Paid in Full

It was about a week before graduation, and I was just coming from a final exam. I needed lunch, and I was in no mood for the bustling cafeteria. Instead, I set my sights on the cafe. I was looking forward to some comfort food and a few moments of quiet. The woman at the counter accessed my account, and subtracted the price of my lunch from my meal plan balance. Then she printed the receipt and handed it to me. Thinking nothing of it, I stuffed the paper in the pocket of my jeans and moved to the side to wait for my order.

It wasn’t until that night when I realized something wasn’t right. I was getting ready for bed, and I remembered the receipt in my pocket. I knew I was close to nearing the end of my meal plan, and I was curious to see my remaining balance. I accessed my account online and got quite the shock. The total for my lunch had been deducted as expected, but it also said that my account was overdrawn. I wondered how that could be. I usually kept my totals pretty well in check. There had to be a mistake. Further investigation proved this to be true, for under my lunch charge of $7.00 there was an extra charge with three more zeros! Yes, the cafe had billed my account for $70,000. Yikes! That was one bill I was not prepared to pay during my college career!

Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t pay someone back… like the debt was far too great for you to even make a dent in the total sum? I certainly felt that way that night. I was pretty sure I could get the issue straightened out at the business office the next morning, but for the night, I was in well over my head. If asked to pay up in that moment, I would have to plead that the debt be removed because I just didn’t have the money.

But the truth is, this wasn’t the only debt that existed in my life. This story came to mind recently as we contemplated ideas for our Thanksgiving Eve service at the church. The pastor and I took several moments to reflect on whether we were truly thankful for our salvation. For someone like me who has grown up in the church, the startling reality of Christ’s sacrifice is often lost in the everyday-ness of life. I know deep down in my heart that He came as a baby, walked this earth, and then submitted Himself to the cross to atone for my sins, but its incredible life-saving message is not one that readily comes to mind.

But it is incredible! It’s amazing grace! It’s divine love! It’s unlike any gift that’s ever been given before. Yes, He gave His life for my sins, but the story doesn’t end there! He rose from the grave, forever conquering death and hell for each one of us! Now, if that isn’t a reason for thanksgiving, I can’t think of anything that would remotely match up to this wonder!

I think of the simple beauty of the hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded:”

“O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,

Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Thy only crown;

How art Thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!

How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain:

Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve Thy place;

Look on me with Thy favor; vouch-safe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,

For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee!

The lyrics here do not yet reflect the wonder of Easter morning, but they portray a certain gratitude that I could not even begin to attempt with words from my own pen. In times of Thanksgiving, we so often turn to songs like “Now Thank we all our God” or “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart.” But a hymn like this takes the worshipper to a different time and place, asking us to consider the debt of our sin and grace of our Savior who wiped the slate clean.

It’s like making that final credit card payment or paying off that school loan. For months, maybe even years, the strain of your financial debt has affected your everyday life. It has affected your decisions, the activities you engaged in, changed the dynamics of your family. But oh, the celebration that takes place when that debt is cleared! Shouldn’t we exhibit the same celebratory attitude when we are reminded of the greatest act of love to ever be lavished on humans so broken by sin and grief?

It’s easy to say we are grateful for His sacrifice, but our gratitude needs to go deeper… to identify with His suffering and then rejoice with Mary in His resurrection.   “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

This Thanksgiving, I want to bask in the glow of Easter morning! It is finished! My debt is paid in full! And if you’re wondering about my astronomical lunch bill… that’s all resolved too. I was right; one trip to the business office and I was no longer in the red. In fact, the cafe staff and the business office personnel had a good laugh over it all. I was able to graduate without excess debt, and this Thanksgiving, my heart is even more joyful than it was on that day.

Chipping Away

It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever become accustomed to— this feeling of never reaching completion— the almost-but-yet, running the endless marathon, never quite reaching the goal. Such is what we are given in life, and most of the time, I don’t like it. I don’t like the element of surprise. I like to know what is happening and its greater purpose. I want to be at the end of the struggle with a clear picture of why I had to endure something in order to move forward.

All the while, in the midst of the in-between, I have to carry on. As I do my best to endure, God is using my circumstances to shape me for whatever lies on the horizon. It’s a lot like the season of Fall. Some would say that Fall, although a time of harvest, doesn’t lead to much… except the bitterly cold winds of winter. For the most part, I would have to agree . But sometimes, like the stripping of leaves from the trees, God needs to strip each one of us of the things that are holding us back from growing. Just as the hard freezes of Fall chill the ground and prepare it for dormancy, God is preparing me for another growing season.

As I have wrote in earlier posts, I feel I am in a quiet season here. I am not participating in any Bible studies or volunteering in any programs. My days are filled with rehearsal and preparing for several musical opportunities, but other than that, there is not much else on the horizon. What comes next? I don’t know. As Thanksgiving draws near, I am reflecting back on this year and giving praise for everything I have been given. Much of what I came through wasn’t easy; I had to make some tough decisions, but in the end, I think I am in a good place now.

I think my current circumstances can be mirrored in a recent appointment with an ocular specialist. Some of you may be aware that I have a prosthetic eye, and approximately every five years, my shell needs to be replaced. In between re-fittings, my prosthetic needs to buffed and polished to prohibit the build-up of “gunk.” Hey, I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the “stuff” that tends to build up on the shell. But anyway, I digress…

As I waited through the day-long process of getting re-fitted, a sense of anticipation came over me. Since this was my third go-around, I more or less knew what to expect. A mold would be created and then given time to harden. Then the specialist would paint the shell to look like an authentic eye. I could go into a more detailed description here, but the details don’t really matter. What does matter, however, is the fact that as I waited a new prosthetic was being created just for me. It would be custom-made in all aspects. The fit would be precise to the size of my eye socket, the color of the sclera and iris would match as closely to my existing eye as possible, and the thickness of the shell would fill in the depth. No one else could wear my prosthetic; it was made only for me.

The process of its creation was lengthy but completely worth it. As the shell was formed, hardened, painted, and polished, I sat with my existing prosthetic in place. It was time to let the old go; after all, the fit was no longer ideal and it had out-worn its initial polish and shine. It made me think of how I prayed God was using this season of my life to help me let go. Leaving camp and giving myself space and time to explore my next steps has given me perspective that has begun to come full circle. No, I don’t know where I’m going or what comes next, but God knows. Just like the trees know when to blossom in the spring after the long winter, God knows the time and nature of my Springtime. In the meantime, He is chipping away— chiseling and preparing me so I can bloom when the time is right.

So as the seasons change and the winter comes upon me, I will rest in the warmth of His promise. Spring will come when the time is right, and I want to be ready when He draws me outside.

Why I Sing

It was a bitterly cold night in downtown Minneapolis. I was in that in-between stage before my CD released, and I was trying to wrack up some performance time. Little did we know that on this January evening, temperatures would be well below zero. In fact, that night, the low dipped down near -30. I asked my driver if she was still comfortable driving to the coffeehouse for the show; she agreed that it was far too cold but that we would still go.

I can remember the crowd being very small that night; patrons were doing their best to keep warm with hot beverages and a blazing fireplace as I set up my equipment. I didn’t do a lot of mingling with the customers; I was from out of town and didn’t know anyone. So I just played for a few hours, sharing some of my faith-based covers and original compositions. I laid out a few copies of my book and made a few comments about my forth-coming CD, but no one seemed to pay any attention. It was the first time I felt like no one was listening to my performance. It was a pretty low experience for me.

When I finished my last song, my driver and I set to work dismantling the sound system and gathering up the merchandise. As I mentioned before, I hadn’t mingled with the crowd, so as a result, I was startled when a woman spoke up from nearby.

“Thank you for coming tonight,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what it is, but your voice… your music… it brought me peace.”

For a moment, I stood still, rooted to the floor. I’m pretty sure my mouth opened and closed in that moment, trying to form coherent speech. Of course, I knew what peace she was speaking of; it was God’s peace. But I couldn’t seem to get the words out. I could have had an opportunity right then and there to share the Gospel, but I didn’t. Instead, I offered up a semblance of a smile and thanked her for being there on that cold night.

In the years that have passed since that January night, I have not allowed myself to trivialize the peace I sing about each time I perform or lead worship. In fact, if someone asked me today why I sing or what I sing about, I would say it not only comes down to peace but hope as well. I hear so many musicians on secular radio and TV belt out tunes dripping with sexual content, crude lyrics, and negative messages. I cringe when I hear these same musicians acknowledge God in their award acceptance speeches. How can someone acknowledge God for their gifts and talents, and then turn around and sing about the very things that must grieve His heart.

I am not casting judgement on my fellow musicians; I am only setting myself up against a higher standard. I have found that without God, I wouldn’t have a reason to sing. He is the one who gave me my voice in the first place, and it is my prayer that I can put that gift on display for His honor and glory. In fact, that catch phrase: “Without Him, I wouldn’t have a reason to sing” is posted at the top of the music page on my website.

So if I am going to sing for Him and if He gives me a reason to sing, what do my songs look like? If I say that I sing about peace and hope, does that really categorize my entire music library? Well, I’ve thought about it, and I believe it’s true. Whether I am singing a song I wrote or covering a tune from a beloved artist, I truly believe hope and peace have become a platform for me. I took the time to work through my typical set list for a concert, and it wasn’t long before I found an over-arching theme within each song.

  • Lifting my eyes to God when I am in need of help
  • I am nothing without Him.
  • The birth of Christ and His second coming
  • Jesus’ friendship when earthly friends leave us
  • The beauty of a God-centered relationship
  • The beauty of birth and adoption
  • Embracing His Promise even when all seems lost
  • The hope of finding a cure for cancer
  • Following your dreams
  • Finding a new tomorrow in the midst of grief and loss
  • God is waiting for us to embrace Him even though we so often push Him away.
  • Peace in the midst of turmoil
  • A prayer to be filled with His peace
  • Following His lead through the fog of uncertainty
  • The Promise that one day I will rise to be with Him in eternity

And the list could go on and on. These are just a few of the highlights… songs I sing quite often when I give a performance. Yes, they have varying concepts at the center of their lyrics, but overall, they reveal a perspective rich in faith, hope, and peace.

I recently completed a book by Laura Story entitled When God Doesn’t Fix it. As I read, I was inspired to not let my circumstances stand in the way of living my life and moving forward. This goes for songwriting and performing too. If I only sang songs of happy praise and joy, there wouldn’t be the meatiness that exists in singing about deep hurt and God’s provision through such experiences. Yes, we can praise God when things are going well, but when praise is evoked in the midst of trial, true authenticity takes place. To some, my songs may be too deep, too introspective, too depressing. But if you know me and my music well, we try not to stay in that reflective and contemplative state for long; it only breeds hopelessness and despair. Instead, each song I write and sing culminates with a measure of hope and peace. I refuse to tie everything up in a neat little bow as if each situation would come to a happy ending. But I do my best to offer hope in the midst of life’s hardships. Why do I sing? I sing to bring hope. Without Him, I wouldn’t have a reason to sing.