In Sync

This Christmas, my father gifted me his iPod. He had recently acquired an iPhone, and when I expressed that my iPod Nano was not working properly, he graciously offered me the use of his iPod Touch. He made sure I knew that all of his music was on his iPhone, so I didn’t need to worry about erasing any of his songs to make room for mine.
I took the iPod home, but I wasn’t able to sync it to my computer until I went into work a few days later. You see, my iTunes account is on my office computer, and it doesn’t pay to try to sync an iPod to more than one computer, because it just doesn’t work. So instead of syncing to my home computer, I had to wait until I had access to my entire music library. I plugged in the iPod and was met with the disheartening message to the effect of: “the iPod is unable to sync with this user’s library.”
Now, I had a feeling something like this would happen. Not only is it difficult to sync with two different computers, but it is also nearly impossible to sync two separate music libraries to one iPod. My father’s account and my account were not compatible, and in order to make the iPod functional for my use, I had to erase everything on the device and start over. In a matter of moments, all of his music was erased from the iPod, and I was able to add my songs to the now empty device.
I was kind of sad that I couldn’t keep my father’s songs on the iPod. I liked his music, and wished I could have maintained his library, but it was not to be. You see, the Apple Corporation is quite the stickler for keeping everything to one account and one device. Sure, you can sync your own library to any device or computer of your choice, but when you start to bring in unknown devices or other libraries, there’s no way an iPod or iPhone will ever sync correctly.
I have found this concept to be true in my life with Christ as well. I have spent a great deal of time in the past few weeks thinking about my personal relationship with Him as it relates to my work and social life. In conversations with other people within my circles of friends and co-workers, I have come to realize that maybe some things just aren’t syncing up. I may not be making choices that are obvious to the average observer, but inside my heart, I know this to be true.
At a recent Bible Study, our facilitator asked us to share about the condition of our hearts. She then proceeded to talk about her prayer for herself personally and for our church— that we would stop just talking the talk and actually walking the walk. I heard what she was saying. Far too often, we as Christians (and me in particular), live out our lives with the joy of Christ in our hearts, but yet, we don’t truly share it with others. We don’t seek out the lost, the hurting, those who may possess a different lifestyle. We don’t truly get into the hearts of those outside our door. We say we’re Christians, but we don’t often take the leap to link our hearts with theirs.
Why are we so afraid to reach out? Is it because we think our friends and family will think us crazy? Do we worry about personal sacrifices we will have to make to unite our lives with that of another? Do we think that the lack of faith in a person’s life will be reflected on us and our good reputation will be at stake? Do we walk around with a chip on our shoulder thinking, “Well, at least I don’t sin like they do; their issues are way beyond my ability to help. Besides, someone else can help them; I’m not called to that.”
“That,” my friends, is the very thing God has called each one of us to do. “That” thing or person may look different to each of us, but we are not meant to sit by and watch life happen around us. For if we don’t reach out, the lost and hurting may reach out to some other source, and instead of syncing up to Christ, they may reach for substances or practices that will be harmful instead of eternal.
Now, I’m certainly preaching to myself here. Often, I feel as if I’m far from what God intends me to be. I am that girl who offers up worship on autopilot, says I’ll pray for someone but puts it off until later, stops to only read a chapter or two of Scripture when I should be absorbing more, neglecting to call that one person that God has placed on my heart because I’ll hopefully have more time later… I have lived out my days in apathy, thinking that I’ll have more time and energy to deal with it later… days when synching my computer to my iPod has more importance than syncing souls up with the heart of God.
This heart is seeking for more purpose and less apathy… more walk and less talk… How about you?

Sacrifice of Praise

In my recent years as a worship leader, I have heard a certain phrase over and over again. “Sacrifice of praise:” what does it mean? What does it entail? As worship leaders are we offering up a sacrifice of praise?
For a long time, I simply thought of it as making a conscious effort to praise God when everything else seems to be crumbling around you. I conjured up songs like “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail)” and any number of lamentable ballads that are sung corporately in church. I assumed that to give a sacrifice of praise was to sing songs to him that spoke of His faithfulness and promise but still allowed the worshipper to lament the difficulties that had been experienced.
Although my concept wasn’t entirely wrong, it wasn’t entirely right, either. I came to understand this one cool and damp late afternoon in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Madison, Wisconsin. My friend and I were preparing to leave town after a day of meetings for the camp I direct. We had made quite a bit of headway in our discussions at that meeting, and knowing that I would be director for at least one more year had my thoughts spinning a little. But the prospect of going home helped to clear my mind and I began to consider the next task on the horizon: leading worship the following morning.
As we packed up the car, I mentally ran through the songs I planned to play at the service. I knew I wouldn’t be home until well after dark and that I would be tired. I figured I wouldn’t have a lot of time to practice, so I wanted to get my mind and heart in the right frame of mind.
But as we got settled in for the drive ahead of us, my thoughts of mental preparedness were immediately jolted into reality. The car refused to start.
So there we were in the Holiday Inn parking lot, unable to go anywhere. Fortunately, one of my co-workers had stayed behind to see us safely on our way, and when he recognized that we were unable to get the car started, he sought to offer as much help as possible. We were both grateful for his help, but I must admit that my emotions were not as steady as my friend’s whose car was now barely able to sputter. She took the situation in stride while I proceeded to tear up.
I made my way into the lobby of the hotel where I called a friend to alert her to the latest developments. I cried out all of my frustrations, for in that moment I was feeling extremely guilty. It was one of those days when my disability and the challenges that come with not being able to drive had drawn me into a very dark place. I felt that if someone more local had offered to drive me to my meetings, my friend from Minnesota would not have had to take time out of her schedule to help me… and now her car was broken down nearly five hours from home. I was convinced that it was all my fault.
Talking with my friend managed to calm me down quite a bit, but I was still very frustrated and upset with the circumstances. Eventually, my friend managed to start her car after plugging it in for an hour, and we were soon on our way. But I was still nervous. I trusted my friend and her promise that she would get me back in time so I could lead worship the next morning, but I must admit that I didn’t trust her car. I had been with her when it had broken down before, and its age and numerous times it had needed to be fixed was a constant reminder of its lack of dependability. But my friend encouraged me that her 1991 Buick was now running just fine and that the gauges weren’t showing anything abnormal.
As we drove along, it grew silent between us. We had both experienced a trying day, and it was then that I felt even more guilty for crying in front of my friend. She had truly taken the situation well, especially considering it was her car. I had not been supportive in my reactions, and I felt led to apologize. For the next half-hour or so, we talked it out. I apologized; she accepted my words and offered some advice in how I could best use this experience to trust God more deeply. She reaffirmed her support for my work at camp and said that she would always be available to me if I needed any help making my work there less stressful.
When the car was quiet and peaceful again, I relaxed against the passenger seat. It was then that my friend made a comment about the fact that her radio didn’t work. For a moment, I was saddened. What? How could the radio not work? We had just experienced a stressful ordeal! I wanted to sing along with the radio— to let it go in praise and worship! But there was no radio.
But then my friend surprised me by starting to sing the beloved anthem, “Blessed be Your Name.” The lyrics could not have been more appropriate for what we had just endured. And it wasn’t long before I found myself singing along. That song led to another and then another. We sang together for several moments and then proceeded to pray out loud, right there in the car. We prayed for safety on the roads, for my fears to be calmed, for me to not feel like a burden or inconvenience to my friends, etc.
When all was said and done, I truly believed we had offered up a sacrifice of praise. It certainly was a choice we had to make in that moment. We could have wallowed in self-pity in our circumstances, but with the leading of my good friend, we were able to truly praise instead. It was a tender and beautiful moment of worship that I will not soon forgot. It was genuine, heartfelt, and honest. Praise and worship is not just for specious sanctuaries; it is for broken-down cars and endless, darkened highways.

His Creation

I write books. I write songs; I create arrangements when I lead worship. I would call myself an author, songwriter, singer, and worship leader. But some have dared to call me an artist, and for a long time, I hesitated at that title. I couldn’t possibly be an artist! Artists draw and paint pictures, sculpt pottery, and create various masterpieces out of numerous materials. True, I was creative, but I could never consider myself to be an artist.
This was true for me until I entered the competition at Immerse in 2010. I competed in songwriting and singing in Nashville, Tennessee, and I was entered into the “Artist” category. I had heard musicians referred to as artists before, but until that point, I had never truly made that connection in my mind.
From that point on, I began to think of my many creations as “artistic.” Like those who painted or sculpted pottery, I had created something. Often I didn’t have much to show physically for my efforts, but my creations were near and dear to my heart. I kept song lyrics and my novels stored on the computer, but many of my melodies and ideas were in my head, never to be seen or heard by anyone until the time was right.
Recently, someone asked me if I could pinpoint the best thing I had ever created. I couldn’t answer the question because there were far too many options and I loved a lot of my songs and stories with the same degree of attachment. It would be like asking a mother which of her three children she liked best. I was torn in my response. I loved The Promise because of my close connection to its themes and characters. I loved “Waiting Here,” because the song also came from a deep and personal place in my heart. And I loved my worship arrangements of “Center,” “Mystery,” and “Revelation Song.” My creations are near and dear to my heart, and I will protect and revere each one for years to come… maybe even for the rest of my life.
I made the correlation to how God must feel about His creation. Even though we as people are fallible, sinful, and sometimes just plain difficult, He continues to pursue us with amazing passion and love. And all along, He shows us glimpses of His love and promise.
A few weeks ago, I went to bed early, still trying to feel 100% after my bout with pneumonia. At 4:30 a.m., however, I woke up and couldn’t seem to get back to sleep. I ventured out of my bedroom, thinking that if I walked around for a bit and maybe prayed for awhile, I could return to bed eventually. But the second I stepped out of my bedroom and into the living room, I knew this was no ordinary pre-dawn experience. Silver light from the full moon spilled into the room, and it was brighter than anything I could ever imagine. It was almost as if it were light enough for the sun to come up. It was so beautiful that I stopped for a moment and just stared.
I simply couldn’t get enough of this awesome display. It was then that I knew God had given me a gift that morning. He knew that I had been battling through illness and questioning my purpose as a person with a disability. There’s nothing like sickness and boredom to get the wheels of your mind turning, and I had not been positive in my perspective.
I’m not proud of the fact that I questioned my Creator, but in that early morning moon’s light, I began to see His love poured out on me. He had awakened me, I truly believe, to receive this gift so that I could be assured of His love and provision. So in that moment with my eyes glued to the window, I praised Him for the beauty and reminder of His love for me. Then because I was wide awake and feeling spontaneous, I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. With steaming beverage in hand, I sat in the glow of the moon and looked out over the artic-chilled landscape. I was warm, blessed, and feeling loved. There was nothing like taking in the beauty of His creation and realizing that He created me too.

Perfect in Weakness

Oh, the joys of decorating a new home for Christmas! And trust me, I’m not being sarcastic here… okay, maybe just a little. At first, it was a lot of fun. I put up the Christmas tree and hung the ornaments. Then I gathered up all of my lighted decorations and made sure I had outlets nearby or extension cords to make everything light up. Next, I made work of unpacking my holiday dolls and setting them up where my everyday décor had been. Everything looked bright and Christmassy as I tackled the last thing on my to-do list: stringing the garland over the fireplace mantle.
The task proved to be more difficult than I ever could have imagined. I had just purchased the garland, and it was tightly wound up in its packaging. Once I finally began to work out the kinks and get the garland to lie flat, the extension cord that I had attached to the wall would pull the garland off the mantle and everything would land in a heap. Over and over again, I tried to lay the garland evenly over the mantle, but it stubbornly refused to stay in place. At one point, I gave it a good tug to hold it in place, but then something completely unexpected happened. You see, I had a painting propped up on the mantle— not hung above the mantle as I thought it should be. When I tugged on the garland, the painting came crashing down— on my head!
Yes, it hurt, but there was no significant injury… maybe just a small bump on my head. At that point, I positioned the garland as best as I could so it wouldn’t slide off the mantle, plugged it in, and admired my efforts. It wasn’t terrible, I decided, but it wasn’t ideal. So a few days later when a friend called and asked if she could help me decorate, I told her that I had made an attempt but came upon a few issues. So she came in and assessed the situation. She even took time to make sure my Christmas tree and other décor looked good too.
In the end, I was glad for the help; in a way, I wish I had reached out to a friend right away. I thought of the countless minutes I had spent fighting with that garland only to need help with it in the end. But it all turned out okay, and weeks later, the experience with the Christmas décor proved to be a valuable lesson.
On the outside things were looking good. My garland and Christmas tree were glimmering beautifully and battery-operated candles glowed in the windows. Dad had also hung the painting above the mantle so it would no longer interfere with the placement of the garland. But even though things looked festive and Christmassy-perfect, something far from ideal was lurking under the surface.
As you may know by now in reading my other posts, I came down with pneumonia. It was inconvenient timing in that it happened over Christmas and it stole a lot of my independence and joy. I was bored out of my mind and wanted to get out of the house, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to walk anywhere because the cold air made me cough. I couldn’t drive a car, so I couldn’t go for a drive just because I wanted to. I needed to go to the doctor and pick up meds from the pharmacy, so I had to call someone. I hated to interrupt others’ lives as I asked for help. Yes, I was lonely and I wanted to see people, but I didn’t want to bother anyone.
I was pretty emotional during that time. If ever I disliked my disability, it was then. It isn’t often that I find discontent in my visual impairment, but when my pneumonia limited me physically, it brought to mind just how dependent I am on others. Although I hated to ask for help, I knew I had to reach out. I thought about how nice it had been to have my friend’s help with the Christmas decorations so I called on her to ask a favor.
She went to the grocery store and bought the things I needed. She even came and visited me one of the first nights I was on antibiotics. My grandmother and her husband brought me chicken and rice soup. My other grandmother brought me to the clinic and called me every day to check on me. My parents called to check on me as well. I didn’t like to be this needy, but I found comfort and strength in the assistance from others.
I thought about the other times in my life when God had directed people into my life to help me during difficult times. I recalled how Ashley had stayed with me for a week when I was first trying to figure out my allergies and chronic bronchitis. She took care of me when I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that all I could do was pray and cry. I thought of the countless people who have offered transportation assistance or taken me shopping.
I try to be as independent as possible, but sometimes, it’s just not realistic. Since I am visually impaired, there are some things I simply can’t do on my own, and driving is one of them. I’m ashamed to say it, but sometimes when I feel trapped by my disability and held back by my circumstances, it’s easy to forget the times God has provided for my needs in the past. I have found that if I consciously make an effort to consider His faithfulness and the helpers He has sent me when I needed them the most, I am more inclined to find strength and assurance during those hard times.
I always go back to 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh and how he prayed that God would take it away. But God makes it clear that His grace would be sufficient for Paul (and for me too), for His power is make perfect in weakness. So in my times of weakness, I need to recognize that with the help of others and His unending grace, I have strength and power like no other. I can endure the challenges, frustrations, and messiness of this world with new hope that I am never alone.