Tuesday, September 25, 2012


In my 30 something years of living I have come across many disappointments in my lifetime. Some were minor, and others major life changers. The minor ones I was able to let go of and move on, the major ones - well not so much. When you have been let down, failed, hurt, crushed, or lost someone or something it hurts - and it hurts deep. Disappointments are a part of life but it is how we choose to handle them that makes all the difference in the world. We can become jaded, bitter, and cold-hearted, loosing sight of what God has for our lives. We can grip it tightly, or we can choose to let it go - and let God deal with it. These choices shape us, and change us - for the better or the worse.

This year I have been hit with an overwhelming amount of disappointments, heartache, and hurt.  I can honestly tell you I have struggled with what to do with all the emotions and baggage that comes with that. Whenever I am dealing with something I don't have an answer for I turn to the scriptures. Something my grandparents taught me when I was little - because I had a lot of questions - and they didn't have all the answers, but they knew the ONE who did. So I started searching the scriptures for someone who didn't just have a "bad day" but a series of bad events.  Of course there was Job, and I can tell you I understand that book even better now. But it was really the story of Joseph, in Genesis 37-50, that resonated loud and clear in my life.

If ever there was a man who had "permission" to be jaded or bitter it would Joseph. In Genesis 37 we see a boy who was favored by his dad, but not by his brothers - in fact his brothers hated him so much they planned to kill him and throw him in a pit. One brilliant brother decided that selling him as a slave made more sense (go figure) and so in one short afternoon he went from beloved son and brother to a no-named slave for sale to the highest bidder. I can't imagine the thoughts of hurt, loss and disappointment that went through his mind. The questions of "Why?" and "How?" that he asked God over and over. His own family rejected him, sold him out, and on top of that were telling his father a LIE to cover up what they did. His whole life was turned upside down, those he trusted let him down - he was homeless, alone and at the mercy of strangers.

Joseph had all the right in the world to become bitter, angry, and resentful - but he didn't.  20 Years later after being a slave, unjustly accused and imprisoned, promised help and forgotten, he was finally recognized for his faith, and leadership - and placed as the ruler of Egypt by the Pharaoh himself.  When Joseph got to see his brothers again after 20 years, he had a choice - and this was what he chose:

But Joseph replied, "Don't be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don't be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children." So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21

I have to be honest and say I'm not sure I would have had the same reaction. How could someone who had been through as much as he had speak "kindly" to his brothers? I don't think Joseph got there quickly, in fact I'm pretty sure the years of serving, and solitude in prison gave him a lot of time to think  and pray and pray some more. When the world gets knocked out from under you - you land on your knees. 

The bible says that the Lord was with Joseph, He never left him - and He never leaves us either, even in our disappointments. He can handle our questions, our fears and even our anger. And He can take all of that and use it to mold and shape us - but only if we let Him. The choice Joseph made was one of looking outward, instead of inward. We must choose every day of our lives to not be so focused on all we've lost, but on all we have gained. Our purpose here is not just for ourselves but for those around us, and when we walk in that we let go of us and get ahold of HIM. 

I am by no means saying that I have achieved this - every day I have to let it go, lay it down, and look around at what I have, and the reason I am here. Grieving what you lost is important, and that does require an inward focus, but healing comes when you can look outside your pain and into others.

Only by His strength!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finding My Voice Again

I love to sing. I love music. I was singing maybe before I was walking. I could turn just about anything into a microphone, and a stage. Mom had me singing at nursing homes, restaurants, in school, in church, and anywhere else anyone would listen. As I grew up and my relationship with the Lord deepened and changed, my love for music and songs, and songwriting did too. I realized the power of music, and words - and the ministry it has to others.

When my brother, Ashley, died my mother asked me to sing at the funeral. I didn't know HOW I was going to do that, but I knew that I needed to. I have sung at many funerals, they are not my favorite place to sing. I have come to realize over the years it is my way of being able to minister to the family involved. In the past few years I have sung at a couple really tragic funerals, young children. These funerals were so difficult, I prayed for strength for every word, every note. I knew that the words of the songs were so important to bring healing, and love. Now I had to sing at my own family's funeral, and I couldn't even begin to think it through. Usually the family will request a certain song, and I am very willing to follow their request. Mom didn't have a song, she said whatever I did would be just right. I struggled and prayed and for a song. Every word was different now - every note was louder.

It really wasn't until 2am the night before the funeral that I settled on one. I went down to the hotel lobby that morning to print out the words, because I knew I would need them. We had the viewing first, and then the service - it was harder than I could ever imagined. Edwin (my husband) was giving the eulogy, and we both were white-knuckled-holding-on-with-everything-to-Jesus, that afternoon. I sang "It Is Well", a capella. Knowing that the man that wrote that song wrote it in his grief, after his daughter's drowned, gave me solace. Only by the very strength and grace of God did I get through. It was by faith alone I could stand there with tears streaming down face and sing "It is well with my soul".

 Somewhere after the funeral I lost my voice. I didn't literally loose my voice, I could still sing - but I lost the will to sing, and the love for music. The Christian radio which we played 24/7 in our house and car was just piercing noise to me. I couldn't listen. Choir practice and worship hurt my heart so bad I could barely stand it. Words and songs that I had sung just a month earlier with all I had in me - I could barely utter the words. Everything felt different, it sounded different, the words were now all different - I was different. I can honestly say that it wasn't that I didn't believe those songs anymore, but my perspective on them changed. Words like "faith", "trial", "burden", "hope", "heaven", "hell" - they all had a tangible meaning now. I had to find my voice again.

So here's a few things I've learned and am still learning about singing and more importantly worship.

  • I learned that it was OK to worship God with my sadness, with all my tears, my hurt, and my pain - for the world to see. 
Ecclesiastes 3 says: "There is a time for everything,and a season for every activity under the heavens:a time to weep and a time to laugh,a time to mourn and a time to dance,"

People need to see not just our laughing and our dancing, but our sadness too- it makes us real.

Even Jesus wept, or mourned - and people were moved by that.
John 11:35-36 Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

God wasn't showing me that I couldn't be happy, or that I should spend my worship time lamenting in sorrow - but just to be real.

My brokenness will minister to people, and myself, far more than my pride ever will.

  • I learned to worship God in silence. 
I didn't have to have the top 20 Klove worship songs playing, a cool guitar riff, or even me singing - I can worship Him in silence.

In fact sometimes I've been so concerned over how great the music sounds, or even how I sound that I couldn't hear his still small voice. I needed to shut everything up, and listen.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 King 19:11-12

  • I was reminded who the worship was for. 
David appointed some of the Levites to be ministers before the ark of the Lord, to celebrate the Lord God of Israel, and to give thanks and praise to Him. 1 Chronicles 16:4

Worship wasn't about me, it wasn't for the congregation, it wasn't to fill in space before the sermon - it was FOR GOD, TO GOD, and ABOUT GOD. (Sometimes I think we say that but we don't really live that)

  • Worship is powerful!
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly place. Ephesians 6:12

When you are in the throes of grief, depression and sadness can overtake you.

When I realized that the songs I am singing aren't for me - they are for Christ and as I sing about how faithful He is, and how thankful I am - His presence fills my sadness - and the enemy has no place to be.

It's OK to hurt, it's OK to be in pain - Satan wants to leave you there alone - God wants to join you - right where you are.

 God started me on this journey the day I sang at Ashley's funeral. It's a journey I'm still on. I can sing again, with the radio - and even on Sundays. But Worship isn't a song, it's not even music - worship isn't about the lighting, a guitar, a horn, or even an organ. Worship is realizing how broken we are, and how perfect He is - in every moment of every day of our lives.

But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

Monday, September 10, 2012

Walking Through The Darkest Valley

"Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me."

I never had a true concept of what the "darkest valley" really was until April 1, 2012. In the very early morning hours I got a phone call that shook my very foundation. My 29 year old brother, Ashley, had died in a cave diving accident. He had been diving with some of his buddies at Weeki Wachee Springs, in Florida, on March 31st and had an embolism under water that took his life. My beautiful brother was gone, and our family was shattered.

I spoke to my parents briefly and hung up the phone trying to make sense of something that made no sense at all. So many emotions flooded my heart and my mind, questions I would never get answers to, and pain so deep I could barely breathe. I didn't know who to call, what to say, how to handle - I was at a loss. Edwin held me as I cried, we cried together. I called my sister, we cried some more. I called a family friend, a few people from church, and cried some more. My dearest friend was on her way home from India and I couldn't reach her, that made me cry some more.

It was a Sunday and Edwin had to be at service in a few hours - I tried to sleep but I just cried. It was April 1st, Liam (our youngest) very first birthday - and I didn't, couldn't even begin to think of celebrating. I thought how in just a month Ashley would have been 30, and now we wouldn't be celebrating that. I cried some more. At some point the sun came up and morning came, but in my mind I didn't understand why the sun would even rise - not today. Edwin left for church, and we decided not to tell the kids until he came home - just too hard for me to deal with their loss and mine by myself.

Liam cuddled with me in bed as my tears spilled on his little head. The little guy never even got to meet his uncle Ashley. A thousand regrets went through my mind, a million wishes I will never have. The other two awoke, surprised we weren't going to church but happy to have the morning free. They could see I was upset, and asked - I told them I was "OK" and we'd talk about it when dad got home. It was the longest 4 hours. I was thankful for the distraction of TV for the kids and sleepy baby. The whole world seemed so far away, alone is almost not enough of a word to describe the feeling - it was the deepest, darkest valley.

The next week was chaos, and unbelievably painful. We drove to Florida, where my parents, grandparents, and sister and her family were headed as well. I watched my parents age right before my eyes. My grandparents, who were the strongest people I know, suddenly became frail. I saw my aunts, cousins, and family friends in a place of sadness I had never seen. I told my sister I loved her a thousand times, wishing I could say it a thousand more. I held onto scripture like never before, gripping so tight my hands hurt. Somehow we made it through a viewing, funeral, an obituary,his friends and our family and those worlds colliding, and an awful long drive back to Virginia (with sick kids).

I was spent, lost, hurting, exhausted, and in pain. My world flipped over, and what seemed so big and important, didn't matter anymore. I can only describe my pain like a really bad burn - that burned deep, stung, and radiated heat. The kind of pain that is so bad that it's consuming. In the beginning I functioned because I had to, my kids needed me to, Edwin needed me to - but I did it with almost a robotic feel - overwhelmed with so much hurt and pain. Food didn't taste good, TV seemed worthless, life was different - because it was different.

When you are in a deep, dark valley - your perspective changes. Sunlight hurts your eyes, darkness becomes your friend. Not darkness like evil, more like emptiness - a nothingness. In the dark no one sees you crying, in the dark you can scream and no one can hear, in the deep, dark you don't have to deal with the rest of the world's problems - because you can't. Being in a deep, dark valley means you have face some deep, dark things - but that may not be all bad. Sometimes we need to stop, and change focus - and see what really is important. In a deep, dark valley it becomes very quiet, and you can listen - to your heart, and to God's heart too.

I'm still walking through this valley, but I am not afraid because I know HE is close beside me.