The other morning was spent cleaning a house that the owners are getting prepared to sell. It’s a charming little manufactured home with breezy windows, freshly-cleaned carpets, and a spacious kitchen. As we set to work starting with the window tracks and bathrooms, something was amiss.
In the past 8 months that I have been working this job I have learned that things aren’t always as straightforward as they appear. Occasionally homes are not as simple to clean as they seem and we have encountered several challenges in performing our tasks. Truthfully, we have pretty much rocked it at nearly every house we’ve cleaned. So there was no doubt that we could even accomplish this cleaning blindfolded with our hands tied around our backs!
Our competence wasn’t the issue. We have a great arsenal of products, supplies, and equipment. But all the best and most effective cleaning strategies are not remotely effective without one very simple, common, and basic component: water.
There was no water in the house. Not even just cold water. No water at all.
We could clean countertops, cabinets, and such with a combination of surface sprays, disinfecting wipes, and cleaning cloths. But water is essential for cleaning tubs, showers, refrigerators, and mopping floors.
Not to be deterred our boss decided to see if the neighbors would allow us to use their water to fill three buckets. They were elderly, charming, and from a time when the front door was left open and they simply answered, “Come in!” without seeing who we were after we knocked on the door. We used their water from the outdoor spigot, finished our job, and continued on our way.
A year ago I had a very well thought through idea of how, when, and where my album project would be released. Several methods of generating interest and building support made sense on paper and on screen but, honestly, I hadn’t anticipated or foreseen the obstacles and hurdles that were ahead. It was not to be as simple as setting up crowdfunding or publishing social networking posts. In fact, even as I write this, nearing the final stage of mixing and mastering, I’m open to ideas of how to get the songs heard.
In other words, I’m learning to wait on God to show me where to go, perhaps a seasoned recording artist whose passion is the success of independent songwriters, a kindly music minister who believes in the voices of worship leaders who don’t merely restate and repeat the words of popular Christian radio, or even a writer who delves into music reviews and wants to review my album. Honestly, this is still such new and uncharted territory, for me, but I know and wholeheartedly trust that, where there is God’s will, there is a way. I am sure of that!
Most of the time I love writing. Songwriting will always be my primary form of literary expression, but crafting more than a few lines in a social media post into a poem, a blog (like this), or even a short story can put across thoughts, ideas, experiences, and dreams through engaging words and captivating imagery. The writer of such pieces has a purpose in mind, a path of sorts to follow, and a destination to arrive at. Some journeys are more painful or more delightful than others but the reader is the ever welcome companion to share in all that the writer desires to offer.
Equally, most of the time I dislike revising. While studying English and Education at University I was tasked with writing multiple essays and other papers which would be submitted for evaluation and grading. Only one of my professors was kind enough to use a pencil instead of a red pen to mark my paper because she hated “bleeding all over” anyone’s words. I truly appreciated that! Quite often I would allow other students to look over my papers and suggest changes or improvements, which was always helpful. I needed to have other eyes besides my own to see any errors, inconsistencies, or unclear explanations.
Dictionary.com gives the origin of the word “revision”:
revision. 1610s, "act of revising," from French révision, from Late Latin revisionem (nominative revisio) "a seeing again,"
This year Bill and I have been reading My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers each morning before we start our day. Three days ago we read “Look Again, And Think.” Which referenced Matthew 6:25 to 34. I have read this passage many times but haven’t connected its meaning to my relationship to God quite like Mr. Chambers:
“Our Lord says to be careful only about one thing— our relationship to Him…Whenever there are competing concerns in your life, be sure you always put your relationship to God first.”
In Matthew 6, Jesus urges his disciples to reconsider ordinary things such as the birds and the lilies. He gently reminds us that they give no thought to the concerns of this life, yet both are well tended and cared for by the Father. We see birds and other living things around us every day, but rarely do I catch myself really looking again to observe anything. This area of the Pacific Northwest is abundant in marine, wetland, forest, and migratory wildlife. Just a short drive between towns can result in spotting a bald eagle perched high in a tree guarding broad fields at rest before the Spring planting season resumes. It’s always breathtaking yet recently we mistakenly thought we were seeing only hawks but later realized that they were juvenile bald eagles, likely getting schooled on the necessary skills of hunting prey!
For six months Bill and I have been praying about a profound change in our church involvement and ultimately, leaving our church and attending elsewhere. We wrestled with this decision relentlessly and sprinted to God’s Word with every step! This couldn’t be resolved easily or settled carelessly. Throughout this time our greatest concern was that we wouldn’t cease corporate worship and fellowship and remain obedient to God’s call. We are overjoyed to see how God has provided for us but it has required a deconstruction of our previously held perspectives of the church. We have had to look again to God’s Word and understand His guidance and direction. With more gratitude than I can express, we are learning once more to trust His sovereign hand over our lives, being mindful to glorify Him in all things!
Last month I was quite unexpectedly contacted by a very dear, and I would definitely say ambitious, friend about working for her. So cool, huh!? Well, yeah, originally, she was considering asking our oldest daughter if she would be interested. As it turned out, happily for me, she had just been hired for seasonal employment at, what she considers, her dream job in a craft and hobby store. Really, it’s better for her. So, true to my nature, I generously offered to work for my friend. She was excited and welcomed me into her crew, cleaning houses. Now, during this same time I knew God was prompting me to talk to my pastor and those who have been leading worship in my absence about rejoining the team, playing keys and singing in the background. They were all very happy to agree with me, we got the band back together, and, so far, the transition has been seamless. So, things have been pretty good, for me, lately, which brings me to this blog’s ponderings and reflection, as I often do at times like this.
Merriam- Webster defines the word RETURN as intransitive verb 1. a : to go back or come back again <return home> b : to go back in thought, practice, or condition : revert and 2. to pass back to an earlier possessor
Going back to a previously regular activity is hard after several months or, in the case of my employment, years of absence. Resuming a position of leadership can actually be quite difficult as adjustments need to be made in time management and responsibilities, especially where a full and busy household like ours in concerned. Believe it! In fact, I truly struggled with the way I would rejoin worship ministry in our church and felt greatly comforted and relieved when I sensed God’s direction to reenter gradually. Honestly, the thought of leaping back onto center stage was greatly appalling, not to mention how presumptive and arrogant that would appear. Yuck, seriously!
Of the changes I’ve observed in taking this approach, the most notable is my mindset. There weren’t really any glaring flaws in my thinking to begin with, before I began my sabbatical. Still, God has used His Word and the genuine encouragement of others to nurture a healthier perspective of my relationships with those He has given me to serve, and of the work He has provided for me to do. The most important improvement is deeper than how I act or what I say as I sincerely believe that God has been, is, and always will be more interested in who I am than what I do. This is pretty huge, for me, a former approval-addict.
Just resting in the knowledge, understanding, and conviction of who I am in Christ is very much like re-gifting my heart back to Him, often and repeatedly. The definition “to pass back to an earlier possessor” resonates beautifully with me in this regard! As God’s beloved, I am not my own and should never attempt to take control over my life whether in how I occupy my time, how I manage my resources, or how I delegate tasks to those around me. Nothing on earth nor in Heaven gives me the right to dictate the lives of any one of God’s tenderly formed people. This is crucial stuff, friends! I am so grateful to be learning this and, prayerfully, helping others to learn this too.
~ Blessings! Glory
verb re·fo·cus \(ˌ)rē-ˈfō-kəs\
Children are both wonderfully and irritatingly curious about everything around them. And who can blame them? Even when it’s something they shouldn’t touch, much less put into their mouth, parents often need to divert their interest to shift their gaze or even protect them from harm. It’s a constant struggle! They are instinctively attracted to bright, shiny, loud, and tasty things, which doesn’t change all that much as they develop, grow, and mature into adulthood. Just glance at the shelves in the checkout line at any store and you are instantly drawn to things you presumably didn’t intent to buy but, within seconds, you suddenly have this intense need to purchase Torani Salted Caramel coffee syrup…at least I did! In that very brief moment, even a simple shopping trip to buy jeans for the boys strayed from the original purpose of just picking up a few things, to grabbing things that I had no idea would be absolutely necessary for my happiness. Perhaps this is why Bill prefers to let me shop alone, or why I really should keep him along so he can help me to resist buying additional items.
Recently we held a family meeting due to some common family issues that we needed to address, specifically, showing appreciation. In the process of our discussion we talked about things we can control and things we can’t. It all came down to two very simple categories: self and others. We all learned that we all struggle with our emotions, but we have control over our attitudes, our responses, and our actions. One very important obstacle to showing appreciation was talked about and agreed upon, which is distraction. Sometimes important things can take our attention away from showing others how we value them, but in all things we discovered that we can use affirming words, invite others along in our activities, or just give a warm hug to each other. If we all, parents included, can identify how we become distracted, we can more easily and quickly adjust our efforts into more meaningful and positive interactions with each other.
These past few months I have spent more time studying God’s Word and thinking about Biblical truths than I have in a very long time. That’s my humble confession and joyful statement! It has opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart in ways that I have long neglected. Just being a wife and mom keeps me busy and short on time, as it is, but I’ll admit that it has still been difficult to avoid distraction even when I don’t have any pressing tasks or errands. While maintaining a clean home, washing laundry, and preparing meals are necessary and kind of sacredly mundane (builds character), I have to set aside time to set my attention on the Lord and seek Him in all that I do. We have tried to teach our kids the importance of this, using Psalms chapter 119 verses 9 to 16. Verse 15 sums up my whole point in writing this: “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” Placing all that we know to be true about who God is by reading His story and discovering the ways He reveals Himself to us keeps our sightline properly directed and steady.
“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” Hebrews 10:36 (ESV)
My Sunday after-church routine was quite predictable: make lunch, watch “something” (code for anything the kids want to watch), then take a nap. Curling up under to covers was absolute bliss, listening the hum of the fan or relaxing instrumental music, and eventually drifting off to sleep. As harsh as it always felt to wake up a few hours later, groggy and disoriented, I was so very thankful for the blessing of unwinding from serving in ministry and simply resting.
We all need rest; athletes, professionals, even kids need to sleep more than grown-ups. Getting a full night of sleep, which is roughly 8 hours, gives the body time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. We are able to wake up prepared to concentrate, make decisions, and engage fully in all work and social activities. But getting proper rest isn’t all that our bodies need to thrive as we need to be mindful to receive adequate nourishment and hydration to aid in the restorative process of sleep. Being purposeful about what we put into our bodies is equally important. In like manner, what we feed our spirit is essential to our growth and development as children of God.
It really isn’t hard to remember to eat food. Even before the hunger pangs set in, our appetites are tantalized with images, smells, conversations about food, and memories of simple or celebratory meals. On average, 6 years of our lifespan is spent in meal preparation and eating. Similarly, we have a spiritual hunger for truth and godly wisdom, which is primarily found in God’s Word. As essential as a balanced diet is to our bodies, so a steady intake of scriptural guidance, through personal study, engagement in Christian fellowship, and ministry service is absolutely necessary for our spiritual health. During this time of having taken a step back from worship ministry involvement, I have recognized a kind of undernourishment in my heart, regrettably! Spending time studying God’s truths and learning more about Him is feeding the hunger that has been neglected and improperly fed for longer than I care to admit.
There is a desire to resume work in ministry service, which I am assured will happen eventually, but I am now aware more than ever that positioning myself to receive from God is just as important if not more so then what I do for Him. And I’m learning to be content with that.
Recently a very wise friend expressed to me that what I accomplish for God will never be as important to God as who I am. That struck a chord with me, and a nerve as well, if I were to be honest. While a part of me strained against the thought of laying aside my efforts to complete my little kingdom building, I soon realized that the only Kingdom that would last forever is the one God was building in my heart and in the hearts of all believers. But, in order for that to happen, I need to be willing to rest. And that’s harder than I thought.
For 30 years I have been involved in church ministry in one form or another, with the exception of a few years of rebellion. In all of this time I have not been absent from ministry much longer than a couple of months or so. And, during that time, I have helped in other church ministries, like nursery help, Sunday school, cleaning, and hospitality. Doing good work is a joy and I have always loved to be a part of corporate worship and fellowship. But, even while taking care to be in God’s Word and taking time to pray, entering into a time of rest is still essential to our own spiritual health and our effectiveness in serving.
Being a songwriter for longer than I’ve been involved in ministry, this concept from Precept Austin makes complete sense to me:
“For a believer's life to make God pleasing music, music that plays on throughout eternity, one must learn to enter His appointed rest.
Paradoxically there is no music during the 5 rests (variable length of rhythmic silence) depicted above, but there is no making of music without a rest! Beloved, in a sense our entire life is (or should be) characterized by intermittent ‘rests'. At such times we may be led to think we have come to the end of the tune! However, God is sovereign and it is not without divine design that He writes the music of our lives which includes His rest. It is for us to learn the tune, and at the same time not ignore His times of rest. His rests are not to be omitted, for to do so would disturb the melody. Let us remember that although there may seem to be no music in rest, there is no making of music without rest!”
After I was finally convinced that I needed to really rest, I was left with the dilemma of how to do that. How do I do nothing?! Realistically, I still have to work, clean house, wash dishes, and so on.
Mark 6:31 tells us to find a secluded place, to get away, go to a desolate area to rest. But what happens when I get there? And how long do I stay? While Jesus walked the Earth He would often separate Himself from His disciples and whomever he was with to pray. More than anyone else, He understood the importance of time spent with His Father. Being God in human form, it wasn’t for spiritual renewal, but rather for an example to us all that He made this a part of His life with mankind.
However God directs this time of rest, I’ve discovered that being intentional even now is imperative to not wasting a single moment. Clearly, I desire more than anything to deepen and grow in my faith and trust in Christ, and to do so I need to discipline myself to study His Word, to spend time in prayer, and live to worship and glorify God in all I do. Even in rest.
Growing a garden is an ongoing challenge. You would think that, for a farmer’s daughter, it would be second nature but, well, that was more than 25 years ago. And, guess what? Here’s something even more appalling…Some years I’ve just let everything get overgrown with weeds *gasp* BUT, but, other years I’ve tended plants with great care and diligence, thank you. It’s hard to say if it’s something I’m even good or really terrible at. If I were consistent, either way, then maybe I would just dive into it or give it up completely. Perhaps the fact that I keep buying plants and getting happy when my perennials survive winter and neglect means that my interest is nevertheless active. At least I like to grow flowers. Planting vegetable seeds is totally easy and watching the sprouts grow is fun, then seeing the fruit appear and develop is exciting. It’s just the weeds and the pests that become the dealbreakers. I’m sorry, little peas and carrots, it’s every plant for itself!
Strangely, though, I will buy perennials, off discount shelves [andfullprice] which is probably why I work at making them worth the investment. When the blossoms start to unfurl, it’s breathtaking and so satisfying! I have everything from simple Shasta daisies and bachelor’s buttons, to hostas and amethyst in the snow. So lovely, colorful, and eye catching. Even when the growing season is over I’m pleased with knowing that I’ll see them again after a long Winter rest. Maybe I can’t harvest them like vegetables and store them away for home-grown nourishment at family meals. And perhaps it’s silly that I would prefer growing flowers over vegetables. It’s fleeting and purposeless. Or is it? This site certainly contests that presumption.
Sometimes I think of my songwriting in the same way. I have family and friends who are good at yarnwork, sewing, canning, and other traditional domestic arts. And, believe me, they are artists, even creating wearable masterpieces! Try as I might, these weird fingers refuse to cooperate with the patterns and stitches. But they work just fine, I think, on both piano keys and computer keyboard. I can fashion lyrics and melodies together into meaningful songs. Every song I write holds several artistic elements, even if I really don’t think some are very good at all. For the most part, though, I write the kind of songs I need to hear and believe. They are audible works of art, and may only have significant purpose for a season, an experience, to celebrate, or to grieve. But my hope is that they are expressive of natural emotions and ideas that are common to us all. And that the lyrics and melodies nourish the spirit and comfort the soul.
“David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.” 1 Chronicles 16:14 ESV
"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." Psalm 127:1 ESV
These past few months have been surprisingly productive in worship leading, songwriting, and family time. I feel accomplished in having (finally) delegated some of my responsibilities in ministry, which is truly remarkable on it's own. I'm really terrible at passing along any job, partly because I don't like telling anyone what to do - except my kids, which I can enthusiastically boss around with great relish - and partly because I dislike relinquishing control of things. Moving along...my love of reading has been rekindled and what I have read so far has been incredibly insightful, convicting, encouraging, and deeply challenging. Also, listening to different music artists has inspired my songwriting in very unexpected ways, as has reflecting on God' faithfulness and grace over the past year. My husband and kids are always great company and every moment together is a cherished gift, especially more so as I read about tragedies in night clubs, at lake resorts, in hot cars, at local zoos, in backyard pools...I'm just going to hug each one long and hard and for the rest of my life.
So, now you know my greatest fear: losing those I love the most. My family and friends mean more than the world to me, I think I could do anything to keep them close and safe while giving them (just enough but not too much) room to breathe. They are the recipients of my best emotional investment and their names come up in my prayers more than anything else. If I spend any significant time with people I care for dearly I have one clear unwavering goal: leave them feeling better than before I arrived. In order to do this I need God to be present and in the center of everything that is said and done. Not a single moment can be wasted with idle speech or careless attitudes. If I believe that God has placed these people in my life for a greater purpose than our shared coffee obsession, then my relationship-building mission is unmistakable.
And, I guess that's the whole point of this verse in Psalms. Mr. David was really smart and totally on to something important. Church buildings are filled and emptied regularly, and not just because of the usual cycle of weekly services. Eventually, whether in death or with the soon return of Christ, our praise and worship of the Lord will be constant, perfect, and eternal, rendering worship leaders obsolete. No more wrestling over repetitive lyrics, boring melodies, awkward tempo, complex rhythms, clashing styles, discordant instruments, or harmonizing vocals. All of these things are part of music ministry and can certainly, and often do, point hearts to Christ. But even these human efforts to connect with our heavenly Father will pass away.
Yet, throughout scripture, the message is clear, consistent, and continual...our heavenly Father sacrificing His perfect Son to be reconciled to a holy fellowship with sinful, messy, awkward, cringeworthy humans. His work in our lives is never in vain and always produces His intended results, because He is Sovereign and it's just His nature to faithfully complete His work. And, while it is our nature to resist such work, His chosen instruments to carve, mold, sand and polish our character are people just like us. For reasons that escape my understanding, this is often how God builds the church. Argue and debate theology, doctrine, style, and non-essentials all I want, it won't change the fact that all followers of Christ are my brothers and sisters in Christ. So they too should be the recipients of my best emotional investment and desire to keep safe and close, always allowing room to breathe, and their names should be frequently in my prayers.
Last week at this time my producer and I were finalizing the details of my worship album. He was putting together a task list of things than still needed to be added to the recorded tracks after I left to go home, then we arranged the songs in order, to "tell a story" as he put it. This was a melancholy moment for me, mostly because I truly love and care about this wonderful family of godly servants for Jesus.
These songs do tell a story, that I am finally brave enough to share with others. But there is so much more to this album than well-crafted lyrics and melodies. And there are more people involved and invested in this than just my producer and me.
I'll put it this way...
Let’s just say that I invited a highly recognized album mixer/mastering technician, an expert international music producer, some of the best Nashville session musicians that exist, an outstandingly creative graphics artist, a talented home-based photographer, and a married homemaker/mom of four children who simply loves to sing and write songs, into one room. And they were all getting along playing nicely. What would they have in common? At that moment I would play my worship album and you would know: great music with a great message.
And yet, you could tell that someone was missing...
Honestly, during my recording sessions it felt like I had done just that, invited everyone who has contributed their skills, talents, abilities, expertise, and knowledge to this music project, to have a party! Except that it’s a party where the most important people lost their invitation: the contributors and the listeners. These are the most important because the party is for them, celebrating their significance and their stories.
So, I’m inviting you to join the party, in whatever way you can. This worship album is definitely more than good songs. It's all about our great God. This is a party in His honor, and I believe that we've presented the very best of what we have in offering to Him!
This is going to be fun, memorable, and a historical event for many of us. And, always, in all things, let’s always remember to glorify God!
I am passionate about Jesus, madly in love with my husband, and crazy about my kids! And, I can't help but write songs about all of it. Join me in the journey of a lifetime!