Burned on like a Tattoo

Songs. Specifically worship songs. I know we all go to different types of churches, and there are such different styles of music we like or don’t like. For some of you, hymns are familiar and remind you of the faith in which you walk. For others, you resonate more with the upbeat style. Either way, it always amazes me how much music can move our soul.

I love worship songs.. especially those that are not simply repetitive, because they tend to capture the nuances of the soul and really give you something to sing that you believe. Know what I mean? Yet sometimes, I have a hard time connecting with a song and singing it like I mean it.

Anyone with me?

Not everyone feels like being all happy and joyful the minute they walk into church or turn on the radio. Life toughens us up, we all run a million ways, and it’s hard to switch gears and so sometimes we just “go through the motions” and sing songs because they are in the hymnal or on the screen. Yet like tenderizer to steak, or lime juice in a marinade, worship has a way of softening us, if we will let it. At least, that has been my experience. It has a way of wooing my soul to be willing to let down its guard and just BE. It helps me be willing to hear what God wants to speak, or what I need to learn. I didn’t know that at the start of my journey, but I know it now.

Then there are these times where I sing songs and I don’t resonate with them, but I know they are truth and so I sing them with as much conviction as I can at the time. I remember doing this with one song called “The Desert Song” that a friend would play at my church in Illinois. The lyrics are strong: they declare believe in a God who provides when everything is dry, a God who refines our lives in suffering or pain, a God who brings triumph when the battle is still underway. I remember singing that, thinking of smaller battles in my life God brought victory over, dry times I had experienced thus far.

The bridge is probably the most declarative of all:

“…All of my life, in every season, You are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship…”

But singing it on one side of life doesn’t compare to when you sing it on the other side.

I don’t know how to say it any other way. I remember singing this before things got really hard with my younger daughter’s depression, in the middle when my older one was struggling, and I remember singing it after, when I had stood in faith for both of their lives and believed God had more for their stories. The words were sung first in faith, in the middle as clinging to a promise, and on the other side, in triumph.

It’s like those lyrics were burned into my soul as a tattoo, a choice I was making to worship no matter what.

I realize making a choice like this is not always easy. It defies everything the world tells you. It’s nuts to anyone. They think you are just avoiding dealing with reality, or they think you are trying to pretend what is going on is not real. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Making this kind of declaration in worship, or in prayer, or in your car singing to the radio, or in talking to a friend and finally saying what has been rolling around in your soul for a while – it makes a difference.

The reality of this hit me again today in church, when we sang the song “Who can compare?” By Jesus Culture. I remember hearing this song for the first time when things were rough last year as Jon and I started the divorce process. The words were like water for my soul, declaring just what I needed at that moment:

“… You take my hand, and You guide me on. You show me the way to life. And You lift my head, and You give me hope. You show me the way to life…”

That is EXACTLY what the Lord proceeded to do, and the next months were so healing I can’t even begin to put them into words. So when we sang it again today, over a year later… this time it was a sweet reminder of how faithful our God is. Because I am healed. I am full of hope at what He has next for me…. and I know my life still has a ton of fruit to bear in this next season.

So why do I share these two stories? Because I know in faith there are times we walk without proof or assurance that God is really with us, that He is going to do what he said he would do. It’s hard. It can be frustrating. It can take forever and we can lose hope. We will question his goodness, His faithfulness, His purpose…. we will even question His people.

But when you hold onto the truth of who He has said He is, when you defy logic and reason and negative or condemning voices, declaring you will trust Him no matter what….. on the other side of the trial – your faith is refined, and the words you once sang not quite being sure of BECOME YOUR TRUTH.

So.. next time you go to church, or hear a song on the radio.. pay attention to the lyrics. Pay attention to what you sing. What you proclaim. Determine to make it yours. Because when you do…

You will be unshakeable.

Me and Advent

I have been doing a lot of thinking this time of year, specifically paying attention to sermons on Advent. Admittedly, I have never really been one to focus on the meaning of Advent before… yet this year is different. This year, the lessons of Advent are speaking to me more than I have ever heard them before.

Maybe its because this year, I am constantly comparing to December last year.

Last year this time, I was dreading conversations. I was carrying secret shame, shame that my marriage was over. I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, it seemed, and relief was nowhere in sight. I was carrying the weight of the pain we would cause our girls, the fractured family that we would become, fearful of what my life was going to look like and yet throwing my hope onto the One that said He was our anchor beyond the veil. Crying out to Jesus in a way I never had before. Last year, advent wasn’t even mentioned. But it was not lost on me that for the first time in my life, I understood the story of Mary with a whole new set of eyes.

This year… this year I am choosing joy, and I am living my life out honestly. I can look back at all the Lord has done to bring healing in my life, and I can see the new things He is starting to do that I cannot yet see in their fullness. This year, I am paying attention to Advent because I must, because in some way, I know the Lord is teaching me something new… and it’s good.

The first week of Advent I heard about waiting. Now, I know officially the first week represents hope, but that’s not what Brian Zahnd focused out in his message the first week. Maybe he took it in a different direction because hope is ultimately about waiting for something, right? In the case of Israel, it meant waiting for the Messiah. In our case, he pointed out, it means waiting for God to move. Not waiting on an event or occurrence, which is often what we really are waiting for (if this or that happens, THEN I will ….). No. Waiting on God. Because, as Brian pointed out, when God comes, something is going to happen. We may not know what, but something will happen, and it will be good. This year, there are a few things I am waiting on – one of which I clearly have known God has to move, the other I realize I was looking for an outcome. The first week of Advent has reminded me to shift my gaze, and to not give up waiting. I needed to hear that more than I know.

The second week of Advent is about Love. Yet at a church I visited last Sunday, the pastor spoke of both hope and joy. Hope of the Messiah, a story that Elizabeth and Mary both became a part of because God was moving in His time, in His way. Yet joy – because although neither of them quite understood what God was doing, they were willing to walk out the change in direction of their lives and circumstance. When they saw the grace of what God was doing in each other’s lives, THEN their story made sense. THEN they could see some of what God was doing – but it only made sense when the pieces were put together. As the pastor said…when they both saw the grace over each other’s lives, it made them ask “what IS God doing????” This year, I can honestly stand back and ask the same. I am keenly aware that his ways are not mine, that his thoughts are not mine, and that there is greater mystery than ever in following him. For someone who likes to know what is going on and for whom planning is a default… this requires constant trust. Trust that something is going on, something I cannot see and cannot touch… and something that may still take years to unfold.

So as we stand here, just a few days away from Christmas, I invite you to take a step back and ask yourself: Where in my own life do I need to wait on God, not wait on circumstances to change? Where can I shift my focus so that I am not anxious about how things will play out, but I look with eager anticipation to seeing how God moves on my behalf? And where can you step back and look at things and wonder… what is going on? How is what I see now going to result in greater things in the future?

Merry Christmas, my friends! May the light Jesus came to bring brighten your world this year, and may His peace, peace that says we WILL be ok in His hands, give you hope.

Tama