Thursday, November 25, 2010


I am astounded sometimes. Generally by one of two things. Some days, I find myself astounded by God and how He orchestrates details so intricately, how He cares so deeply for His children, how there is absolutely no where I can escape from His grip of grace, and how He is so worthy of complete trust and I don't ever have to worry again.

Then come the times like what I experienced earlier this week where I am stressed to the max, I feel like I can't balance anything else on my plate, and I get so caught up in everyday duties and responsibilities and trying to do them all just right that I forget what (or Whom) I really live for. And after so many times of witnessing God's providence, grace, and faithfulness, I must say that I astound myself. How is it possible for me to so quickly forget all that God has done and is doing? How is it possible for me to get so lost, so caught up in this dust-devil of a life when I know what being led, step by step, by the hand of the Shepherd feels like?

These are thoughts that occurred to me on my eight hour drive home from Abilene on Monday. I was at the end of my rope. I simply couldn't take the pressure of school anymore, so in five minutes I had thrown a bunch of clothes along with some necessities in a duffel bag, ready to take off running the minute I finished my ten o'clock exam. I was angry, and while it came across as embitterment toward the academic world and the ability of its pressure to suck the joy out of that which I am so passionate about, in reality that anger was a soul's deep cry for fulfillment. I know that sounds slightly melodramatic, but it's the truth.

I'm thinking about these verses from Song of Solomon:
"I looked for the one my heart loves. I looked for him but did not find him. I will get up now and go about the city through it's streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves... When I found the one my heart loves... I held him and would not let him go."

These verses so aptly describe the cry of our souls. That's life. Truly. It's a depth of love that brings purpose to every day. Passionately pursuing the Beloved, even to the point of desperation. We are to seek God in everything that we do. You know, "In the streets, in your home, on the job, all alone, highways, byways..." that whole deal. It's not just a fun song to sing! It's Truth, and it's a huge part of abundant Life. We MUST make pursuing the Beloved and searching for where God is moving in every moment the single most important part of our lives. If we don't, our souls will NOT be satisfied! That's where I was at. I was at that point where I was so caught up in the activities of my everyday life (activities that included reading the Bible to check it off my list) that I forgot to look for my Beloved. Frankly, I hadn't even noticed that He wasn't there, or worse, that He was right there all the time and I just wasn't enjoying Him.

I know it's a strange thing to say in today's world - that the worst thing we can possibly do is get so caught up in activity that we don't find our enjoyment in God - but it's true. Busyness and stress wouldn't bother us so much if it weren't. I learned that once, not too long ago. I learned how important it is to look for God in every aspect of life, to practice the presence of God, to search until I find my Beloved and then to never let Him go. I learned that God is in everything and seeking His presence lends purpose to even the most mundane parts of life. But then I forgot, and that astounds me. Which brings us full circle, back to the beginning of this post. I praise God for holidays and times of rest and, most of all, for His willingness to stop and remind me of things I've forgotten. He is so patient and gracious that way.

I'll close with a quote from George Mueller that John Piper used in the sermon that helped get me realigned. May it serve as a precious reminder to you as well.

"I saw more clearly than ever that the first great primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord . . . not how much I might serve the Lord, . . . but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished."

I pray this will become the thought that starts my day, "I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves."

For the One my heart loves,

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Look at Women's Roles

The role of women in the church is something that has been coming up a lot in my life recently. I guess when you're a young woman looking into seminary and ministry, that's something you think about. But really, I think all women ask that question. What is our role? What does the word "submit" really mean for us? And it becomes especially difficult to answer when we look at verses like these from 1 Timothy 2:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

What does THAT mean? And I am really quick to get defensive. Women must be quiet because Adam was made first. It was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. Okay Paul, what are you trying to say? But then as I started to think about these verses, they started to make a lot of sense to me.

The first thing I notice is Paul's call to modesty and humility. Don't wear flashy and expensive clothes. Clothe yourselves with good works instead. Be genuine. And I can understand the significance of that. Why, most of the time, do women where flashy, immodest clothing and lack humility? It's out of an effort to feel important and valued. We want to be noticed and affirmed. And the women Paul was talking to had more reason than we can imagine to desire affirmation. These are women who had been oppressed for years, some of them were reformed prostitutes. These were all women who were finally realizing what freedom is. In Christ they had found something totally new, revolutionary. Jesus valued women. He called them, worked through them, anointed them, healed them, loved them, and set them free. But they hadn't learned to trust that freedom yet. Paul is calling women to live quietly, and affirm that they worship God. He calls them, and us, to live a life that exhibits trust in God, rather than a fear of being overlooked or oppressed again. That's why a husband's call is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. God calls him to faithfully provide, in a tangible way, the affirmation and respect that a woman's heart so deeply longs for.

Another thing I notice is that Paul never says women shouldn't learn about God. He doesn't say they shouldn't study or sit at the feet of the Rabbi. He would have been contradicting Jesus if he did, because Jesus allowed women like Mary to sit at His feet right along side His disciples. Paul doesn't even say women shouldn't teach. The Scripture only says women shouldn't teach in authority over men. Let's note, however, that it does not say men can't learn from women. Here's the deal: women were created for a very specific purpose. We are every bit as endowed with God's image and His Holy Spirit as men. We are valuable. We are, however, different, and God intended it that way. Since He made us as sensitive nurturers, we are more vulnerable to Satan's deception, which is why he hit us first. So God calls us to let men have authority as a way to help us fulfill our own purposes. I feel like the call to submit is more of God's way of calling us to have faith in Him and our identity in Him, rather than trying to grasp at straws for affirmation and a sense of security and value. Submitting to man requires that we trust God to fight for us and to protect us from oppression. It requires that we believe that our value comes from the fact that the Son of God died for us, and through His blood we become coheirs with Christ, and our inheritance is nothing more or less than the love and affection of the God of the universe. It requires that we believe that when Christ says "It is finished," it truly is and nothing can take away the freedom He has earned for us. We don't need to fight for it or try to earn it. God is in control.

Men are called to trust God enough to have courage and lead. They take up their authority in faith. Women are called to trust God enough to submit and let Him protect us. We submit to authority in faith. As I think about it, that's exactly what didn't happen in Eden. When Satan said, "Surely God didn't say you'd die..." he caused Eve to question God's goodness toward her. She felt like He was holding out on her, and she took things into her own hands. Adam didn't stand and protect her from the deception, and when Eve offered him a bite, he didn't say no. He didn't lead. In so many ways what our roles in life come down to is trusting God's goodness and His love for us. This trust manifests itself in different ways, but it is the very core of truly living.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Children, Come Running!

So for the last few weeks I've had the chance to spend time playing with my professor's little girl while she teaches a class, and I'll tell you, if you don't have a four-year-old in your life, go find one! Seriously, it'll change your life. The other day was the absolute sweetest! I hadn't seen this little girl in a week, and Monday morning I'm walking through the lobby on my way to class. She saw me from across the room, got this big smile on her face, and just came running into my arms. It was precious! And yeah, it does make me feel loved and valued. I'm not going to lie. But the bigger thing, honestly, is that I can see her so ready to receive my love. Being around her brings me such joy, and she doesn't even realize it. She's not trying to make me happy. She just does, and her willingness to receive my love and just be who she is is her greatest blessing to me... go figure.

It gets me thinking about my relationship with God. I spend so much time running in so many different directions, trying to give God something... as if He needs anything I could give to feel loved and valuable. But, I mean, really? And I love that about kids. They don't spend all their time trying, striving for a way to earn their keep. They just receive, and as they receive, they get to know the giver and that's where their outpourings of affection stream from. They're not trying to prove anything. They're not trying to save the world or make everything perfect. They simply respond in the sweetest kind of freedom. And when I see this little girl running toward me, I realize that it is no sacrifice for me to love her. It is pure joy, and so it is with God. Even as I type this, my fingers move slowly, taking in every word, struggling to wrap my mind around it.

God takes great joy in just loving me and watching me, regardless of whether I always obey, even if I get a little messy. He loves to love me... and you!

It is that love that He so freely lavishes on me that stirs excitement in my heart and causes me to run into His arms. And He bends to receive me with great joy. I'm not sure when things change and we start to think we need to give to God and work at loving Him. I don't know when we decided we needed to be refined adults and stop running into His arms. I want to get back to that. Where I'm at right now, feeling so busy and so far from where I should be with the Lord, I need to remember that He sees something inexplicably beautiful in me and just watching me warms His heart. He loves me, and He loves loving me! It's no sacrifice. That is finished. He simply loves. My pursuit of Him. My running joyfully abandoned into His arms. These are free responses to the love I receive. It just happens, and my willingness to receive His love and let it transform me into who I really am is my greatest blessing to Him... go figure.

Maybe that's why Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me." They were drawn by His love, and it was His joy to pour it out on them. He loves to love His children, regardless of what we have or lack, whether we are weak or strong, full of faith or full of doubt. Now, may we lay down everything that hinders us and run into His arms!


Friday, November 12, 2010

Writing Love on My Arms

Today is To Write Love on Her Arms Day, which has me really thinking about a lot of stuff.

I'm a huge supporter of TWLOHA because it brings darkness to light. Anyone can struggle with depression, self-injury, addiction or thoughts of suicide, even your standard type-A, over-achiever, valedictorian, youth group leader. Anyone. It's not just the emo kid who wears skinny jeans, eyeliner, and has hair over his eyes. Anyone. And the biggest problem is that we struggle in secret. We try and battle the darkness on our own. There's this stigma attached to talking about this stuff. And the secrets are Satan's greatest weapon in keeping us bound up.

Here are some lyrics that I clung to during high school:
"I talked to absolutely no one. Couldn't keep to myself enough, and the things bottled inside had finally begun to create so much pressure that I'd soon blow up and I heard the reverberating footsteps syncing up the beating of my heart and I was positive that unless I got myself together I would watch me fall apart. And I can't let that happen again, 'cause then you'd see my heart in the saddest state it's ever been, and this is no place to try and live my life....."

How often we live like that! When we begin to struggle with emotions and feelings we can't explain or understand, our first reaction to to withdraw. We don't want people to know, for fear that they won't understand or that they'll judge or label us. We hide in the darkness, forgetting that it's the darkness we're fighting against! We try and get ourselves together before we attempt to live in community. We don't want people to see us broken. And sadly, we consider so many places, particularly church, no place to actually live our lives. We don't think we can be real. We think our problems aren't important enough. Or we think they're too big.

But here's the next line of that song: "Stop right there, that's exactly where I lost it. See that line? I never should have crossed it. Stop right there, I never should have said that. It's the very moment that I wish that I could take back!" And it's true. In the battle against the forces of darkness (and I believe that's exactly what depression and self-injury is), the biggest mistake we can make is running away from community. When we're in the heat of battle, when we're more broken than we've ever been, when we're struggling hardest and feel weakest, those are the times we most need other people. We CANNOT fight alone. I'll say it again, one of Satan's major strategies to keep us in bondage is convincing us to keep secrets. Community, transparency, honesty... they are so important in every part of life. I wish I would have believed that four years ago.

So my hope is two-fold. First, I hope those people who are fighting will come to a point where they are willing to seek out someone they can trust and stop hiding. I hope they will run to community and not from it. Second, I hope that those of us who have been rescued or have never struggled with this at all will learn to love and accept those who are in a battle. I hope that we will do our part to make them feel safe, that we will be people who can be trusted, that we'll stand in the gap for them and love and support them through anything and everything.

I'll close with some words from Lamentations 3:
"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail... For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love."

Love is the movement,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seven Years

It's Veteran's Day today. We have a choir presentation at 11 in chapel. It's funny. I haven't sung in one of those since eighth grade. I remember that day really well, and it has little to do with Veteran's Day. November 11, 2003 is that day I mark as my spiritual birthday of sorts. That's the day I first started journaling. If I had known then what that would end up meaning for me. I was talking with a friend yesterday who said, "I can't write to save my life!" My response was, "I write to save my life." And it's true. There's something about putting pen to page that makes me feel so much closer to God. Words are so valuable to me. They stir me like nothing else. Over the years, that affection for words has grown into an affection for His Word... a deep affection. And it's wonderful. That day, seven years ago, when I first began to be intentional about spending time daily with God became the beginning of a habit. It was the day I first began to really follow Jesus. It was my first experience with spiritual discipline, and it's funny. God made it so easy. I sat down that day and every day after that. I've hardly missed a day in seven years, even when I was in the pit of darkness, I didn't miss a day. I'm not boasting. I'm praising God, because it's only by the power of His Holy Spirit in me that I had that habit to cling to. Truly, it saved my life. It was a manifestation of the fact that no matter how bad things got, how hopeless I felt, God was still there. He never let me go!

Seven years later, I can't imagine a day of life not spent in full pursuit of my precious Savior, my Beloved Christ. As tired and worn and stressed and just off as I feel right now, I can't help but rejoice because my God is forever faithful, even when He is silent, even when I am clothed in darkness. He is good. His love endures forever! May He encourage your heart with that Truth today, beloved.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Who's the Judge?

As a singer, I spend a lot of time being judged. That's especially true at this time of year when NATS auditions, Concerto/Aria auditions, and juries come in pretty close succession. But I mean, honestly, music itself is just a field that centers around constant assessment. Not judging per se, but assessment happens all the time in voice lessons, performance lab, rehearsal, and practice rooms. It's constant, and it can wear thin. Yes, it is for our good, and generally, it is with the best of intentions and meant for our growth. Still, there comes a point when I feel like enough is enough... well, actually, I feel like nothing is ever enough, and I get tired of it all. It's vulnerable. And it's really hard to not feel like it's you that's being judged, not your use of a developing skill. It's so easy to feel like these teachers and judges are making a call on your value as a person, deciding whether or not you are worthy of love and acceptance.

Then I realize... it's not just musicians that do this. This is humanity. This is life. We watch each other every day and scrutinize and assess and judge and analyze. Whether it's passing someone on the street or passing a mirror in the hallway, we constantly judge. And the truth is, that can be a good thing. Judgement and assessment are tools to grow, and we honor God by growing in the gifts He's given us. However, when judgement becomes not about "That color would bring out your eyes more," and "Standing up straight would really free up your voice," but rather "I have no style sense. She doesn't like me. I have no worth," and "I'm a terrible singer. I have no value," then it becomes dangerous. That is when it wears thin. Yeah, I know. You read those examples and think those conclusions are ridiculous, and you are right. That doesn't stop us from coming to them though, does it? It's happened to me more times than I'm willing to admit. And that is exactly Satan's plan: to deceive our hearts and bind us up, rendering us useless in the Kingdom. He takes what could be used to grow us and turns it into triggers for insecurity.

All that said, as I was preparing to go sing at NATS auditions this morning, I read these verses in Hebrews:

But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom, He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs.

Verses that speak of Christ's radiance and glory just really draw me, and these are especially eloquent. God spoke to us through Christ "through whom He also made the universe." Catch that. He made the whole universe through Christ, and He also made a way to speak clearly to us and even redeemed us through Christ, and not only Christ, Christ's death and resurrection! That's big. Jesus is the exact expression of God's nature. Radiant. Glorious. All-sustaining in His powerful word. And He lives in me. He is my righteousness and my hope of glory. This same Christ through whom the universe was made lifts me up and makes me stand. He heals me and sets me free. He sits enthroned in all authority forever. All things change and wear out, except my Beloved. He reigns forever, seated beside the Majesty in heaven, and His love for me never fails. He holds all authority, power over things I've yet to even see. He is the one who breathes life and music and makes the heart beat. He is the final authority, the final judge of all things, and HE HAS DECLARED ME BEAUTIFUL AND WORTHY OF HIS LOVE. In reality, it truly is finished. The rest of life is an adventure, a chance for my refinement and to bring Him glory as I reflect Him and exhibit His gifts and work in my life.

That, my friends, is Security, the kind of Security that makes us more than willing to take risks, go anywhere, and do anything. It is this Security that helps us use judgement and assessment as tools for growth, rather than as the basis of our self-worth. When we realize that Christ is the only judge with real authority, and that He has already declared us full of value, we remove the power from Satan's hands. We render him inactive, instead of the other way around. We no longer find the need to judge others harshly as a way to make ourselves feel worthy. We no longer feel the burden to be perfect because the people watching us decide our value. We realize that day by day we're becoming who we are, transforming from glory to glory. That is how a long and treacherous journey becomes one that builds strength and sanctifies. And that is a huge relief.