Bittersweet Blessings

I haven’t written here in two months. I have been silent on the blog for extended periods before, but this absence from posting seems really significant for some reason. Maybe it’s because of our current circumstances. I had a feeling one of two scenarios would play out for me as we navigated these uncharted waters: either I would be writing and sharing frequently during this journey or I would say next to nothing. Well, it’s interesting that a third scenario actually emerged; I have something to say, but I don’t know how to say it.

A few nights ago, a Facebook friend did a livestream and her vulnerability gave me courage to move forward with posting here. My friend is a seasoned musician, someone I have followed in their musical journey since I was in junior high. Her songs and passion for songwriting fueled my own love of songwriting, and it was inspiring to watch from the sidelines as another piano-playing girl lived out her dream on the stage. I nearly had a fan-girl moment when in September, 2014 my songwriting mentor from afar became my Facebook friend. We have remained in contact ever since, and it has been a blessing, just as her impromptu livestreamed concert was a blessing. In between songs, my friend shared that she had felt somewhat guilty for not doing a live concert sooner during quarantine; she said it just hadn’t felt right to add her own livestream into the plethora of bands and musicians also offering their songs online during this time. It wasn’t until that morning that she felt it was finally time to share from her heart and sing for an audience.

Like I mentioned earlier, her vulnerability and honesty gave me the courage to finally write something today. My thoughts aren’t organized though, so I don’t know how well this will read. But all I can say is that this season has been filled with blessings. As my title implies, they are bittersweet blessings though, because if it weren’t for this very challenging and trying season in our lives, we wouldn’t be able to recognize the blessings right in front of us.

I started to recognize these bittersweet blessings on March 20, nearly two months ago when I stepped onto an empty stage and sat down at the piano. The stage, the piano, the sense of routine were all welcome that morning, but the changes were staggering. I was getting ready to lead worship at church, but it wasn’t Sunday; it was Friday. The sanctuary should have been filled with people, but when I turned my head to take it in, there were only five faces. My visual impairment didn’t allow me to see their faces clearly, but I knew they were there because I could hear their voices. In the quiet moment leading into our recorded service, I focused on one voice in the silent room as Justin counted down to when we would be rolling: “Five, four, three…” Then I started playing. That’s when I realized I could barely hear anything. Yes, there were only five voices singing with me, but that wasn’t the only reason I couldn’t hear well; I had an ear infection, and it felt so isolating to sing and play when my voice was the only thing I had to anchor me in the music.

But as the service continued, I did my best to focus on the things that hadn’t changed— the things that were constant even in the midst of a worship service recorded during a pandemic. God was still present; His presence was so thick in our sanctuary that morning. The songs I led proclaimed His sovereignty in the midst of a world searching for peace and hope. I simply sang and worshipped, and now and then, I could hear our pastor’s wife singing with me from the front row. There were only six of us in the room, but we were recording a service to be viewed by our entire congregation; so even though it felt empty and foreign, I had a job to do and that was to lead God’s people into worship.

Optimistically, I thought this recorded worship service mentality would only last a few weeks; then we would get back to “normal.” But two months later we are still here. As I drove home yesterday after doing our eighth recorded service, I marveled at the change of seasons. When this all started, it was the middle of March. There was still some snow on the ground and it was pretty cold. I was battling my mold allergies, and the ear infection was miserable. I spent about four weeks in an allergy-induced fog. I led worship for our recorded services and was fully engaged when I needed to be, but in the quiet moments at home, it was really hard to concentrate and stay motivated. I had just exited the nine-week course in songwriting, so I had virtually gone from a steady work flow to a far less hectic schedule.

Little by little, I began to bounce back. By mid-April I was feeling a lot better, and while everyone else sneezed and wheezed through pollen allergies, I was ready to hit the ground running… only there really wasn’t anywhere to run. So I buckled down and basically went crazy with creating music. I didn’t write anything, but I arranged and pulled new songs to lead at church. An old friend from church asked me to sing at her wedding, and I began to contemplate what a wedding in quarantine would look like. Before long, I learned that I would be recording my songs for the ceremony and sending them in; I wouldn’t even be present at the wedding, and that was such a strange reality to consider.

And then came “The Blessing,” quite literally. Some of you, or rather, most of you are probably familiar with the recently released worship anthem co-written by Cody Carnes and Kari Jobe (also Steven Furtick and Chris Brown). Pastor Tim was planning on continuing his sermon series from 1 Peter and he moved into chapter 3 this week. He wanted to focus on believers extending a blessing to others, even being willing to bless those who are harder to love. That’s when he suggested I lead “The Blessing.”

At first, I resisted. The song is all over the Internet, and in the past two months, the YouTube videos and covers have piled up; I didn’t feel the need to add my voice to the sea of renditions already out there. Besides, how does one girl at the piano sing a song well when there is such energy and vitality in the harmonies and the interplay between multiple musicians? I was feeling under-qualified and quite a bit intimidated.

But I didn’t want to disappoint my Pastor, and more importantly, I wanted to be obedient to the Holy Spirit if “The Blessing” was a tool He wanted to utilize in our worship service. So I sat at the piano and tried. I had to arrange the key to fit my voice, and even then, it just felt lacking without the harmonies. I got the piano part down rather effectively, putting a little pad sound behind the chords to provide some ambiance. I managed to get it recorded and loaded into my Spire (my awesome recording equipment). Then I left my piano and went into the other room. I have a little corner designated for recording, and I set up there for the next few hours, laying down the lead vocals and all of those harmonies that had been begging to find a place in the song. By the end of the day, I had a rough demo for my take on “The Blessing” and a means to help me move forward with leading worship later that week.

Friday morning as we recorded our weekly service, I played and sang “The Blessing.” It was certainly odd singing it in a nearly empty sanctuary, but unlike two months ago, I could actually hear a little more and engage with my surroundings. The five others in the room were singing with me, and it was a sweet moment— a blessing in itself. But I felt unsettled. As I drove home in the beautiful Spring afternoon, my offering of worship felt incomplete; the blessing wasn’t yet fulfilled. Many church members wouldn’t tune in to our service until Sunday morning, so it would be two days yet before I would know if “The Blessing” would connect with the congregation.

Now as I write this on Saturday, the day after our recording, I still don’t know if the song will resonate with our people. I’m not expecting it to latch on quickly and be an anthem that our people can sing along with easily. If anything, it can be a song that can simply minister to their hearts. It has already been a way for me to pray for my team members and the people I haven’t seen for two months. The benediction and blessing in the lyrics have given me a way to extend love through song through the screen. It seems inadequate in many ways but fitting too. This song that I was so reluctant to sing in the beginning has now been a blessing to me in so many unexpected ways.

I plan to share my recorded demo on Facebook once our recorded service has had time to reach our congregation. I am praying that the words I sing and the notes I play can bring an assurance of God’s heart for His people. While I wait, pray, sing, play, and ride my trike through this time of bittersweet blessing, I will give thanks and praise Him for His faithfulness. Amen…