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)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Four Years with My Groom~

"I say I love you, I say I need you
I try so many ways to say how my heart beats for you
I say I'm always thinking about you
There's no way I'd want to face this life without you
And even though these words come from deep inside me
There's so much more I don't have the words to say
'Cause what I really want to say
Is what the sun would say to the sky
For giving it a place to come alive
But my words get in the way
Of what I really want to say
Oh, what I really want to say
I know that sometimes my words can be as hard as stone
And sometimes my words have left you feeling so alone
So please forgive me and hear the words I'm saying now
I will spend my whole life looking for a way somehow
To let you know just how precious you are to me
I'll use the best words I know but I still won't say it all
'Cause what I really want to say
Is what the sun would say to the sky
For giving it a place to come alive
But my words get in the way
Of what I really want to say
It's like a tale too great to be told
It's something that my heart can only show
I'm gonna take my whole life just to let you know
What I really want to say
Oh, what I really want to say to you
What I really want to say
Oh, what I really want to say"