother, and old man all think of their time on earth as just a “stop on the way to where [they’re] going” and as merely a temporary home. 

The message of the song is refreshing, and over the past few weeks, I have found myself contemplating the reality.  Amidst all of the stress, grief, and loss in this world, it is often our mentality to focus on the here and now and become bogged down in circumstances that in the long-run are only temporary.  Those of us who have salvation in Christ know that the things we face here on earth will never measure up to the glory we will experience in heaven.  No trial or painful circumstance is so unbearable that it should ruin our perspective on eternity.

I’m so glad that my time here on earth is only temporary.  I took notice of a song lyric recently that said something like, “We’re just visiting here in this world.”  It conjures up images of a packed suitcase and a vacation away from home— an eternal home.  If you think about it, our time here on earth is so brief, it must seem like God blinks and we will be home with Him in no time at all.

But until that day when we come into eternity, we must make the most of what we do here on earth.  It is true that all good things must come to an end one day, but since we’re just passing through this world, everything begins to take on a new perspective.  As I look back on my life thus far— the choices I made and people I encountered— I think about the times I had to say goodbye and move on.  I looked forward to graduating from high school, but then I had to leave the home where I grew up to pursue an education.  I had thought my college days would be lived out at Crown, but in the end, I decided to transfer to Dordt.  I cried myself to sleep night after night while I wondered why I had decided to transfer in the first place.  But then everything became clear as I received my diploma and published my first book. 

But again, change would come, and I made the most of each circumstance.  I moved out on my own, saying goodbye to the security of my family and taking a gigantic leap of faith.  And then, just when I thought I would spend the rest of my life writing books and performing music, God took me down a road that I never saw coming.  Within a two-year time period, I battled through illness and completed my Masters in Ministry Leadership.  I said goodbye to my first humble home and relocated to a new residence, all in an effort to regain health and stability.  All along the way, I was afraid to take the next step outside of my comfort zone: potentially leaving home to pursue that all-important first job.

But God provided for me, and now I am able to serve and do what I love here in my home town.  I know my work at FRC isn’t a forever-guarantee; for all I know, it could be a temporary season.  But knowing that there is much more to this life gives me the continued drive to keep moving forward.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). 

All Choked up

Music has the power to speak to the emotions, and it’s a universal language that needs little or no explanation as it touches the heart.  A person doesn’t have to be a musician to be affected and drawn in by music, but for one who loves music with a heightened passion, sometimes a song is all it takes to create an unforgettable moment. 

I have experienced this very thing on more than one occasion, but within this past year, I have witnessed the incredible power of music as a confirmation of calling on my life.  Many of you know about my recent graduation fromCrownCollegewith a Masters in Ministry Leadership.  The journey to obtaining the degree was an incredible opportunity, but I can honestly say that I learned more about music and ministry outside of the classroom. 

I began an informal internship at First Reformed, my home church, and took part in leading praise and worship and participating in the worship band.  Gradually, I was given more and more responsibility until I began to fall into a routine of commitments.  I was comfortable at First Reformed, but even so, I knew the volunteer hours would probably not amount to a paid position.  So I began to put my name out to other churches who were seeking a music and worship director.  I had several interviews and even more application submissions, but never once was I hired.  I was feeling overwhelmed and generally unwanted.

But then I was presented with an opportunity almost too good to pass up.  If I moved forward, I would be able to expand my music career and audience by leaps and bounds, and it seemed that God was opening the necessary doors so I could embrace this new avenue.  But just as I started to become comfortable with the idea, the door practically slammed in my face.  I was rejected again, and even worse, I felt I had used my home church to my benefit in my pursuit of the wasted opportunity. 

You see, my church had hosted a concert to support this venture, and we had decided to move forward in order to celebrate my recent graduation from Crown.  Everything had come together smoothly, but something still wasn’t right.  I was performing on that stage and telling stories about my music, but everything seemed to fall flat.  As I moved into my second-to-last song in the program, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart; “Let them sing,” I discerned.  At first, I wanted to object.  We didn’t have a PowerPoint lined up for that song, so the words would not be projected.  How could the crowd sing along if they couldn’t follow the words?

But even in the face of doubt, I invited the audience to sing along with me, and they continued singing well into my final song.  We sang Chris Tomlin’s “I will Rise” and Jennie Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song” with such passion that I felt tears building in the back of my eyes.  Often, I wanted to stop singing just to hear the crowd worshipping without me holding them back. 

This incredible moment was never far from my memory as I walked away from the lost opportunity and tried to immerse myself in work and commitments.  The only thing that really kept me going was my continued work at FRC.  The congregation was a wealth of support for my music and ministry, and I felt so loved and appreciated.  Then, in late July, came the greatest surprise of all; FRC wanted to hire me on as Music and Worship Director!

I didn’t have to contemplate the offer long before I jumped headlong into pursing the position.  There was a great deal of ground to cover in preparing for my official start-date, but all the while, I had immense peace about the decision.  Confirmation of my calling was not long in coming. 

There is certainly nothing like hearing “Shout to the Lord” sung with such intensity that the church walls practically resonated with the sound one morning at worship.  Again, I wanted to stop singing at the microphone just to revel in the moment.  My eyes fill with tears when I consider the formation of my praise and worship team, OneVoice, and the commitment of three women who are willing to worship in song.  I marvel at the many ways in which God has used me and the other musicians at FRC to lead our congregation in worship, and Sunday morning worship services will never cease to bring a smile to my face.  It makes my work at the church more than just a job; it makes it a call to action and a true joy— even as I fight back tears once more.  I’m all choked up, but it is here that worship and music collide.