Focus

I woke up suddenly and sat straight up in bed. Something had just crashed— hard— and I had no idea what caused the sudden noise. A little rattled with concern, I got out of bed and started looking around. It was barely light outside, the January morning overcast and not very welcoming. There was something else that wasn’t all that welcoming— the mystery cacophony of sound. I was certain that once I encountered the source of the evidence, I was bound to find broken glass or something tipped over and spilled.

I walked into the living room, moved through the office, and turned back toward the bedroom. I didn’t bother looking in the kitchen because the sound had resonated fairly close to me, and the kitchen was on the other side of the house. Still seeing nothing, I flipped on the bathroom light. I quickly glanced at the mirror, thinking maybe that was the culprit. My grandmother’s bathroom mirror had recently detached from the wall, and I figured maybe that’s what had happened. I prepared myself for shattered glass everywhere. But no; that wasn’t it.

While looking in the mirror, I glimpsed something strange. The wall behind my head was way too empty. Something that had hung there was missing, and suddenly I knew what had happened. I turned to look down at the floor. In a mass of tangled wood, metal, and glittery gems, I glimpsed my entire jewelry hook/ organizational system scattered on the floor. I sank to my knees, immediately starting to untangle necklace chains from the now broken hooks that had once displayed them on the wall. I wanted to cry. How had this happened? I kept telling myself it was just jewelry— materialistic things— but in the moment, I was a mess of emotions.

In the days following Christmas, my parents and I had arranged to work on a few things around the house. But thanks to an ill-timed winter storm, my parents had departed early and left me at the house seemingly in the middle of things. In the two days previous, I had done my best to grow accustomed to some new Christmas gifts and their technology related elements. I had also endured a somewhat stressful week at the office with the transition from Christmas into the new year. In addition, I was worried about an upcoming review process and not looking forward to the uneventful winter days ahead. The tangled necklaces on the floor served as the final straw, and my overwhelm piqued to an alarming state.

Five wooden hooks had been severed from the backing, and I found that a necklace had been broken in two as well. Upon further inspection, I noticed that one of the necklace pieces was missing a gem. I figured the necklace was probably beyond repair, but I needed to find that gem. The necklace had been a gift from one of my sisters— something she had brought back from her trip to Amsterdam. With tears still brimming in my eyes, I went to the living room to retrieve my telescope. I focused in on the floor and scanned back and forth until finally I spotted the green gem glinting up at me. I grabbed it up, and then proceeded to retrieve the other necklaces from the floor as well.

After I had some time to calm down, I thought about my reaction to the ordeal. Like I wrote earlier, it had seemingly been the final straw that had sent my emotions swirling in an unhealthy direction. I needed perspective, and I knew that planning out music for the following Sunday was just what I needed to do— not only to distract me but to find a better mindset.

I didn’t have a clear understanding of the pastor’s sermon topic or the Scripture he would use, so I had to approach my planning from a different angle. Of course, prayer was a significant part of the equation, and I asked that the Holy Spirit might clarify a perceived direction. All at once, it struck me. In the midst of my mess (my negative attitude and the pieces scattered over my bathroom floor), I needed to be reminded of the greatness of my God. I needed to shift my focus from the material to the eternal. Just as I had looked intently for the missing jewel, I needed to set my sights on the One who could mend my shattered heart.

Planning for that Sunday’s service was a step in the right direction, but by the start of the service, I wasn’t quite there yet. I knew I needed to set aside myself in order to celebrate His greatness, but my humanity was pretty difficult to overcome. But as the service drew to a close, I began to feel a perceptible shift. The four of us took to the stage, and without hesitation, we began to sing the Chris Tomlin standard, “How Great is our God.” The lyrics had never resonated so clearly before, and as we transitioned into the timeless hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” I felt a chill come over me. The congregation was singing with passion, and I felt it distinctly. This song wasn’t just a means for me to worship Him, but it was a communal effort. It was resonating in the hearts of so many others, and it was then that I distinctly felt the presence of the Spirit.

It is remarkable that a set of songs in a praise and worship set, lifted up to the Creator, can not only bring honor and glory to His name but can also invade the hearts of those singing His praises. I left church that morning with a new spring in my step and hope in my heart. My focus had shifted and it was an incredible transition.

The week ahead certainly wasn’t easy, but I was able to move forward. A friend offered to help out with some tasks at home, I got back into a routine at the office, completed the review process. and learned of some possible opportunities to explore once I felt ready to embrace a more active schedule. If I allowed myself to focus on God’s greatness and His provision for my life instead of wallowing in negativity, I found I was able to thrive in the midst of uncertainty instead of crashing. My jewelry hooks are still a mess, but God is doing a work in my life, and I seek to focus my attention on Him and only Him.

Taking Off

I got to my gate about an hour-and-a-half before take-off. A combination of arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare and the disability-related assistance from security personnel had hurried me along, and now all I had to do was wait. I pulled a book from my carry-on and settled in for some uninterrupted reading.

Awhile later, I checked my watch. Seeing that they would be boarding the flight soon, I texted my friend who would be waiting for me on the other side. I told her that everything looked good and that I would see her in a few hours. No sooner had I sent the text than an announcement was heard over the intercom. Our flight would be delayed because they were short a crew member. They assured us they were figuring it out and it would be a brief delay.

About an hour later, they started boarding some of us onto the plane. I was one of the first to find my seat since people with disabilities are often given extra time to get settled in. It seemed that the boarding process took forever. I watched from my seat as passengers struggled to find space for their luggage in the overhead bins and then gradually made their way to their seats. The flight attendants gave their pre-flight speech, and finally, we taxied down the runway… only to stop!

I could hear the groans from nearby passengers. What was going on? Why had we stopped? We had already been delayed over an hour! What now?

The captain’s voice could be heard over the PA then: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to need to go back to the gate. Some of your luggage was not loaded, and we need to retrieve it.”

I let out a nervous but relived laugh. I knew there had been some space concerns on this flight and that many of the passengers had to check their carry-ons. I was glad to have boarded first and secured my carry-on in an overhead bin. I was sure the other passengers were also relieved to know their luggage wouldn’t be left behind. We were already delayed, and at that point, I didn’t see a few more moments making much of a difference.

We finally took off, and I think everyone was content at that point. But as we neared our destination, we learned that we would not be able to land right away. There was a tornado warned storm in the vicinity, and we would need to circle the airport before we could land safely.

I looked down at the swirling, black-green clouds and shuddered. I wondered if our flight delays had any effect on our landing time. Had there been storms in the area earlier that day? Would landing almost two hours earlier, as planned, have made any difference? Or had God had a hand in our late arrival? I didn’t want to think about the alternative. It wasn’t often that flights came to a disastrous end, but bad weather was not something even the most experienced pilot wanted to contend with.

Twenty-five minutes later, we landed safely and I was united with my friend. It was the start of my highly anticipated vacation, and I quickly set aside the harrowing flight to enjoy my time away from home. I would think about the flight home later.

My pre-vacation flight delay came to mind recently when I saw a Facebook post from a pilot friend of mine. He had snapped a picture of the de-ice truck on fire prior to his flight’s departure. Since it was his first flight of 2016, he remarked that he wasn’t sure how this boded for the year to come. One of his friends commented that it was better that the de-ice truck caught on fire and not the aircraft.

Again, my thoughts went back to my own flight delay experience. It didn’t matter why the plain couldn’t take off; it had everything to do with the attitude and perspective. As I wrote earlier, I had no idea what the weather had been like at our destination earlier that day. In fact, I didn’t even ask my friend after I landed. I was just relieved that I had arrived, even though I was late.

Delays are frustrating; there’s no denying that. In fact, I have felt the frustration of delay recently, and although it has nothing to do with an air plane, I wonder about when I will reach my destination. Almost four months ago, when I resigned from camp, I committed to take some time away. I didn’t know what was next on my horizon, so I promised my friends and co-workers that I would take a six-month sabbatical of sorts before I jumped headlong into the next opportunity. Six months of reprieve— a vacation of sorts; it sounded so good to me at the time.

That is, until restlessness and too much down time settled in and I had no idea what to do. True, I had work to keep me busy, but there was much more free time now without the demands of the camp schedule. I knew I had at least two months left in my self-appointed sabbatical, and I was going stir-crazy. I just wanted to do something!

But in my time immersed in the Word and prayer, I kept coming up empty. I simply couldn’t perceive what God had planned for me in the future. I knew that I would continue leading worship, but was there something else that God was calling me to do? How would I find that something else? Did I need to go seeking after some opportunities, or should I wait quietly for God to reveal my next steps. I just didn’t know how to respond. How much effort did I need to put forward in this time of quiet discovery?

Even though the quiet and inactivity was becoming all too familiar and even frustrating, I began to perceive that this might just be the season I needed to walk through at this time. Perhaps it wasn’t my time to take off yet. It wasn’t just that my six-month sabbatical wasn’t up yet. It didn’t mean that when March 15 rolled around I would be required to jump into the first opportunity that would appear on the horizon. Maybe my sabbatical would last longer than expected. Had I ever contemplated that possibility? Not really. In fact, the reality didn’t sit well with me. I was already restless and feeling ready to spring forward.

But maybe it wasn’t time to go. Perhaps I needed even more rest. After all, when I left camp, I was pretty well burned out and pretty broken down. It had taken considerable time to mend my heart and take care of myself physically before I had begun to feel more like myself. In fact, my friends had just begun to comment about my more relaxed demeanor and optimistic outlook. I didn’t want to lose ground in this new season, so I began to contemplate a more prolonged rest.

It might not be my time to take off yet because it might be God’s way of protecting me from the flames of burnout. Perhaps the vision of the de-ice truck on fire can serve as a warning of sorts. Such a catastrophe can delay a flight for sure, but the flames don’t immediately endanger the passengers. But one misplaced spark could spell disaster for the plane itself.

I don’t want to be that close to the flame again. I need to heal completely before I am tested by fire of any kind. I don’t want one misplaced spark (my drive to move forward) set the fire to blazing too prematurely. I don’t need to be burned out before I can even get started.

So in this season of quiet and waiting, I need to be content with the delay. For just like the unknown weather conditions, one never knows what God might be up to! He is my pilot, and He knows the best time to take off toward my next destination. I need to be rested, ready, and willing to go when he tells me to buckle my seatbelt for the flight ahead.

Engagement

It was Christmastime and I was sick… really sick. At the busiest time of year, I was down with pneumonia, and I didn’t like it one bit. I had practiced so much music, and I wasn’t even sure that I would have the voice or breath support to carry me through the upcoming Christmas Eve service. I was overwhelmed, disappointed, sad, and lonely. Due to the fact I was so sick, I had not invited anyone cover to keep me company. I would have loved to call some of my friends or even text them, but I had no voice to do so. Even texting required me to speak into my phone’s microphone to type out messages.

Late one evening as I sat half-asleep in my recliner, my phone went off with a new text. It was a dear friend, checking in to see how I was doing. I told her I was on antibiotics but that I hadn’t quite turned a corner. And then in a moment of weakness, with barely audible voice, I confessed that I was lonely more than anything else. I sent the text message, instantly regretting my transparency. It wasn’t like my friend could do anything about my loneliness. She had a close-knit, active family, and even though she loved me, it wasn’t like she was going to drop everything to come and be with me.

With tears streaming down my face, I made my way toward the back of the house to retrieve a few tissues from the bathroom. I spent some time controlling my emotions and then I shuffled back into the living room to continue my night of solitude and sickness.

Suddenly, I was startled at the sound of the doorbell. I shot straight up out of my chair, wondering who in the world would be at my door after 9:00 p.m. I flipped on the outside light to see the friend I had just texted standing on the other side of the door. Mixed emotions overwhelmed me then. I felt so blessed, so guilty, and worn down all at the same time.

With my voice all but gone, I struggled to ask why she had come. My friend proceeded to tell me that she had read my last message and felt convicted to visit me. She said she had texted to tell me she was on her way over, but by that time I had been on my search for tissues and had not heard my phone go off from the other room.

My friend stayed for about thirty minutes. She sat on the couch across the room from me, and we watched a little bit of a movie together. She even took time to sweep some winter salt and sand from my entryway and tidy up the kitchen. Her visit, though brief, was a welcome source of revitalization. I only hoped that she wouldn’t get sick from being so close to me.

Fast-forward to a little more than a year later. My pneumonia is gone, and I was able to traverse a busy Christmas season without getting sick. But then came January. There was very little scheduled on my January calendar, and the long, dark days stretched forward endlessly. My friends were getting their kids and grandkids ready for school, and everyone seemed to be heading back to a regular schedule… except for me. For the first time since resigning from camp, I felt the uncertainty of the days to come. True, I still had much to accomplish at the church, but I could only arrange songs, practice them, and set up rehearsals for so long before I hit a road block. And to top it all off, I was lonely again— not as lonely as I had been the previous December, but lonely nevertheless.

Instead of crumbling in despair, I dedicated myself to prayer and Scripture. It was then that I was reminded of James 4:8: “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” This verse has held special meaning for me for quite some time now. A few years ago, a dear, elderly friend contacted the church to ask if someone could come and visit her. She said she had seen Jesus in her room, and she was convinced that He would be coming back for her soon. That very same day, I went over to the care facility to see her, and we talked about her encounter with Jesus. I asked her about her relationship with Him and the nature of its closeness. That’s when she recited to me the text from James 4:8. I was overjoyed for my friend at that moment. I marveled at the fact that she was so close to the Savior that she had seen Him right there in her room in the moments so near to her life’s end.

I had never seen Jesus in the flesh, but I could recall a time when I had been crying in despair and I had felt almost a physical touch as I huddled in my chair. Although I had not felt His closeness during my stint with pneumonia, He had convicted a dear friend of mine to come and see me to give me comfort. The nature of our sweet friendship felt a lot like Jesus to me. Just sitting with her on that dark, December night was a balm to my weary and lonely soul.

James 4:8, my elderly friend preparing to pass into eternity, and the late-night visit from another friend all served as reminders of His closeness. I might have felt isolated and lonely because it was only me at the house, but I knew deep down that He would never leave my side. It wasn’t the same as a tangible person sitting alongside of me, but if I looked hard enough, I could perceive His presence.

I decided then that I didn’t want to miss His interaction with me, so I set out to interact with others in the hopes that I could bring some encouragement in His love. I visited my grandma, I chatted with my neighbor and got to know her better, and I did my best to send the above-mentioned friend off on a mission trip to Haiti with love and support. And when I needed a little extra help around the house, I accepted the assistance from another friend. But instead of saying a simple “thank you” for the help, I took a few moments to engage in conversation with her so that I might be able to perceive God’s work in her life.

“Come near to God and He will come near to you.” It’s a process of seeking and growing, and it takes time and dedication. It starts with connecting with Him and continues with reaching out to others. In the end, He can breathe life into our battered and lonely souls in a deep and personal way. I want to be engaged in this new year: seeking Him, seeking others, and responding as He leads me.

Expect the Unexpected

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. That’s not to say that I never make commitments to change or set out to try something new. I just don’t usually make significant changes at the new year. For me, January first is far too challenging of a date to make alterations. Change has never come easy for me; I need significant time to adjust, and the week after the Christmas holiday is never good timing.

My role as a musician and worship leader is pretty significant during Advent and up until Christmas. It is all I can do to stay afloat during December. I love every moment of it, but I would be lying if I didn’t confess to it often being a challenge. So when January comes, I often crash.

And it’s not a good crash. We’re not talking about taking the time to rest and rejuvenate here. We’re talking about a mental, emotional, and spiritual crash. Some might call it depression, but I have chosen not to give it a name. It is simply the time of year when I have enough down-time to truly focus on my circumstances. It doesn’t take me long to become discouraged. Often, January first brings the realization that not much has changed since January first of the previous year. I am still single, living alone, only a few close friends, and limited opportunities to pursue my writing and music outside of the church. In many ways, I can look back on a year ago and see advancement, but in the core areas listed above, there is often very little to no change.

When I woke up on January 1, 2016, the dawning of another year struck me with full force. Once again, December had me running at full speed, and I hadn’t stopped to reflect on 2015. A great deal had changed leading in to the new year, but a lot of it had been taken away: no Bible studies to attend or lead, very few gatherings at my home, and the biggest loss of all— no camp.

Now before you start to feel sorry for all that I don’t have as I enter 2016, please consider that I eliminated many of these elements from my life intentionally. I sensed I needed some quiet time to re-evaluate my relationship with God in hopes of discovering my next steps in life. In many ways, the quiet reflection has been good for me, but my soul yearns to rush out into the world to do something— anything to serve, learn and grow.

But what is that something? I don’t yet know. So I have continued to pray earnestly, continually asking God what’s next for me on the horizon, but as of yet I have not received any clear direction. This is a new stage in my life. I am typically the go-getter, organizer, and planner. I do my best to perceive God’s leading in my life, but often, I am too independent and stubborn to wait on His response. Too restless to just sit around and wait, I jump at the next opportunity just for something to do. That’s where I can so easily get into trouble. So this waiting and discerning has been a new and very beneficial exercise for me.

There’s a show that I sometimes watch during the summer months called “Big Brother.” This reality-based drama follows the experiences of cast members as they live together in a house for nearly three months, competing for power and control of the household. In the end, one person is crowned the winner after all but two contestants are voted out of the house. The show has an interesting motto each summer: “Expect the Unexpected.”

That motto— that is exactly what I want to hold to in the coming year. You might even call it a resolution of sorts. I don’t want to presume to know what God might have on the horizon for me to do next. I don’t want to set goals and press forward with dreams if they are not a part of His plan for me. True, He may place a thought or idea in my heart, but I want to be certain I hear His voice clearly before I move forward. Instead of resolving to do all I can to move forward in an endeavor, I want to expect that He will pave the way for me. He knows what is coming next, and He will lead me there. It isn’t my job to create expectations for where I think I should be at a particular place and time.

Life comes with ups and downs. Sometimes, the steps forward are easy and seem weightless, while at other times we trudge forward because the pathway before us isn’t clear. In either circumstance, God knows the way, and instead of striving, it is our job to let Him lead and bring us where He calls us to be. Answers may not come overnight. It may be a struggle. Hopefully, there will be times of celebration along the way. In the end, waiting on Him and discerning His direction will be the better alternative.

I am choosing to set my expectations and resolutions aside to embrace His expectations for me. Expect the unexpected? There’s no better call to adventure than this!

Top Songs of 2015

I stayed in last night to ring in the new year. I was contemplative and reflective as I channel-surfed, trying to find something that would keep me interested for the hours up until midnight. Countdown shows were all over the channel line-up, and it got me thinking…

I am a musician, songwriter, and worship leader. Music is a big part of my life, and if you come into my home or office at any point in time, no doubt, you will hear music playing. It fills in the empty and lonely places that sometimes exist for this single girl, but playing music in the background also stimulates my role as a worship leader. I’m constantly exposed to music, and it infiltrates nearly everything I do.

So I thought I would compose my own countdown list of music for 2015. These songs, however, are in no particular order. It is difficult to decide which songs were more impactful throughout the year, so I simply created a list of my favorites. Some of these songs were released this year, but most are songs I have known for awhile that continue to have an impact on my life and experiences. I have included YouTube video links behind each one, and I invite you to take a listen to those that interest you.

“The River” Jordan Feliz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maT4phfTXR4

“All is Well” Michael W. Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5STGOf08Swc

“Background” Lacrae: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHnZRZiCYHE

“Boundary Lines” Chris Tomlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYGxaW26SiA

“Even so Come” Passion featuring Kristian Stanfill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBHcvJhc6Pk

“I am not Alone” Kari Jobe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfveawSAHJA

“Jesus Messiah” Chris Tomlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdxSC1tHJn0

“No Borders” Ginny Owens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-_lkoww_IQ

“Not to us” Nichole Nordeman featuring Plumb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTgmWoyB0Ig

“Show us Christ” Sovereign Grace Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk2Y7WoM4h4

“Simplicity” Rend Collective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrusZ-MkTn4

“The Unmaking” Nichole Nordeman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQkHD15J7HI

“Worn” Tenth Avenue North: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zulKcYItKIA

“Come as you are” Crowder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2zhf2mqEMI