Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Picking Up Where I Left Off?

I have considered returning to this neglected blog off and on for the better part of a couple of months. During random, occasional pauses in the day, I will come back here where I was so faithful to update once upon a time, and just stare - wanting to write but having little to say or not knowing where to begin after such a prolonged absence. One of the reasons this desire to write has crept back up has been through reading testimonies from women who have recorded their journeys via their own personal blogs or published books. I read their words, am reminded of how beneficial (and healing) the discipline of writing can be to one's own journey, and am compelled to return to writing for the same reasons.

But where to begin? How does one pick up where they left off after what is closing in on two years? Do I rehash eighteen months of continuing to love my job and thrive in my workplace, a year of diving headfirst into fruitful, joyful, seemingly nonstop ministry...or do I painstakingly unpack the aftermath of how our ministry came to a painful and unexpected halt nearly five months ago? There will be some of that - there should be some of that unpacking to a degree... Ministry was hindered, relationships were severed, character was misjudged, trust was definitely damaged, and all of these effects resulted in a husband and wife who were crushed and confused at the end of April. What we experienced at our now previous church has the kind of impact that affects a person at the very core of his or her identity.

And that's where I'm at as I hesitantly return to this blog. I'm in the midst of navigating some pretty unfamiliar and uncomfortable waters as I look inward at my own heart and process how events of this year have very honestly impacted me. Grief and disappointment have a way of bringing you to that place, making you answer questions you've possibly never had to ask yourself...or at least not quite so honestly. In a different light and with a very wounded heart, I've wrestled with questions of God's goodness, and grappled with His care, provision, and the Truth that He has not left us alone.

So as I dust off the cobwebs here, as I make a feeble attempt at returning to writing as a way to heal and process, my hope is that there is a small glimmer of encouragement through the words to come. I read two autobiographies recently from women with vastly different stories, but both marked by profound grief and joy. The common thread was this: in each account, I saw a picture of a woman clinging to Hope - the only Hope that finds its Source in the One who really has us. In not only His sovereignty, but in His goodness, He has us.

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise,
And I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I'm bowed down with sorrow, I will lift up Your name,
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy
Because You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me
And I lift my eyes to the hills where my help is found
And Your voice fills the night, raise my head up to hear the sound
And though fires burn all around me, I will praise You, my God,
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy
Because You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me
Your goodness and mercy shall follow me, all my life
I trust in Your promise...


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"There and Back Again..."

Have you ever looked back over a span of time and asked yourself, "How did I get here?"

Well... here I am sitting on my couch in our three-bedroom apartment (not two-bedroom townhome), watching a movie that started at 8pm Central (not 8pm Eastern), still adjusting to the fact that we have a Texas zip code (not a Kentucky one).  We're a stone's throw from my dad, two hours from my mom, and just over five hours from my in-laws.  Just five short months ago we were interviewing for a church position in Virginia, and here we are surrounded by partially unpacked boxes in an apartment we moved into just over two weeks ago.  After more than seven years of residing in Louisville, we've rather unexpectedly returned to Texas.  Some see us for the first time since moving back, and greet us with an exhuberant, "Welcome home!" - to which I'm still unsure how to respond.

Thanks to the recent (and much-anticipated) movie release, I've had all things Tolkien and Middle Earth on the brain, which seems so timely given the "adventure" we've embarked on with this move.  If you've seen any of the movies, then you're familiar with a scene at the very end of "Return of the King," a thought-provoking scene as the story is coming to an end... Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are sitting around a table at the tavern in Hobbiton, sharing some ale, surrounded by familiar tunes and faces.  While the scene is portraying the comfort that accompanies being home again, one can't help but notice the expression on their faces; they're home, but not really home.  No matter how familiar the sights and smells of Hobbiton are, nothing can reverse the fact that they are forever changed by where their journey has taken them.  They're different, they're changed, their eyes behold the world around them with new lenses.  Things will never be to this company of four as they were before.

My husband and I aren't 23 and 24 anymore.  In the span of seven years, we've known both pain and joy, entered into the covenant of marriage, formed lifelong friendships, bid farewell to those friendships that were never meant to be, seen one of our cherished dogs grow into what are now her senior years (with the other close behind), joined and now bid farewell to a church that was truly our family in countless ways, lost count of church interviews, been given job promotions I was never even pursuing before they were offered, and the list continues.  Life has afforded us a series of events we would've never imagined back in 2005.  I know we are better for it - even if we can't fully see reasons yet - because we rely on a good and sovereign God who orchestrates every event and guides our every step.  This move was such a step.  My husband made a list back in April of all the things that would have to happen, all the details that would have to fall into place, for us to even entertain the thought of moving back to Texas... In a week's time back in mid-October, we were checking the boxes on all of those details, and having conversations about where to live when we moved at the end of the year.

So here I am on our couch in our three-bedroom apartment in Texas, almost two weeks into my new position at work, and wondering what in the world lies ahead - tomorrow, next week, in three months.  All feels uncertain and uncomfortable as I try in vain to see out across the vast unknown that is our future.  Regardless of what lies ahead, we know at this very moment that we aren't who we once were.  While a strange feeling indeed, there's an underlying thread of security upholding us because of the One in whom our security rests~

"'Cause I'm not who I was when I took my first step
And I'm clinging to the promise You're not through with me yet
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You
Then I will go through the fire if You want me to...
It may not be the way I would have chosen
When You lead me through a world that's not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I'd never go alone"
(G. Owens)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Favorite Photo Friday~


So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love's chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, 'til the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me

'Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadowlands
'Til the shadows disappear

'Cause He promised not to leave us
And His promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you...
(Andrew Peterson, Dancing in the Minefields)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Reflection on Leading Worship~

Over the course of the past week or so, I’ve been pondering my ministry outlet at our church.  I’m not really sure what the trigger was, if something happened in particular that set my mind to thinking on this.  Whatever the reason, I realized that I’ve never sat down and written out the “why” behind what I do. 
For many years, and in each of the local churches where I’ve been, my primary ministry has been leading worship.  Whether I’ve been one of several in the church choir, part of a smaller ensemble, or behind a microphone, this has been my main outlet more than anything else.  And I honestly don’t think it’s because I have some unmatched, exquisite talent.  There are many men and women leading worship in other churches out there who are far more talented and far more able.  I listen to my favorite well-known worship leaders, women I went to college with, many people who have the incredible gift of singing or even composing.  Or they have the even greater gift of singing and guitar and piano and composing and…yes, there are those out there who are far more capable than I am. 
The most challenging season regarding my place in worship ministry was during the college years.  My husband and I were at a vibrant church, one busting at the seams and full of individuals eager to get involved in an array of ministries.  I was surrounded by men and women who were truly gifted in the area of music, and their skills and passion were readily put to use in the corporate or small group setting.  I spent many a semester during that season wondering where I fit in all this flurry of talent.  I was surrounded by people who were being handed opportunities to serve, and I came to a place where I wondered what was wrong with me.  Was I just not that good?  Was I not charismatic enough?  Could they not see this deep passion, this fire in me, for leading?  And then…the one time I was asked to help lead at our citywide college Bible study, I was sick.  Something must have been wrong with me.  So I shied away a bit, sang here and there on occasion with the ensemble that was part of our church’s larger worship team, worked out some of my jealousy issues, and tried embracing the reality that maybe this just wasn’t my area.  But like anything for which a person holds deep passion, like any gift or desire that really does burn like a fire in the bones, my passion for leading worship did not end in complete death.  It merely hibernated for a few years.  Once we moved to Louisville and I became involved at the church prior to the one we are at now, I couldn’t stifle the desire any longer.  As soon as we joined as members of that local body, I approached the head worship leader and became involved with the team shortly thereafter.  The same occurred at the church we are at now, and I know down in the very core of who I am that this truly is my primary means of ministry to our local church.  There are other areas of ministry to which I am drawn –womens’ ministry, encouraging young women –but I know that this gift I hold is from the Lord and one of the central ways He has so undeservedly called me to serve.

So after that as an introduction of sorts…why?  Why lead at church on Sunday mornings rather than singing elsewhere (i.e. sticking with my original college plan which involved a music degree)?  Why lead on the stage rather than in some other avenue of ministry?  Our worship pastor reminds me that if I need a breather at any time from singing Sunday in and Sunday out, I just say the word and he will promptly recruit someone to fill in.  There have been occasions when my heart has needed the rest.  Those times have done my soul good, sitting amongst the congregation and letting the music and voices wash over.  I know that there may come a day when I am compelled to serve elsewhere, just as there have been those seasons in the past.  But with few exceptions, I’m on the stage to practice every Sunday morning at 8:45 (thereabouts…I’ve never claimed to be the most punctual of women.)  Singing can be likened to breathing for me.  Not only am I moved and encouraged by the unique beauty music holds, but part of my very identity is singing.  I think this is a good and right way to view how the Lord has knit each of us together, made in such ways that we possess unique skill sets and giftings.  (Aside: For those who have been saved by Christ and are now children of God, He didn’t leave anyone out.   He has entrusted all of His children with particular gifts.)  Our identity in Christ includes such gifts for the joy and encouragement of others, and to ultimately glorify Him.  This is singing for me.  More specifically, this is leading the congregation in corporate worship.

I also love the view.  What an amazing joy it is to look out on the congregation every Sunday morning.  Not only do I derive deep joy from beholding the church lifting their voices to God, but I’m also overcome with a great sense of humility.  How humbling it is to witness the woman with tears in her eyes, crying, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”  Or beholding the man with his arms outstretched, declaring, “You looked upon my helpless state and led me to the cross.  And I beheld God’s love displayed, You suffered in my place.  You bore the wrath reserved for me, now all I know is grace!”  I have no other words to describe the experience but deeply humbling and joyous.  I love hearing the body of believers sing so loudly we can hear them over the sound system.  I love catching a glimpse of the Church rightly worshipping God in an otherwise broken world.  I love seeing the expressions on the faces of those I know are in times of joy or sorrow, declaring the truths in the music even in seasons when those truths are hard to utter.  I consider it such an undeserved blessing to stand behind that microphone every Sunday morning.


“A thousand men could not compose a worthy song to bring, yet Your love is the melody our hearts can’t help but sing.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Bittersweet Side of Life in Ministry

Two of the dearest women in my life are best friends.  They are best friends who met...sixteen years ago?  They also happen to live on opposite sides of the globe from each other, and have been for more than two years now~

They always knew the day would come, the inevitable day when the Lord would pull them away from the comfort of proximity as He called their families to ministry elsewhere.  I was influenced by the kindred nature of their friendship, and moreso when they made that friendship work even separated by miles.  I recall them both telling me on different occasions that this reality of their relationship is one of the bittersweet sides of life in ministry.  Now more than ever, and more than I could have anticipated at such a young and inexperienced age, I'm feeling the weight of their influence and encouragement.  Two things happen as the years go by; I savor the relationships the Lord has given so much more, and experience more and more the tension that accompanies making dear friends during an inevitably short season.

We are getting ready to part ways with a couple whom we have grown to enjoy and love dearly in a very short amount of time.  They came to Louisville a few years ago to attend seminary just as the rest of us did, and welcomed their precious twin girls into the world just six months ago.  He has been interviewing for music ministry positions for some time, and the Lord has now provided that opportunity for them to move and serve at a church in Georgia.  We are ecstatic for them, excited that the Lord has opened this door much sooner than many who go through the seminary season.  There will be a hole where they have gladly served in our church body here these past few years.  While I am personally blessed by each person who serves each week with me on the worship team, he stands out in both passion and skill (and I know the others would agree!). 

And his wife, my I will miss her.  We laugh, we text, we share burdens, we laugh some more, we exchange recipes, we love on her baby girls, we ask what the other might need when heading to the grocery store, we veg on the couch, we have a treasured and rare kinship that doesn't happen everyday.  I've become so accustomed to her being just a text or 5-minute drive away.  The proximity has become a comfort, so I can't help but feel a bit sad that she won't be nearby in a few short weeks.  I am encouraged by her trust both in the Lord and in her husband as they turn the page to this new chapter.  It has been such a joy to my heart to pray with her, and for me and my husband to walk with them during the steps of this process.

Bittersweet indeed.  While my eyes were welling up the other day upon hearing the official news of their move, my husband put his hand on my arm and reminded me of the gift of friendship we have shared even if the season has been short.  I'm thankful that we have made the most of the season, even when we knew their move to Georgia was just short of definite.  That is a big takeaway for me from this time we have shared with them; make the most of the time you do have.  Don't neglect the fellowship even if you know the time is limited.  Make the most of the time because you never know just how much the Lord might bless you in a very direct and personal way.  That is my testimony from the bond that has been cultivated between me and my friend.  She is beautiful through and through, so open to all levels of conversation, and I would have never known these things about her had I not taken the opportunity to do so.  I am blessed by her from here on out, no matter where years or distance take us!

We meet to part but part to meet, when earthly labors are complete...
("Soldiers of Christ in Truth Arrayed," Southern Seminary Hymn)

Something brought you to my mind today,
I thought about the funny ways you make me laugh,
And yet I feel like it's okay to cry with you
Something about just being with you,
When I leave I feel like I've been near God,
And that's the way it ought to be....
Oh you have blessed my life, more than you'll ever know
(Christy Nockels)

Monday, April 30, 2012

On Turning 30~

~My mother-in-law informed me that 30 is when she started celebrating the anniversary of her 29th birthday.
~One friend has promised that I will thoroughly love my 30s much more than I did my 20s.
~My brother (approaching 35) sarcastically asked me when he called if I could hear him (before we laughed at ourselves both yawning before 9:00pm).
~One of my dearest of friends told me she just can't wait to reach 30, that there's something exciting to her about finally arriving at that age...

My own summation thus far? I just feel...loved.

April 16th began with a half-day at work followed by an afternoon at home. The first thing I did upon arriving home at lunchtime was change clothes and sit on the couch. That's all. Just sat on the couch in my quiet livingroom, and loved on my dogs. My husband was out running some final birthday errands, so I savored the silence for a good hour before deciding to get up and move on with the rest of the day. I was then treated to an afternoon coffee date, roses, a gift card for a massage, and steak dinner prepared by my handsome man. And no dinner is complete without ice cream cake, the years-old tradition in our house. My husband loved on me all day long, giving things that he knew would make me smile, and making a meal that he knew would make my heart especially happy. He knows me well enough to know that some of the most simple of gifts, such as sweet little roses, speak the loudest to my heart. He reminded me throughout the day that I am loved.

On the evening following my birthday, I came home as usual and began the process of unwinding and getting dinner ready. My husband was pressuring me to get out of the house to run an errand. Completely annoyed (visibly annoyed...I apologized later), I put dinner fixin's back in the fridge, and hopped in the car with him. We apparently had to run this errand by a certain time before a store closed, so we reverted to drive-thru for dinner on the way. After our whirlwind dinner and heading to the store, he suddenly took a quick turn through a neighborhood and down the street of some of our good friends... All the way down the street, I couldn't figure out why on earth we'd be taking such a random detour. As we pulled closer to our friends' house, I started seeing familiar cars parked, and my husband finally admits with an evil grin, "Okay, so I totally lied to you about where we were going". Upon opening the door to our friends' house, I was greeted by 13 beautiful friends singing "Happy Birthday." The rest of the evening was filled with yummy food, sweet conversation, lots of laughs, and them going out of their way to ensure that I felt...yes, loved! The highlight of the evening was the exquisite tulip bouquet they presented to me. Tied to the flowers were 30 pieces of paper where they had written down things about me: things they love, are encouraged by, make them laugh, etc. I was relieved when they assured me I didn't have to read them aloud myself. They, instead, took turns going around the room reading all of these sweet notes to me. Unforgettable.Humbling.Lump in my throat.Honored.Blessed. Loved indeed.

There are so many things I don't know right now, so many things my husband and I are grappling with in regard to decisions, the future, our daily emotions, so I grasp for any assurances whether big or small. Turning 30 has most certainly not lessened the impact of these varying feelings. So in the midst of this uncertain, confusing context, I choose to take hold of the truth that I am loved. My husband loves me in spite of knowing me and all of my failings. My family loves me, history and all. My friends love me, close and distant, acquaintance and kindred. I am loved by a Father who takes delight in reminding me of this truth. No matter our context, no matter the season or trials therein, no matter when or how we have been hurt or disappointed, His love is great and His love is deep. He is glad to display that love through the presence of dear brothers and sisters, those He surrounds us with to extend grace and encouragement. My husband is so often the direct means of God displaying such love, and on occasions such as my birthday, the display of this love moved me to praise. Oh, how sweet a gift that is, the gift of loved ones. Such a reminder of the love undeserved, unmerited, and unconditional.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Ain't You Tired, Ms. Hilly?"

If you haven't seen the widely-acclaimed film "The Help," you should. For us Southern women, it's a reminder of how things were and how far we have come (or so we hope). For those who weren't blessed to grow up in the South, it provides a good dose of perspective on the history of a culture so foreign to them. I have to remind myself often that only one or two generations above me still grapple with the racial tensions captured so well in this endearing movie.
The intent of this post isn't a movie review, but there are certain scenes in "The Help" that gripped me, one of which is towards the end. As "Aibileen" is leaving the family's home from which she has just been let go, she comes face-to-face with the woman who has been intent on making life miserable for the working class women in town. Flustered from the sudden events that led to her being dismissed, "Aibileen" boldly walks right up to this woman and says, "Ain't you tired, Ms. Hilly?" She then exits through the front door, full of emotion somewhere between hurt and relief, and the movie begins to wrap up from there. goes the rabbit trail from that brief scene I've been reflecting on in recent weeks...

I lead a rather uneventful life. (Random flash to one of my all-time favorite movies: "I lead a small life. Valuable, but small.") I have a solid place of employment with a pretty typical Monday-Friday schedule. I'm in my car at 7:30 each morning, coffee in hand, listening to the AM talk radio station, holding my breath as I approach each traffic signal in the hope that I can make it through before it turns red. I have a daily to-do list, a computer screen I'm in front of so often I've considered giving it a name, and all of this in the context of a fantastic company for whom I am so fortunate to work. I come home around 5:00 each evening to an incredibly grateful and gracious husband, as well as two lovable dogs who think I hung the moon. We're usually eating dinner around 7:00, and by 10:30 I'm nodding off on the couch. All in all uneventful, but no less valuable and I should be no less thankful for every good gift.

So then why do I still have those occasional days along the way? Those evenings after washing the long day off my face when I look in the mirror and ask, "Aren't you tired?" I've had countless restless-night conversations with my husband on why certain things creep in and try to rob me of contentment and rest. He sees this in me more often than I'd like to admit, and is so good to bring it up when he sees the weariness starting to take over. So...why? Why when there is so much to be thankful for, when there are so many opportunities for me to embrace life and the good gifts therein, am I still just...tired?
I'm tired because I'm wrestling.
I'm tired because there are days when the Joy is threatened by the temptation to depart from who I was made to be.
I'm tired because I have formed for myself an image of the "ideal" working woman who keeps an immaculate house, cooks up exquisite meals each night for her husband, and gives her husband no reason for frustration or argument...
This image slowly developed over time, beginning in my early years of seminary, and taking on a more clear form once I was married. Rather than cultivating the gifts I know I've been given, those traits that make me me, my gaze and attention began drifting to who I wasn't. My tendency towards people-pleasing is all wrapped up in striving for this false and imagined identity. The constant striving to look and be a certain way eventually zaps my motivation, and there I am - tired and grasping for some purpose in all the work I'm doing. I want the striving (and the image that striving is bent towards) to determine my value rather than embracing the truth that God has made me in a very particular, purposeful way with the desires and gifts He's imparted.

By God's grace, I'm learning to recognize the triggers. The hardest part was finally identifying the real issue and acknowledging the fact that I had built up this image over time. Once I came to a place of acknowledging the truth, only then was I able to fully see the implications and toll it was taking. I was finally able to answer the question of why I'm so often tired from what is a relatively uneventful life.

If you're a woman whose identity is in Christ, do not be deceived. Crafting an image isn't limited to those who strive for satisfaction apart from Him; it just looks different. I would argue that it's actually easier to mask such images behind the facade of spiritual language and effort. To my fellow sisters in the body of Christ -
Cease striving and thank your Maker!

“Jesus Christ is Lord over my heart, and He is Lord over my hands, and He is Lord over what I do with these hands, and He is Lord over what I say in my heart while I’m doing it. In submitting to the lordship of Christ, then, I do not treat washing dishes as wasting time I could be spending doing something ‘meaningful,’ but rather as a service to those who eat in my home, as a service to those who would have to wash dishes if I did not, and as an offering of thanksgiving to God that I have food to eat, dishes to eat it on, and running water inside my home to clean with.” (J.Wilson)