Friday, September 28, 2012

Priorities and Posting

Since July 31, 2012, I have been writing this blog faithfully on a daily basis throughout the work week.  Today's blog post makes 43 total posts.  In keeping with yesterday's blog post and the topic of guarding our life's most important priorities, I must admit that for the past couple of weeks I have felt convicted to realign some things in my own life.  God has been tugging at me to lessen my blogging because it is becoming more difficult for me to do it on a daily basis and attend to other things that I really need to keep in check.  Being a fast typer and writer, (and a wordy person, in general), pumping out these blogs hasn't been a huge time consumption.  But many days, it does chew up my early morning quiet time.  So I have found that my time for quiet Bible reading, getting in my daily exercise, and just having some time-flexibility in general, have all started to suffer.  I am now cramming those other beloved items into my day instead of truly relishing them as I did.  Once again, God is showing me my limitations.  (But I have also found that I really love to write)!

When I began this blog, I researched, "How to Write an Effective Blog," and everything I read told me that a person needs to post daily in order to write a successful, well-read blog.  I subscribe to a few blogs and those authors do not all write daily--nor does that impact my readership of their posts.  In order to get some extra experience and practice at this craft, I truly wanted to make a committed effort in writing this blog daily.  But now only two months later, God has shown me that it isn't necessary to write daily in order to have a decent readership and to write effective, meaningful blogs.  In fact, I've had some readers complain that due to the quantity, as well as, the size of my blog posts (I know, I know--I'm a windy girl), they can't keep up with my writing, though they really want to read all my posts.  Therefore, they only read a few each week anyway.  I realize that there are many other things we feel urged to read and that we need to read on a daily basis (and as I've said before, God's Word needs to be at the top of that list).  So for the sake of time on all fronts (mine and yours), I will not be blogging daily any longer.  There may be weeks when I do, and weeks when I only blog once or twice (or perhaps not at all).  God has shown me that I can still be committed to this blog regardless of the quantity of my posts.  I am prayerful that my writing will be more anointed in this way, that my readership will not drop (but perhaps even increase), and that my time will be better spent in so doing. 

My desire for this blog isn't just to get writing practice and gain a reasonable-sized readership, though those are definitely subgoals.  My biggest desire and goal for this blog is for it to be a witness and a testimony about what Christ has done in my life.  I have found that it is really hard for me to always find ways (or the courage) to weave the topic of Christ into my conversations.  Since I believe I am a better writer than speaker, and I am weary of feeling like I rarely share my faith with others, writing a blog seemed like a good solution.  (Plus, I absolutely love to write)!  I guess I'm laying it all out on the table here;  there's nothing hidden or sly about this blog.  My main reason for wanting to write was clear and upfront even in my first blog post--I'm trying to tell anyone and everyone who cares, through various topics, two main things:  1.,  that Christ is the only way to gain salvation and entrance to a life eternal in heaven, (as John 14:6 clearly states), and 2.,  that Christ has made all the difference in my life and He can in yours, too.  This is still my main goal and it will not suffer just because I'm blogging more randomly. 

Another reason God has been convicting me that I need to blog more sporadically and with less pressure is because my schedule has suddenly begun to fill-up quite quickly for this fall and winter.  The most important thing on my calendar is what I do in service for God in my church.  Since April of 2011, I have been being trained to be one of four regular worship leaders for our Sunday morning worship services.  I am leading worship and/or singing at my church for the next 6 out of 8 weeks (and I just led and sang the past two weeks).  The ministry of which I am blessed to be a part has become much larger in the last 17 months, and requires a great deal of my time, thought, and energy.  Another large time-consumer in my life is my running.  Coming from a family of high cholesterol and heart disease, personal fitness is of huge importance to me.  Personally, if I don't run, my cholesterol sky rockets and my attitude plummets!  I have found that my physical health is greatly related to my overall well-being--not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  My husband and I are training for a race that we will run together in late October, so this is another area that needs my regular attention.  My "outside-of-church" music projects are also picking-up rapidly.  I have gig dates and new projects coming up with my Christian band, "True Light Project," and another music partnership of mine is about to take a giant step forward as we head to studio to lay down our E.P./demo and begin marketing our music duo.  In December, I will be singing again in our church's annual Christmas Light Show, which is a huge production and very large time commitment--especially during the busy Christmas season.  I am also going to be venturing out in some new areas with my writing soon, and God-willing, I am hopeful and desirous of getting some serious experience with that, as well.  All this, combined with some travel and finding time to spend with family and friends, is going to keep me hopping for the next few months.  Hence, the need for me to realign some things now.  As I said in yesterday's blog post, change requires change. 

It is my prayer that God will help me fine-tune my writing more, now that the pressure I've placed on myself to write daily is lessened.  It kind of stifles creativity and truly good writing when you think you HAVE to blog and get it done by a deadline.  But my main prayer is that those of you who have been faithful to read my blog (grammatical and mechanical errors included) will continue to do so, even though my posts will now be a little more haphazard. Thanks for reading, and God bless you as you seek to prioritize your abundantly busy lives, as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV), "But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Progressive Regression

For the last decade or so, we have heard excessive talk about all the latest technological advances and how they have greatly changed and improved our lives. Sometimes when I find myself overwhelmed with returning emails, voice mails, text messages, private messages, and the like, I find our latest technological "advances" an utter curse.  I miss the days when we just called people to say something, and if we didn't get them, no big deal.  We just had to call again later.  I also greatly miss being able to go out for a day or an evening, and not feel strapped down to people all the time.  There is a lack of freedom now in our individual lives and existences that I find exceptionally unhealthy.  Personally, I have tried to avoid conforming to all the social pressures in all these types of communication when and where I can.  In fact, I just got my very first Smartphone only 16 months ago, (yeah, yeah, I know.  I should have been born in the fifties).  I don't do Facebook, (other than my band's group page, of which I was compelled to be a part only for the marketing aspect), and I refuse to tweet about anything (last time I checked, I was not a bird). I admit that I am probably the polar opposite of the person who gets up early the day a new technological gadget hits the market just to go stand in line to purchase it.  I am the one berating that we even needed another such advancement already!

I do realize that cell phones have given us great benefits with regard to safety, convenience, and time.  I sincerely value that I can call my husband easily and always reach him when needed, and vice versa.  If my car breaks down and strands me, or I need him to grab something at the store while he is en route from work, having cell phones is a huge blessing.  It was a great relief upon my daughter, Allie's, entry into her teen years, when cell phones became more readily available.  I knew she could reach me whenever and wherever she needed for emergencies during her teen and college years.  After college, when Allie was living on her own in Dallas, TX as a recruiter for K-State, I loved that she could call me while she was stuck in traffic or sitting in an airport.  We were able to spend that time catching up on each others' lives or even doing some wedding planning for her upcoming "big day," instead of that time being a total waste.  It also helped me as a mom to know she could always dial 9-1-1 for help at any moment if she was ever in need, since she was so far away and out of our immediate protection.

But since this isn't heaven, every blessing typically has its curse.  With the blessing and benefits of cell phones, plenty of annoyances have come forth, as well.  I miss being able to go out for an entire day and having total peace and time for myself.  I miss having more clarity in my thought life--when your phone is buzzing or ringing numerous times in a given day, your brain begins to function that way.  It is like I cannot be still or concentrate on one thing for very long anymore.  And when I find myself doing so, my cell phone is faithful to bring that to a rapid halt.  So I leave the darn thing at home and in the car when I feel I can (but I usually get begrudging remarks from anyone who was unable to reach me).  The distractions we face in this modern-day tech world are vast and numerous. 

"Facebook" is yet another "blessing" and "curse."  Yes, it has brought people closer together who maybe wouldn't have ever picked up the phone or had lost touch due to geographical distance.  But I'm weary of hearing people tout that "Facebook" has made it easier to connect with a lot of people all at once because isn't that what email did for us upon its grand entrance to our lives?!  Along with all these new social media outlets, we are now fostering "virtual community." Instead of spending time with our true friends and growing deep roots with them, we've replaced that with having more frivolous, superficial friendships.  The quantity of "friends" we have is now much more important that the quality.  People will tell you this isn't true for them, but they spend much more time reading about, "who ate what for supper" and looking at meaningless photos of people they barely know, than they do encouraging, spending quality time, and doing fun things with people who should matter.  It is extremely frustrating to attempt to spend a day with someone who finds what other people are currently doing more entertaining than what they could be doing right then with you IN REALITY.

I was reminded the other day as I pondered all this, that though this seems like a "new" problem in our society, the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV), "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."  So according to God's Word, it is inaccurate for me to think that all the new technology we have is posing new societal problems. We've got the same issues and problems we've always had in life, they are just being spun differently and require different plans of attack.  It is always amazing to me how when we take a few steps forward, we often times take several backward.  Anytime a major change or "advancement" occurs, we have to evaluate and guard that the new change doesn't replace or alter things that should remain

One example of this is recent research done on how, "Facebook," is affecting marriages.  Many studies show that when surveyed, the majority of American couples state that, "Facebook," has brought some harm to their marriage, even if it is simply that their spouse is, "spending too much time on 'Facebook.'"  In some instances, where a spouse has reconnected with an "old flame," it has even brought total destruction to the marriage.  In December of 2009, "The Tech Journal," included an article about how with the rise of "Facebook," texting, and other social media outlets, the rate of divorce due to these media outlets has also significantly increased.  The article was quite interesting, and even cited that American lawyers claim that one in five divorce petitions state, "Facebook," as the reason or catalyst for the divorce.  In yet another article (and there are many) in, "The Guardian," from March of 2011, it is stated in a 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), that, "four out of five lawyers report an increasing number of divorce cases citing evidence derived from social networking sites in the past five years, with 'Facebook' being the market leader."  Obviously, these tech advances have made it much easier for people to be tempted to cheat.  You can now do it from the privacy of your very own iPhone, iPad, or laptop.  People are replacing spending quality time with each other with looking elsewhere for their needs to be met, and it has become quite easy to do so. 

Many of my friends and acquaintances complain often about how they and/or their husbands come home at night after working all day, and their work has only begun because of the hundreds of emails that pour in each day that they don't have time to deal with at work.  My husband faces this daily, as well.  Fortunately, Matt is a quick reader and skimmer, and he usually knows when to stop.  I try not to nag him when duty calls because his work puts a roof over our heads and food on our table, and I know deep down he'd rather not have to work from home.  But I do think the nature of these modern advances is going to require us to find ways to balance and counteract the negative effects from them.  Change requires change.  The best way to deflect from the harmful influences that are robbing us of our joy, our peace, and our quality time with those who should matter, is to turn to God's Word and remember the important things in life--the unchanging truths and the unchanging treasures.  It is so tempting to fall prey to following suit with the world and its chosen avenues for relationships, wisdom, and relational communication.  But life is short, and we have one shot to love those God has placed in our lives (not those we found in an evening surfing the net or Facebook").  And we have one shot to leave a legacy that counts.  There is no time or place in our lives for frivolousness of any kind, and believe me, I need this reminder myself daily.  Again, it is tempting to follow suit with the world and to waste time investing in people who God has not actually put in our lives as a priority.

These verses seem to apply to this topic and to this ever-changing, techno, information-age in which we currently live:

*  In Matthew 24:35, Jesus says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away."

*  James 1:17 states, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows."

*  Psalms 33:11 says, "But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations."
*  Psalms 18:30 states, "As for God, His way is perfect:  The Lord's word is flawless;  He shields all who take refuge in Him."

*  2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."

*  Hebrews 13:8 states, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." 

*  Psalms 118:8 says, "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Modern Take on Psalm 23

Since I was about nine years old, Psalms 23 has been one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  I think it was one of the very first passages I ever memorized as a young girl.  My Sunday School teacher at that time felt it was very important that we kids learn several key Scriptures so that we would always have them to reference in our times of need.  I can still hear her say in her lovely southern voice, "It is good to learn God's Word by heart, because you aren't always carrying your Bible when you need it!"   Psalms 23 was one of those passages.  At the time, I didn't realize how useful that was going to be in my life.  All of those passages are precious to me today--I have relied on them so many times, they have become like trusted friends.  I thank God for this wonderfully loving, former teacher for helping to equip me at a young age with Godly truths that have stuck with me ever since.

Whenever trying or fearful times would arise in my life, I would find myself meditating on Psalms 23 and reciting it to myself to get some assurance, comfort, and peace.  As a young girl, I specifically remember saying it over and over every night for months in order to settle myself down to get to sleep after someone had broken into our home.   Our home was actually violated several times in my growing up years.  One night, my mother and I heard a funny noise and awoke to find a strange man standing in our open window, smoking a cigarette, and staring in at us.  I can still see the eerie, red tip of his cigarette to this day.  We called the police and ended up spending the night at my grandparents' house (several nights, actually).  They never caught him and we to this day have no idea who that was.  Another time, some neighbor kids broke into our home and stole all my Barbie stuff and a few of my other toys.  Their mother came home from work and upon seeing all the new, unfamiliar toys, discovered that her children had violated our home.  She called us, came over to our house with her kids, and made them apologize for what they had done.  I got most of my stuff back, but it was a horrifying ordeal for me as a very young child to come home and find my bedroom ransacked and most of my favorite toys missing. Another night, my mother and I came home from an evening church service to find lights turned on that weren't on when we left, and human feces on the floor of our bathroom.  We still have no idea who did that or why, but it was horribly frightening (and disgusting, to boot).  Yet another time, a well-known drug dealer in town broke into our home while we were both asleep in front of T.V.  As the potted plants on our kitchen window sill fell into the sink, I awoke to find him waist-high in that window trying to climb in to do God only knows what (everyone in town knew my mother was single and that we were not wealthy, so clearly, tangible theft was not his motivation).  I screamed, my mother awoke, and the power and strength God gave her in that moment was unreal.  She arose, saw the violator, and proceeded to violently scare him off (I also think the very loud, shrill screeches coming from both of us probably helped to do the trick)!  Still another time, a very young drunk guy walked right into our house in the middle of the night claiming he was lost and needed directions.  We had forgotten to lock our door (we did this a lot, but everyone did in small towns back in the 70's and 80's), and the local tavern was only a quarter-mile down our street.  So he had wandered into our home aimlessly and was totally out of his mind.  My mother scolded him and went so far as to witness to him about how he needed to clean up his act and find the Lord.  (She cracked me up--always taking an opportune moment to be a witness for Christ, even in a frightfully horrific moment)!  When necessary, God would literally fill my mother with a supernatural, fearless strength to ward off the weirdos, and I know He alone protected us.  But you still grow up with a lot of anxiety issues after living through so many utterly strange ordeals at such a young age (they would be debilitating at any age, really).  It is also extra tough when you are raised in a single-parent home and these things happen.  I was always very aware of the fact that because there was no father-figure in our home, we were even more vulnerable.

The fear that enveloped me for years after these occurrences was stifling at times.  When your home is violated, you feel violated.  You feel as if there really isn't any guarantee of safety or normalcy in life.  It is as though anyone can do anything to you at anytime, and you are helpless to stop it.  To add insult to injury, I grew up in a class of girls that were pretty rough and tough.  LaCygne was a blue-collar town with very low socioeconomic status.  Looking back now, it is easy to see that the problems that stemmed from many of the dysfunctional families there were quite extensive, (and I understand better now why those girls were as mean as they were--they were in survival mode, just to function in the homes in which they were being raised.  They were bullied at home, so they had become bullies).  But it was a common thing for me to be afraid that I would be beat up on the way home from school for something as simple as having a new pair of jeans or wearing my hair a certain way.  Every day that I went to grade school, I never knew if the mean girls were going to choose me to bully or not.  Some days you were golden and they'd be mad at someone else for something ridiculous.  Other days, they made you wish you were dead.  It was sheer hell. This is when I became exceptionally good at, "people pleasing."  It was truly a survival tactic.  When you are a young, squeamish, sensitive person, and your choices are, "suck up" or "get beat up," the choice is pretty easy. 

I also survived some horrid abuse on the school bus in junior high by two much older high school boys who made abusing girls a sport.  They would always warn us, "If you tell the bus driver or anyone, it's only going to get worse."  We believed them.  The abuse got so bad eventually that I began begging and mooching rides off other older kids to get to and from school.  The worst days were when I had to wear my cheerleading uniform to school for a ballgame that night (we were required to wear our uniforms on game days).  The despicable remarks they would make and other such abuses were pretty horrendous.  I thank God He always made sure there was someone there to sit with me on the bus to somewhat guard and protect me from how bad it could have been.  I don't even want to think about what could have happened if God hadn't protected me.  I used to pray every day on the bus that the oblivious bus driver would get a clue, but she never did.  I don't think she even cared, and it was clear during the few times those boys "pushed her buttons," that she was equally afraid of them herself.   It was pretty apparent she drove the bus for a paycheck and was in over her head with regard to discipline.  So those boys got away with murder on the bus.  I used to sprint home after getting off the bus (and I mean, sprint) because one of the boys lived in my neighborhood and would follow me home torturing me the whole way if he caught up to me.  On the positive side, I became a pretty good runner.  I saw one of those boys a few years ago at a funeral back home.  He couldn't even look me in the face--coward.  The other one went to jail for a while after he left high school.  Suffice it to say, if I had a dollar for every time I recited Psalms 23 from ages 9-18 growing up in LaCygne, I'd be a rich woman. 

On a lighter note, I also recall quoting Psalms 23 to my mother when she would be in distress over something, like money, or if something had broken down in our house and she was unsure how we would afford to fix it.  I would insert her name into every, "me," or "my," in the psalm to make it personal to her.  She would always end up in joyful tears and we would hug as we took great comfort in those words together.  To this day I recite it to myself nearly every time I am afraid or upset.  On scary, turbulent plane flights, the words of that psalm still my heart.  When I am getting ready to sing a challenging song that I've had little time to prepare, reciting it calms me.  In various times of affliction, the words remind me that God is on my side, He cares for me, and He will get me through whatever I am facing. When I quote it, I recite it from the old King James Version (the, "King Jameth" version) from which I learned it.  But I thought it would be fun to create my own personal, "modern take" on Psalm 23 for this blog post.   It follows and I pray it blesses you today:

Modern Day Psalm 23~A Psalm of David
by Stephanie Teagarden

The Lord is my Guide and Protector, I need nothing else.
He helps me sleep comfortably, peacefully, and soundly at night.
He brings me to places of quiet rest and natural beauty where I can bask in His presence and the awesomeness of His artistry.
He refuels and renews my body, mind, heart, and soul.
He leads me and helps me to live rightly, even when I am tempted to stray from His truths.  This is for His glory, because I am His and I wear His Name.
Even when I am in darkness or in the pit--if I am sad, scared, facing ridicule, or even death--I don't really have to be afraid.
No evil is lasting or can truly touch me since I belong to Him.  Everything goes through His hand first.
He is always there with me, and I am His.
His discipline and protection over me give me great comfort and utter peace.
He blesses me and provides for me even when I am facing obstacles, and when my enemies are in my face and on my turf.
He equips and gifts me with His Spirit and His Truth.
I have so many blessings I can't even count them all.
God's love and every good thing, which can only come from Him, will be in my life forever.
And one day, I'll live and reside in heaven with Him, in His home, as His daughter, for all eternity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hillsong Live and Creative Christian Music

Last night, I attended the "Hillsong Live" concert in Kansas City with the lead singer of my Christian band, Stacy.  She invited me to join her for this show so that we could not only have some quality time together and get to know one another even better, but also so we could get some music and production ideas for our band.  We had a great night together and certainly got to know one another on a much deeper level--we talked the entire way to and from the show, in true female form.

Shamefully, I must admit that many times when I attend Christian concerts, I find myself feeling a little less than impressed at the musicianship of the band, as well as, the production creativity of the show.  I think this perhaps stems from the fact that I have the huge honor of singing in a worship band in a large church with incredibly gifted musicians who are every bit as professional, talented, and experienced in music as those I see perform in most Christian concerts.  I also know that my highly analytical, critical attitude at Christian concerts stems from my desire to see Christian music reach the level of demand, supply, and overall value as secular music.  It just seems that Christian music is lacking on the creative scale at times.  I hear people frequently say, "Well, I'd listen to Christian music more often, but it all sounds the same and I get bored."  I also hear people say, "Why is Christian music always so slow and sad-sounding?  I feel depressed when I listen to it for too long!"  This is a problem for me because in my view, Christian music should far surpass other music (or at least match up to it), in creative expression, quality, and musical inspiration--essentially, it should trump other music due to how it makes people feel.  If Godly lyrics aren't being transmitted to the masses successfully because the music to which they are set is typically "sad-sounding," or lacking in current-day relevance, we are doing God and the power of His words a great disservice.  I would agree that Christian music does tend to come from a cookie-cutter mold--it is as if there are certain standards under which it has to fall before it gets released to the world.  My worship pastor, Bryan, spoke about this exact topic and uploaded a link for a supporting article on his Google+ profile.  The article is an incredibly interesting take on Christian music written by Michael Gungor, a successful Christian singer/songwriter who fronts the band, "Gungor."  The link for this article follows and it is well worth the read:!/2011/11/zombies-wine-and-christian-music/

Last night, I felt anything but bored, sad, and uninspired.  "Hillsong Live" is taking Christian music to new and exciting places--and to places where being "dumbed down" or fitting into some legalistic mode of musicianship is not even a consideration.  Hillsong is a group of worship leaders--they do not call themselves, "entertainers," or, "performers."  "Hillsong Live," is a band derived from, "Hillsong Church," in Sydney, Australia.  "Hillsong Church" started with 45 members, and now is the largest church in Australian history.  It has a total of 13 churches all over the world in its affiliation--three in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane), and 10 other congregations in London, Cape Town, Kiev, NYC, Moscow, Paris, Stockholm, Konstanz, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam.  This church has become a sort of, "go to" model, for Christian churches all over the world, much like, "Willow Creek Community Church," in Chicago.  But what makes this particular congregation special is its huge music ministry to the world.  "Hillsong Church" even has a college where students can ascertain ministry and music degrees of various kinds.   Much of the praise and worship music that you hear in Christian churches today, as well as on Christian radio, came out of "Hillsong Church" or "Hillsong College."  They have Christian songwriters that are unparalleled.

This concert (or "praise and worship service," as the "Hillsong Live" band members prefer to humbly call it), far exceeded my highest expectations.  Not only was the production of the show flawless, creative, energetic, and passionate, but the musicianship totally rocked.  They even performed (led) two of my favorite praise and worship songs, "From the Inside Out," (, and, "Forever Reign," (  (Be blessed and give them both a listen)!  They played, "Forever Reign," for their concluding number, and it was utterly powerful and moving--the perfect song with which to conclude the concert, in my view.  As a runner, the lyrics, "I'm running to your arms," speak to me deeply.  As I've posted about previously, I have had a vision of running to Christ on that day when my life here is done.  That will be my final sprint.  So this song has become a sort of, "personal anthem," of my heart.  Suffice it to say, I walked out of that show last night on cloud nine.

Upon the first song last night, Stacy and I were so caught up in the praise and worship that taking mental notes for our band on production and music ended up being pretty far down on the list.  As I gazed out over the crowd at one point, watching a sea of believers worship their God with hearts wide open, tears filled my eyes as I envisioned what heaven is going to be like.  When I attend Christian concerts, it always impresses me how upon entry, I immediately feel like I am with brothers and sisters in Christ, though they are technically strangers.  The people are so warm, congenial, and there is just a spirit of unity in the air.  Everyone has come there for the same purpose--to worship God, to meet with Him, and be moved by Him.  Mission accomplished.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Simple Prayers

As I've previously mentioned in a couple of blog posts, our church is reading the New Testament together as part of a new sermon series.  One thing from my reading that God has laid on my heart recently is the topic of praying.  Sometimes I have been guilty of thinking that my prayers aren't being answered (or being answered in the way I want) because of the WAY I am praying.  Deep down I know God hears all prayers, and that He isn't sitting on His throne in heaven holding up scorecards for each prayer we offer up to Him.  I also know that prayers aren't always answered for a variety of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with HOW we pray.  More times than not, our answer is just to "wait." 

If I'm utterly honest, I sometimes feel inadequate in knowing how to offer up my prayers to God.  More than that, I know I've been guilty of trying to manipulate God, thinking that He'll give me what I want because I have stated my prayers in such a way that He won't be able to resist (shame on me)!  Or along that same line, I find myself thinking that maybe I'm not wording things in just the right formula to get the answer for which I'm looking (shame on me, again)!  I've even been guilty of fretting that if I don't word things carefully, God may answer my prayer, but it won't look like I'm wanting it to look because there was some loophole in my prayer that I didn't cover, and He tricked me.  Such ridiculous, controlling, doubtful, and horribly negative thoughts to have about God and His character (and I wonder why my prayers don't always get answered--duh)!  When my thoughts go to these sinful places, I end up spending my prayer time confessing this manipulative behavior instead of getting to my actual prayer items.  In that instance, there is really no point in lifting up any other needs when my heart is in such a stinky, self-serving place, in general.

I am reminded of the verse in Romans 8:26 that states, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."  Based on this verse, God is well aware of what we need and His very Spirit is right there with us, fully understanding and comprehending the true meanings of what we desire and the needs in our lives.  God is the most intelligent being ever--He doesn't need us to cover every possible detail of each supplication.  Prayer is not some magic trick where if we fail to follow a rigid, step-by-step formula, we ruin the entire outcome.  God already knows our hearts and minds.  Furthermore, He knows what is best for us and what we truly need in our lives.  I know the enemy tries to lie to us about our prayers being ineffective and insufficient because the last thing he wants is for us to have a close, personal, intimate relationship with God.  He would rather we feel alone, doubtful, and defeated.  He wants us to believe that trusting God to do anything for us is pointless and hopeless.  The enemy wants us to be our own "god" and rely on ourselves.

In doing the New Testament reading, I was reminded that praying is simple, intimate conversation with God--not a great deal different than the type of conversation we have with others we deeply love and trust.  In Matthew 6:5-13 (NIV), Jesus states, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, Who is unseen.  Then your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  This, then is how you should pray:  'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'"  What a great model of how we should speak to the One Who saved us.

Just as we speak honest, transparent words of adoration, praise, and vulnerability (sharing our deepest thoughts and needs) to those who we hold closely in life, God wants the same thing from us.  Obviously, our God, as Maker of the Universe and the Sovereign Entity of all that is in it, does deserve our highest praise, adoration, and deep reverence--far above anyone else in our lives.  Let me be clear, in saying that we should give God the same, honest communication we give to others, I am not trying to lower God to the status of my personal "buddy" or dumb Him down like He is as common as the flawed humans in our lives.  Likewise, I am not trying to turn Him into some "genie in a bottle" for my own dispensing and benefit.  But on the flip side, we are wrong to view Him as a strict dictator Who judges our prayers with a rigorous grading scale to the point that they get ejected if they don't meet perfection.  People always jokingly say, "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it!"  There is some truth to that because we need to make sure our hearts are in the right place when we pray, and we need to make sure what we think we really need in our lives are truly needs.  But our God is not a trickster Who seeks to woo us to His throne just so He can throw daggers at us or "teach us a thing or two!"  God is a God of mercy and love--He isn't just a disciplinarian, and though He is perfect, He knows we are not.  He wants our prayers to stem from love, faith, trust, and an utter need and dependence on Him. 

Based on the Matthew 6 verses above, in the model Jesus gave us for praying to God the Father (A.K.A., "The Lord's Prayer"), our prayer time needs to be personal, private talks with God.  It first requires faith on our part, because our Father is "unseen," as is initially stated.  Our prayers don't need to be "do lists" for God, or repetitive in nature.  He knows our needs from day to day, and doesn't expect us to restate everything constantly in order to be answered.  He also doesn't require or want some religious, pious, ritualistic "chant," or some impressive, well-worded delivery.  He desires genuine, honest prayers.  At the very start of Jesus' example, He says we are to call God, "Father."  That right there tells us clearly that our prayer life is supposed to be intimate, not fearful and distant.  God, being called our "Father," shows us that we are to feel we are talking to our actual parent.  Also in His example, Jesus tells us that we should begin our prayers with worship, adoration, and thanksgiving.  We are to have our hearts set upon God's kingdom and for God's will in our lives--this is from where our prayers should derive.  Then we are to share our needs with God, confess our sins, ask for His help in forgiving others, ask for His protection from the enemy, and ask for deliverance from our struggles and battles.  Our prayers shouldn't be rote pleadings for our immediate needs and self-serving supplications.  Even when I have a prayer item that is somewhat self-serving, I still readily say to my Father, "Lord, if this isn't your plan for me or will bring harm to what Your perfect will for my life is, please help me to let it go."  I can easily say this and mean it because I've had enough life experience to know that if God is not in something 100%, it ends up being a total curse.

When we speak with those we intimately love, we don't quickly rattle off a list of things we want from them and then walk away.  We share our thoughts and feelings.  We thank them for things, and give words of adoration or praise to them.  We confess things to them that we need to confess.  We are concerned for their needs and their desires--their "will," essentially.  We even ask for their help at times.  Doing all that requires giving others quality time, and that comes quite naturally and simply for most of us in our relationships with people (at least this is how we should treat and speak to those we deeply love).  Therefore, we should give God that same quality time and simple, personal genuineness in our conversations with Him.  He deserves all that and more.  How else can we have a real relationship with God? How can we say we know Him and live for Him if we don't actually treat Him better than the people in our lives?  We can't.  Honestly, God is much more approachable than even the people we value with great esteem in our lives and to whom we easily give our time and intimate conversation.  God should be no different, and should actually rank higher than others.  There is no place for fear or distance with God if we truly know Him and walk with Him.   Hebrews 4:16 (NLT) states it nicely:  "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."  We are essentially being told not to fear, but to approach the throne of God with utter confidence.  God doesn't expect or want cleverly designed prayers.  He desires an honest, simple heart of praise that acknowledges a great need for Him.  He simply wants our hearts and to be in close relationship with us--it is the very reason He created us in the first place.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Plaza Art Fair Tradition

This coming weekend is the annual Plaza Art Fair in Kansas City, MO.  I have attended this art fair with my daughter, Allie, off and on since 2005, and with my "Auntie Sherri" every year since 2006.  It has become a sort of, "girls' day out" tradition among us, and something to which I look so forward every year as autumn approaches.  Now that my cousin, Heather, has moved back to Kansas City from Florida, she and her young daughter go with us now, as well.  My mom has even started coming some years, though she lives at the Lake of the Ozarks.  So it has become a fun, family affair.

My "Auntie Sherri," as I call her, was an Art major in college.  She is a painter, an avid lover of photography like myself, and has quite a creative eye for good art.  She and I have spent a lot of time exploring art galleries together over the years, and especially enjoy keeping up with the exhibits at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City.  Since we both love the same genres of art (Impressionism and photography, namely), we roll pretty well together on art excursions.  She has taught me so many fundamental things about art, but mostly I've come to greatly appreciate the fact that art is really a creative expression of someone's heart--it is a little window to their soul.  In fact, I love strolling along the booths of each artist at the art fair and not only soaking up their individual creativity, but also chuckling to myself at how often the artist matches his or her particular craft.  The wood-workers usually look like wood-workers--they appear as strong and earthy as the trees from which their masterpieces derived.  The jewelry-makers are typically sharp-eyed, fashionably adorned, and even their hair-dos seem to be works of art.  The glass artists seem meticulous and subdued--their booths are clean, simple, and geometrically friendly--just like their art.  The painters are soulful--they look at you and smile with great heart and spirit.  They are fearless in speaking with you and discussing their work because with every brush stroke, they've painted their heart and soul onto their canvases, so giving you a little more of themselves comes quite easily to them.  The hat makers and clothing designers have a theatrical presence about them.  Flauntingly wearing their creations themselves, they exhibit not only great style and presence, but they have the same prideful dignity and cheerful exuberance mirrored in their designs.  Not that I'm attempting to stereotype--these characteristics don't hold true for every artist.  But I like to think my observations are somewhat accurate.

So what booths do I get into the most trouble (financially speaking)?  The jewelry booths!  I am a bit of a jewelry fiend.  I'm not a big spender, but I typically walk away from every art fair with some piece of personal embellishment.  Last year, I splurged (big time) on a stunning ring to wear at my daughter's wedding that would be just two months later.  That was pretty special since Allie was able to be there and help me pick it out.  I justify my indulgence for jewelry by the fact that I don't own a home big enough to hold a lot of beautiful art--and I LOVE art.  So I embellish myself to add a little creative expression to my life.  (My husband would say I have enough "creative expression" for four or five people)!

Two other things I adore about this Art Fair are all the friendly dogs and adorable children that people bring out to this festival for fun and flaunting--much like the art!  Every year I see children dressed in their best fall casual wear--adorned with things like cute hats, Tom's Shoes, and their new colorful, autumn sweaters.  I see beloved pooches wearing everything from modest, stylish scarves to hilarious full-blown attire.  There is usually a crisp beauty in the air, and as I breeze along sipping on a pumpkin-spice latte from "Starbies," I realize that though fall is not my favorite season, it brings its own myriad of blessings like every other time of year.  And I once again find myself praising God for the simple blessings in life--like art, delicious beverages, and a good family.  What else could anyone really need?!

Another great thing about the Art Fair is the free live music. This year there are several of my favorite Kansas City bands performing.  I am hopeful to attend at least a few of these shows, (if not all)!  The band, "Beautiful Bodies," performs tonight at 8PM on the Ink Live Stage.  We've heard them once prior, when they opened for another band that we saw perform at, "The Beaumont Club," in Westport.  The lead singer IS beautiful, and she has an incredibly powerful voice for a little gal of 105 pounds (dripping wet).  She's got as much entertainment zest and zeal as Mick Jagger and Joan Jett combined.  Though I am not a hard rock lover, her voice is truly amazing and she is just a total riot to watch perform.  If only I had half her energy and vocal power!

Another group performing is the, "John McKenna Band," which plays at 10AM on Saturday on the Ink Live Stage.  They are fabulous all-around.  We just heard them about a month ago at, "The Brick," in downtown Kansas City, and fell fast in love with them.  The songwriting and music is heart-tugging, and the lead singer's voice, which at times has traceful similarities to David Gray's, is smooth, easy, and graceful.  I could've listened to that all night.

Also on Saturday on the Ink Live Stage at 2PM, is a band called, "Blackbird Revue."  This husband/wife duo will knock your socks right off.  If you've had a rough week, their soulful harmonies will peel off any callous layers around your heart after about two songs.  Upon hearing them the first time at, "The Czar Bar" one night in Kansas City, I knew right away they were something special.  Again, the songwriting is superb, and the blend of their voices is such that you know they either have to be siblings, dating, or married, because they have it down so flawlessly.  It's like one voice.  You can tell they spend a lot of time together perfecting that quality.  It is a good hear.

One band, "Rattle and Hum," is a "U2" cover band in Kansas City that Matt and I have seen perform several times. They play Saturday night at 6:45PM on the Main Stage, always put on a great show, and the lead singer's voice is so close to Bono's, you'll think they could be brothers.   They are cool as ice.

I give my highest recommendations to the back-to-back shows on Saturday night on the Ink Stage starting at 7:45PM--the bands, "Making Movies," and "Quiet Corral" are performing at that time, and if you've read any of my posts or blogs, or looked at any of my photos, you know that I love these two bands.  I want a job as their promoter (okay, who am I kidding--I wanna be the backup singer)!  In fact, "Making Movies," is my favorite Kansas City band, and "Quiet Corral" is my favorite Lawrence band.  These bands are not only immensely talented on every level of their musicianship, but they are songwriting geniuses.  These two bands are doing so well that Matt and I know that our days of casual conversation with them and sitting up close with ease at their shows are going to become fewer and farther between.  Sad as that reality is for us, we are so happy for all these guys and pray for their continued success.  They are flat fabulous, and when you add to that the fact that they are nice, good guys, it is easy to become smitten rather quickly. 

There are also two other cover bands playing this weekend at the Art Fair that we've heard numerous times, as well.  They are not only very entertaining and whimsically charismatic, but they play all the good oldies from the 70's, 80's and 90's.  So if you're in the mood for dancing or light-hearted reminiscing, go see, "The Zeros," tonight at 8:30PM on the Main Stage, or the band, "Sellout," at 8:30PM on the Main Stage tomorrow night.  They are a hoot, and with their set list diversity, they typically play something for everyone.

Last, on Sunday on the Ink Stage, I would recommend the back-to-back shows starting at 1:30PM.  "Sara Swenson," and, "She's a Keeper," are the two bands performing, and we have see both of these bands several times in the past year or so, (and love them a great deal, as well).  Sara's songs have brought me to tears (namely, the song she wrote for her grandpa who passed away recently--she tells stories to set up her songs at times, and her genuine honesty is quite drawing and moving).  She opens for "Quiet Corral," very frequently, so it is like a major "2-fer" when we go see them.  Likewise,  "She's a Keeper" will woo you with their tight, Irish-folk harmonies and cheerful melodies.  It is just "feel good" music at its best.  We saw, "She's a Keeper," perform very recently at a Royals game Student Showcase Free Concert Night.  It was just a total blast--their music is simply fun and so uplifting.

Kansas City is rapidly becoming a city of great, diverse, original music.  Though it's been said by some naysayers that all you can hear or find in Kansas City is jazz music and cover music, I would strongly disagree--vehemently disagree.  (And what's wrong with jazz and cover music anyway)?!  But there are a number of great venues throughout the city where original, creative, soulful music is played by richly talented people.  You don't even have to look that hard for it.  And the Plaza Art Fair is a good start.

So I find myself giddy and excited about this weekend and spending time at the Plaza Art Fair.  Bonding with my girls and getting inspiration all at the same time--great combo package.  If you don't have any other major plans this weekend, get to this fair!  You won't regret it!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ugly Duckling to Graceful Swan

I grew up in a very small rural, farm, and coal mining town called, "LaCygne, KS."  It is about an hour straight south of Kansas City, and had a population of about 1,000 when I lived there from ages four to eighteen (I don't think the population has increased much in the past 25 years).  "LaCygne," is French for "the swan," and the town is proud of that French heritage (as proud as a town the size of a postage stamp can possibly be).

Being raised in a single-parent home for most of my young years, my life in LaCygne wasn't an easy one.  My mother and I were very poor.  Looking back, I don't think I realized how poor we really were at the time, even though I was very aware of it.  My mother had a decent job considering she had no education beyond high school.  She worked as an administrative secretary and then as an accountant for a fishing lure company in a nearby town--a town even smaller than LaCygne called, Amsterdam, MO.  She worked there the 14 years that we lived in LaCygne, and retired from that company about 16 years ago.  The job paid the bills and put food on the table (more or less), but that's about it.

Money was extremely tight growing up.  So tight that at times I had to pay for life's essentials out of my own babysitting or life-guarding money.  "Extravagant" things like, my senior pictures and the clothes I wore for those pictures, also came from my own hard-earned dough.  It was tough at times, especially when many of my friends had cars at age 16, and never had to work to pay for anything (let alone pay for their own toothpaste, borrow their prom dresses, mooch rides off of people, and cut their own hair).  I recall in elementary school, that my mother would buy me 4 pairs of shoes per year--a pair of tennis shoes, a pair of dress shoes, a pair of casual shoes, and a pair of sandals.  Those were the only shoes I had and they had to work with everything I wore (even though they really didn't a lot of the time).  Getting made fun of by cruel kids who had more than I did was always a real delight. 

On the bright side, when you grow up poor, you learn the value of a dollar.  You also learn to be extremely appreciative of material possessions and of NOT being poor (and you're not that concerned if you aren't ridiculously wealthy, because again, you're just thrilled not to be poor)!  Though my husband and I are not independently "wealthy" by any means, we have a very good life.  If we need something, we can go buy it without any fear or trepidation about it.  If we want something, we can usually do the same, within reason, of course.  We have a good savings--God has blessed us with both emergency savings and retirement savings, and though we don't derive our faith and personal peace from our savings accounts and various funds, we try to be good stewards of what God has given us by putting money back for "rainy days" and retirement.  We live within our means, but we live well.  We also strive not to hoard our money--we are generous with our child, family, and friends, and we give to the church and other ministries (I am always a sucker for any charity that involves poor children, for obvious reasons).  God-willing, we will continue to strive to be wise with our money and have the right balance of saving and generosity--sometimes that is a tricky balance, and we can always do better.  After the money we lost (that everyone lost) in 2008, we realize wholeheartedly that God is the only One in control of our finances, our security, and our provisions in this life.

I was sharing my story of poverty, as well as, some of my personal testimony of how I came to trust Christ, with a music partner of mine a few months ago.  Somehow we got on the topic of my hometown's name and what it meant.  I laughingly said, "It is oddly kind of a sad name for my town--there are no swans there and there is nothing 'French' about it!"  He made an interesting connection and statement about my hometown and my life story.  He said, "Well, that is funny that your hometown's name means, 'the swan,' because you might have felt like an 'ugly duckling' growing up there, but God has turned you into a beautiful swan."   What a precious statement and gift that was for me.  I had never thought about that and would have never made that correlation.  I don't think of myself as a graceful, beautiful swan (we need to get my friend some new glasses).  But I do possess a grace that has covered and clothed me richly.  It is the gift of grace and salvation offered to us all by Christ from His payment on the cross for our sins.  All we have to do is accept the free gift, and salvation by grace is ours.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast."  I can't boast that I am a beautiful swan, as my sweet, [blind] friend declared.  But I can and will forever boast in my Savior, who not only brought me out of poverty and has blessed me abundantly in my life, but who has given me the richest blessing of all--Himself.  Though my poverty-stricken past and my personal sinfulness made me an ugly duckling, Christ's love for me and the gift of grace He gave to me out of that love, have made me feel like a swan.  And He can transform you, too.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Forty Days of Prayer

As some of you know, I sing in a new Christian band in Topeka called, "True Light Project," ("TLP").  This band started nearly 18 months ago, and they added me late last October mainly as a backup singer and percussionist,  which I am loving (I do sing lead occasionally).  Due to my daughter's wedding last November and then the holiday season immediately following, I didn't really come on board until January of this year (the band took a break for the month of December for Christmas since we are all involved in other projects and ministries at Christmastime anyway).  Our band spent the better part of this past winter and early spring working on our E.P./demo studio project of original tunes written by our front man, Bob.  He is an amazingly gifted songwriter and lyricist and has written several more new songs over the summer which we will more than likely be recording in studio later this fall.  He keeps saying he's going to help me finish my original tunes, but he's been so busy writing his new stuff he hasn't had time (and when the creative juice flows, ya gotta go with it)!  Rest assured, Bob.  You're stuff is much better than mine, anyway!  But it is really cool for me to be working with people this talented and driven--and more importantly, God-centered, others-minded, and ministry-focused.

After our initial studio project, we worked most of this past spring preparing the music on our set list in order to begin accepting offers for gigs and ministry ops.  But after completing our E.P./demo, we suddenly lost two crucial members of our band (one who decided to pursue other music endeavors, and one that felt he wasn't being calling to this level of ministry and time commitment).  I say they were "crucial members" because some instrumentation is absolutely necessary for a band's operation--it isn't that every band member isn't needed, wanted, or valued.  But these two voids were big ones.  So we were then forced to face the reality of spending the summer auditioning and preparing new people to fill those voids and learn the new music instead of getting closer to the goal of doing ministry and gigs.  Suffice it to say, I've officially been in this band for nearly a year and we haven't gigged yet.

Our front man, Bob, and our lead singer, Stacy, invited me to meet with them over the summer to talk about our band's situation and brainstorm what we thought needed to happen to get the band rolling with the sudden changes.  We discussed a lot of things and had a genuinely honest, good conversation about our thoughts, as well as, what we believe God is seeking to do with our band.  For the sake of time and the privacy of our band, I will say in summary that my main suggestion was for us to take some time to pray about it all.  As is often done and suggested in God's Word, I asked Bob and Stacy to join me in a forty day prayer commitment.  It may sound silly, but based on our personal conversation and the serious concerns the three of us had regarding the band, I asked them to pray with me faithfully for forty straight days in order to decide whether God wanted our band to forge ahead, wait for another season, or stop altogether.  We also prayed for several other specific items that went along with our need for a clear vision of what God desires for our band (namely, that if He desired for us to continue, that He'd bring the right people and talent along to fill the new voids so we could keep on track with the plan.  We all agreed that it was of utmost importance that we not only find true, God-fearing believers for our band, but true talent, as well.  If you're going to be effective in ministry and truly bring glory to God, you gotta have both).

I've shared a few times in previous posts on my main Google + page, that this music pursuit of mine is a pretty big deal in my life right now.   It has even at times been an, "affliction," meaning that it has gone beyond the status of "desire" to becoming an issue of strain in my life.  I have been seeking the right fit for myself in a working band for about 18 months now. I know this is what I am supposed to do with my life at this season and it is all I desire to do (I've even prayed for years now for God to remove the desire if it isn't His will or plan).  I know God has been teaching me a great deal about patience, hope, and trust in Him throughout this process.  But more than that, I know He is testing my endurance and my will.  If things come too easily for us in life, we just don't appreciate them, and it is really easy to forget from Whose hand they've come.

So I've been searching--high and low, really. Since I'm not a legalist about music, I've also tried singing for secular bands to try to gain some experience and/or keep myself occupied until God brings me the right thing.  I have also desired to sing some on the side to make a little extra money--not because I need it.  It is just an issue of principle for me.  I guess I just want some validation that I'm worthy of this work (because like anyone, when you use your skills and work hard at anything, you desire to have it valued on even some small level).  In the past, I've at times felt guilty taking money for singing because I've viewed this gift of singing as just that--a gift from God.  Since it is a "gift," I have felt strangely uncomfortable accepting money for using it.  But I have come to realize that if people like my pastor can get paid to do what God has gifted and enabled them to do, I have to get over yet another legalistic idea that I shouldn't accept payment for the work I do, regardless of what God-given ability I am using.  Obviously, I desire to use my voice in service to God more than anything else, and I do not accept or want payment for the serving I do in my church.  But I have come to see that using my talents outside of my church is not a sin, and accepting payment for that work is likewise, not a sin, either.  In fact, God has been urging me lately that since I have few non-believing friends and family, and if I am truly going to take His cause into the world as we are all called to do as Christians, I have got to find ways to put myself "out there."  Music is a great way to do it.  We can't lead others to Christ if we hide in our houses and hang out at church or with other believers all the time.

I have found some super nice people along my journey but who for one reason or another weren't the right fit (music-wise, venue-wise, lifestyle-wise, etc.).  I just can't and won't sing Joan Jett and Pat Benatar all night in a smoky bar for obvious reasons (I'm coughing right now just remembering the night I auditioned for a particular band in such a setting)!  Though the guys in that band were super clean-cut, funny, and so kind, I felt like a fish out of water in that setting.  Plus, my mezzo voice cannot sing the rock and roll of a former lyrical soprano opera singer for an entire night (Pat is THE VOICE)!  I thought I was going to die.  At one point that night, I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and said, "Lord, if this is my mission field, I am not up for it.  What am I doing here?  This music is not me.  This place is not me.  I feel lost."  But He urged me to keep searching.  Sadly, I am finding there are a lot of secular bands looking for that type of female singer.  Though I truly feel absolute freedom in Christ to go out and sing good, clean, secular music, I have my boundaries.  There are just some people with which I cannot work and some places I just cannot go.  So my searching experiences have been both good and bad--I've learned a lot even in the "not so great" situations.  When you wear your heart and your dream on your sleeve, you can easily get taken advantage of by people who don't value you, and who you over-value.  I honestly believe that there are some musicians who are just so easily bored in their life (which sadly, is a tendency amongst creative, talented folks) that they literally feel entitled to use other people to add a quick spark to their existence, and then trade you in on a new model when they are sick of you (or when you finally get the gumption to flat-out ask, "Hey, tell me again what my purpose here is??").  They are happy to keep using you so long as you don't expect one thing out of them.  I've also discovered that there is a serious issue of pride and arrogance in some musicians.  One guy, who proudly proclaimed he has, "perfect pitch," auditioned me, and had the audacity to tell me if I couldn't hear the key of a song by ear alone, as he is gifted at doing, (without the use of a piano, without viewing the key signature on the sheet music, or without looking at a lead sheet), that I was no musician at all and might as well stop pursuing it.  Ay, yai, yai.  That was a fun day.  I'm sure I went to "DQ" or "Starbies" to self-medicate that day (read last Friday's blog for that inside joke)!  Thank God for two close musician friends of mine (one of whom has perfect pitch, too) who set me straight on that notion, and told me that this particular guy was full know. (God bless you, Bryan and Melanie)!

My main desire in this search and journey was to find a Christian band, outside of the band that I sing in at church, because I want to sing on a regular basis and be involved in music and ministry more often than on occasional Sunday mornings.  But I truly believe I am supposed to get out there in the world, as well, and I'd like to make a part-time job out of both, God-willing.  This is where my heart lies, and I have been praying about it faithfully for quite a while.  Upon invitation to join "True Light Project," I felt I had my prayer answered.  This band is not only rock solid on the talent scale, but they play original music (which is a major plus to me), they are all God-fearing, true believers (major perk, yet again), and they play Christian music (which is my passion and desire).  On top of all that, they are not only creative people, but they are genuinely kind people.  Each member is valued and treated well, regardless of their particular musical abilities.  No one views themselves as "superior."  Everyone knows from Whom their gifts come.  We all seem to just fit.  I felt a unity there and an utter acceptance upon my first rehearsal with them.  This is extremely rare.  In fact, in most of my past singing experiences (outside of church), I am so terrified and unsure of my purpose and/or value that I spend more time praying before, during, and after the experience than I do singing.  I remember telling Matt both after my audition and first practice with "TLP," that I didn't even have to pray once to calm my fear and nerves.  I never even thought about it.  I praised God for this, and I still do.  Operating off of fear and the need to be accepted is a horrid bondage in which to live.  It stifles your creativity, it robs your joy, and it ultimately destroys any desire you have to stay in that situation.  Being in a band where fear and acceptance have never been an issue for me is a huge blessing straight from the hand of God in my life.  My band mates and I spend as much time sharing life's struggles, praying, and laughing together as we do rehearsing.  It tells me that I've found something real this time.

But this summer, when we lost two members, our rehearsals ceased, and things weren't looking so positive, I began to stew again.  Why would God give me exactly what I had prayed for just to strip it away from me only five months later? Why would He give songs with such a powerful message to our front man, Bob, and watch us work so hard polishing and recording them if we were never going to get to share them in ministry with others?  It just didn't make sense.  None of it.  I felt I had struck gold and someone had come and stolen it from me.  I've only said that one other time in a music experience.  Was that going to be the case here again?  I know this is just life sometimes--things don't always add up to what we think they should, and as Mom always says, "Sweetheart, life isn't always fair.  But one day, God will make it so."  I was also reminded numerous times over the summer of how I had told God just last November, the day after my daughter's wedding day, that because He'd blessed us with the perfect, Godly husband for our little girl, and given us the best day of our lives at their wedding, I was good.  I didn't need anything else in my life.  I meant it.  And now in my hour of "need," I needed to stand by that prayer, be grateful, and stop fretting.

So the three of us agreed to commit to pray together for those forty long days.  With God's help (and a lot of personal motivation due to my "affliction"), I never missed a day.  Most days, I prayed about it numerous times.  I found myself tempted on occasion to fear and worry about what God was going to decide to do with our band--and with my heart's desire.  But I prayed on, knowing that if it wasn't God's will, it was better that I not waste more of my time working in a band that was never going to get to the goal of gigging in ministry for Him. Learning and rehearsing music is a lot of work.  I've been down the road of doing that for a few music endeavors that ended up being a waste of my time, energy, commitment, and money--essentially, a waste of my love and devotion.  People say a lot of things and make a lot of promises in the music world, and conveniently forget what they've said when things get hard or "worn-out."  I have found in my quest for a band and for music ops, that the vast majority of musicians talk big and have no real, sincere follow-through.  For some reason, they want the pleasure of your company for a season, but don't really want to help you along your musical journey or stick to plans whatsoever.  It's pretty much all about them.  But this band was different.  These people were special, and they stuck to their word.  I told God I didn't want to lose the good thing I had here.  I begged Him to make it work if it was in His will and plan.  I asked Him to prepare my heart, yet again, if it wasn't going to work out and to help me handle it better than I have in the recent past with music disappointments.  I told Him that I knew that anything not in His will would likewise, not be a blessing anyway.  But I needed Him to tell my heart that, not just my brain (I tend to function off the less-dependable organ at times). 

The day we reached our goal of forty days of prayer was a rehearsal day for our band.  We were concerned that one of our new folks wasn't going to show, and we'd view it as a sign that God was saying, "no."  But everyone showed and everyone was prepared.  The three of us realized that God had not only brought us two new qualified, committed, and wonderful people to fill the voids in our band, but we had one of the best, worthwhile, successful, and truly fun rehearsals that we'd had in a while. We discussed that we felt confident that God honored our forty days of prayer and that He'd said, "Yes.  Forge ahead."  It took us the better part of the summer to find the right new people (which is a process in and of itself), and we are still working to catch them up on our music.  But our band is hopeful, working, and excited again.  So a' forging we go!

"TLP" has recently acquired and accepted our first gig dates, as well.  I cannot tell you the utter joy I had writing those down on my personal planner the day they were a done deal.  It felt "official."  Finally, I have legitimate gig dates with a band in which I belong.  I had to fall on my knees that day and praise God with sheer gratitude.  You may not "get" what I am talking about, and you may even think I am being overly dramatic about this, but when you really want something, and you have been let down numerous times, it is a big deal.  It is a very big deal.  I get attached to plans, goals, and people--I don't like change.  God has told me that I have to hold this music thing loosely, as well as, hold some people more loosely.  But I've also told Him that He made me this way, and that if people are created in His image, then they are valuable.  People are not disposable.  I trust He appreciates this.  So I pray I can settle in to this band and make a home for myself, as well as, begin living out my passion and heart's desire in part-time music ministry to Christ.

So my band will be playing for "Finding Hope," a ministry organization here in Topeka that helps people with various addictions.  It is a huge ministry and an important one.  We will be playing at a large church here in Topeka called, "Fellowship Bible Church," where this organization meets monthly.  Our gig dates are in October and November, giving us plenty of time to finish polishing our set list and prepare our talking points.  I am so pumped about it, I am just giddy.  I praise God for His faithfulness to my band, to me, and for giving us this service opportunity to get us started in what I pray and hope is a long-term ministry for Him.  I don't know the future--I don't pretend to know what God will do for me or with my band, but I am hopeful.  I trust that God has the right plan, even if it means that I will be jumping from band to band (which is my worst fear, but I know He'll be right there with me if that is what He decides).  God knows what is best for me and what I need.  His goals for me have to be my goals, too.  And I have got to let go of this fear thing.  There is no place in my life for it anymore.  For now, I am giving myself permission to relish in the fact that I have a band with gig dates. 

I have my amazingly gifted and immensely kind Music Director and Pastor, Bryan, to thank, as well as, my super talented, dear music friend, Roy, for helping me find and get in this band.  Roy plays violin on my church orchestra/praise team and also plays violin in my band, "True Light Project."  Bryan is the one who first told me about "TLP" and how they were looking for another vocalist, and Roy was the catalyst for helping me get an audition in the band.  (From the bottom of my heart, thanks, guys.  You're the best!).  I am humbled to get to work with people as gifted as these two guys--and to be recommended by them to others. 

On top of finding this Christian band, God has given me a new music partner to work with on the side, as well (for my, "get myself out in the world" music ventures).  It is almost unbelievable how well he and I click on every capacity--communication, personality, music genre/style interest, schedule flexibility, and gigging desires.  He has rapidly become one of my nearest and dearest friends, and I am thoroughly excited about the new music endeavors he and I are going to begin very soon.  Our rehearsals feel anointed, and I again, find myself humbled and honored to be working with someone so much more talented than myself.  God is abundantly good to me. 

So what is the overall point of this lengthy blog post?  I guess to say that God honors committed prayer.  I highly recommend it, especially if you have a major issue or affliction for which you need a straight, somewhat immediate answer.  He also honors hard work, diligence, and a hopeful heart that trusts in Him and His ultimate plan, even when it may not be what we think we want or need.  I also must say that God is so faithful.  He knows your journey, and He has known my 18-month journey.  He knows my hurts, my doubts, my heartaches, my fears, my struggles, my immense disappointments, and He has been there with me through it all.  I cannot tell you the times when I have come so close to saying, "Just forget it, God.  I'm tired.  I'm too old for this, and I'm just flat beat."  And the next thing I know, I'm reading some passage that speaks of endurance, perseverance, and hope.  Or the many times when I HAVE said, "God, please just take my desire for this music-thing away!  I hate this!  It's all just a pipe-dream anyway!  I'm not good enough to do this!" And the next thing I know I'm reading, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart," (Psalms 37:4).  God knows my true desire has been to be in a band that values what I can give, that is honest with me, and that is good to me--a band where I can safely grow and be stretched (and where I'm not in the bathroom praying all the time that they'll like and want me).  First and foremost, He knows that I have desired to be in music ministry to Him and in service to His cause.  He knows my desire to use my abilities and passions in ways that are fruitful for Him, for others, AND for me.   He has allowed me to take detours at times, and though some have been extremely hard, one thing remains--His love for me.  Give God your dreams in committed prayer--trust ONLY HIM with them.  He is faithful and He is trustworthy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Namesake

We know from God's Word that names are important.  In Matthew 1:21, God told Joseph and Mary (via an angel of the Lord) to name His Son, "Jesus," which according to various Greek and Hebrew translations, means, "Savior," "Anointed One," "The Christ," "The Messiah," or "God's Salvation."  So for obvious reasons, "Jesus" was the perfect name for His Son.  Jesus is also referred to as, "Immanuel," in Matthew 1:23, which means, "God With Us."  Since Jesus was God, coming to us in human form, this too, is a very fitting name for our Lord.

As I blogged last week in a blog post entitled, "Take Two a Day," our church is reading the New Testament together from now until Christmas.  It is part of a new sermon series our Pastor began two weeks ago called, "All Things New:  A New Testament Challenge."  So last weekend, while I was reading Matthew 16, I came across this idea of names and their meanings when I read verse 18, which says, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."  Jesus is talking to Peter and the disciples when he says this directly to Peter, reminding him of his name and its meaning (the name, "Peter," means, "rock").  Peter's name was actually, "Simon," when he first met Jesus.  But Jesus changed it to, "Peter," and we can understand why when we ponder its meaning.  Peter was the first one to come alongside Jesus to follow him, to be discipled by Him, and to help spread the truth of Him.  So I am sure Peter was special to Jesus (as we all are).  Hence, the importance of giving him a new name and a name worthy of his calling in Christ.  Since Peter was the first chosen, willing disciple, he WAS the rock upon which Jesus' ministry and the future church would be built (via him and all the disciples).  Jesus is also telling Peter and the disciples that they are ALL important to Him and the furthering of the truth of Him.  He was using Peter and his name to give them all this understanding about the importance of their ministry through Him, as well as, the protection they'd be afforded within that ministry (when He says, "the gates of Hades will not overcome it"). 

We know from God's Word that we are ALL special to Christ.  John 3:16 tells us so.  We know that God came to earth as a human sacrifice for the payment of our sins because we deserved death due to that sin, but "...God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life," (NIV).  God desires for everyone to know Him, accept Him, and love Him.  We were all special enough to Him that He came down here and suffered for all of us because we couldn't save ourselves.

So like Peter, we too, are special to the Lord.  In looking at Scripture, I believe that those in the Bible who were given new names aren't unique in receiving that gift.  In Revelation 2:17, Jesus is speaking and says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."  Also in Revelation 3:10-12, Jesus is speaking again, and we read, "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never again will he leave it.  I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name."  Now I am not Bible wizard, but it sounds like to me that Jesus gets a new name in heaven, and so do all of us who believe in Him and accept His salvation for ourselves.  Many theologians believe this to be true, as well (I looked into it).  It sounds like part of our name will include God's name, the name of God's city, and Jesus' new name.  Since we belong to Him, (if we've acknowledged and accepted His payment for our sins and claimed our need for Him as our Lord and Savior), He'll write His new name upon us.  I like the idea of belonging to Christ and having His "stamp of approval" or His "this person belongs to..." label attached to my being and name.  Essentially, that is what we are already saying when we call ourselves, "Christians," which means, "little Christ" or "followers of Christ."  But there are those that say we will also have a new name altogether that is special to just us, and given to us from Jesus Himself.

We discussed this topic briefly in our Sunday School class last winter.  We were doing a study on the book of Revelations, which was no easy study.  I left with so many questions and a headache several Sundays!  We came upon those two verses and touched on them for a bit, discussing their relevance.  We talked about how many times God changed the names of people in the Bible when they had been evil but then turned their lives over to Him (for example, "Saul," who murdered Christians, was changed to "Paul," on his "road to Damascus" conversion).  God would always change someone's name to something related to their new life's mission in Him, and we all agreed this was really pretty cool.  So I sat there thinking about my current name and what it means.  "Stephanie," is Greek in its origin (derived from, "Stephanos"), but it also has French, Spanish, English, and Italian forms and meanings.  In Greek, it means, "Crown," or "Crowned One."  In Chinese, it means, "Warrior" and "Optimistic."  You can find many other meanings for it from those other derivatives, such as, "Elegant," "Beautiful," and "Hardworking."  I've always liked my name.  But as I sat in Sunday School pondering it and the whole, "crowned" meaning for it, I was reminded of something someone once said to me that was actually a painful recollection.

I was in high school and I was a candidate for Homecoming Queen.  The other girls in the race were all much more popular than I was, and arguably more beautiful, talented, and the like.  But I was honored to have been voted in as a candidate.  I recall that in our particular school, candidates were selected by the opposing gender of the rest of the high school.  So the boys voted and chose the female candidates and vice versa.  As I sat in class one day the week prior to Homecoming, a rude boy who had always thrived on jabbing and harassing me incessantly (and I believe he meant every cruel word he uttered), said to me, "Did you know that you are the candidate who received the fewest votes?  You only beat one other girl by four votes.  So you really barely made it.  Just thought you might want to know there's no reason to get your hopes up about ever winning on Friday.  You'll never wear a crown!"  And he smiled his little frank, snotty smile.  I thanked him for his support and kindness, rolled my eyes, and let it go.  Deep down I knew this boy's issues with me stemmed from the fact that I would never go out with him (well, ya wonder why).

But it hurt.  I honestly never thought I would win (and let me save you the suspense, I didn't).  But having someone tell me I didn't really deserve to even be a candidate, and that I was there by the skin of my teeth, was kind of a painful reality to face.  Having someone bask in the mathematical fact that I would never win was also hurtful.  No one likes for anyone to despise them.  It sounds really lame and self-absorbed, but when you're seventeen and pretty unsure of yourself, these kinds of comments pierce your very being--even from total, bona fide jerks.  So sitting in my Sunday School class, a 41-year old grown woman with a married child, this long ago conversation arose in my memory just from the word, "crowned."  I can still see that guy's face and hear his voice say, "You'll never wear a crown!"  But at that moment sitting in Sunday School several recent months ago, I felt God say to me, "Yes, you will--MY crown."  Tears filled my eyes, and I smiled to myself as I got my composure in my little private moment with God, thanking Him for that revelation and unexpected blessing of this great reminder of truth.  I said back to God, "And I will remove it and place it at your feet, just as your Word says we will all do." 

I've never really thought a lot about the meaning of my current name until that Sunday morning.  I know that some of my current name's meanings don't fit me well at all--I am not royalty, I don't believe I am "beautiful," (and I certainly don't always feel beautiful), and as a girl who is kind of a tomboy at times, I am not elegant.  But I am hardworking, a prayer warrior, and I am optimistic that I will receive a crown from Christ someday.  It is stated in Revelation 4:9-11, "Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the thrown and Who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the thrown and worship Him for ever and ever.  They lay their crowns before the thrown and say: 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.'"  You can read many other Scriptures about how we will receive a crown in heaven for our good works done in Christ's name, with God's power, in pure love, and in true desire to obey and glorify God alone.  Some are as follows:  

2 Timothy 4:8, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing."

1 Thessalonians 2:19, "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you?"

James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."

1 Peter 5:4, "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

And my personal fave...
1 Cor. 9:25, "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."

In thinking about what I believe my "new" name will be in heaven someday, and how it will more than likely be opposite of my current name's meaning (which isn't exactly fitting for me), I think my new name will have something to do with worship.  As I've stated, we know from many instances and Scriptures in God's Word that God gives new names to those who turn their lives over to Him, and that those names typically have something to do with their new life's calling, purpose, or ministry in Him.  Therefore, I have come to believe wholeheartedly since my epiphany in Sunday School this past winter, that my new name will have something to do with leading worship.  We know from Scripture that the work we will do in heaven will mirror what we did here for God.  Leading worship and singing are what I do--they are my passion, my love, and my life's main calling in Christ.  I think it is funny that my current name has to do with royalty, and my new name will be about me falling on my face in worship and servitude to God!  That is perfect! So fitting!  I am not crowned royalty--I am a servant and a lover of Christ.  No crown would ever stay on my head anyway, because I will be bowing to Christ, the Lover of my soul and Whose namesake is, "Our Salvation."  If I am royalty at all, it is through and because of Him.  My crown will be cast at His feet, and I will be worshiping and singing His praises for all of eternity. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcomed Little Changes

God amazes me.  Just when I think He doesn't care about the trivial things in my life, He proves me very wrong.  We all have little, persistent annoyances in our lives that we dislike.  Personally, I find myself praying about these petty needs, but because they aren't a big deal and I don't see any hope of them changing, I just try not to focus on them.  Shamefully, when God doesn't change them reasonably quickly for me, I guess I begin to doubt that He even cares about them.  Because I don't really expect Him to ever change or fix them, I usually give up praying about them altogether. But when God decides to move on something in our life, He moves.  

My husband and I have a comfortable life for which we are extremely grateful to God.  God has blessed us financially by giving Matt a job he loves that not only provides well for us, but provides Matt with work that is challenging, stimulating, and rewarding.  It has also given me the opportunity to quit teaching (which I was so burned-out doing) so that I can more easily manage our home during the week, work on my music (which is my real passion), and enjoy time with Matt on the weekends.  Matt's time is more freed-up for resting and his own personal hobbies because he no longer has to help out around the house to the extent that he did when I worked more full-time.  But the best blessing that has come from this is that I am able to travel with him for his work (which is a significant requirement of his position).  We've both discovered that marriage is meant to be lived together, not separately.  As I've blogged about previously, we both have, "quality time," as our second highest love language.  So being together is really crucial to us. 

Matt and I are both pretty content people.  Due to this, we don't feel the urgency to constantly be keeping up with others on a materialistic level.  We're usually the last in our various circles of family and friends to acquire the latest "gadgets and gizmos" on the market.  We've had many friends and family members lovingly make fun of us for this (you know who you are), and at times, we even admit it is a little ridiculous how tight we can be about certain things.  Growing up in a single-parent home, I learned to live meagerly.  Matt grew up on a farm, so he, likewise, learned the value of a dollar.  My mother was (and still is) the queen of "penny-pinching."  I guess she taught me well, as I have acquired some of her frugality.  Just one example of this is the home in which we live.  Based on even the most conservative budgets from financial wizards such as, Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey, Matt and I could certainly afford to live in a much bigger, nicer home than the one we have currently.  But we really don't need a huge house, we love our neighbors, and neither one of us is a big "change" person.  We have gotten comfortable here.

Though I am grateful for my home and quite content here, I wouldn't say that I LOVE my house.  Upon our purchasing of it, we had all sorts of troubles.  The basement leaked the first summer we were here--not profusely, and thankfully, only in the unfinished side.  But we had over 10 inches of rain in less than 5 hours one day that summer, and very quickly realized our basement has its limits if pushed past them.  Then the septic system failed horribly.  We spent over ten grand and went through two plumbing company's (the first one installed a faulty system) to replace it.  It was a horrific ordeal to put it mildly.  Then a horrendous hail storm came and completely ruined our roof.  Matt and I had roofed our house in Manhattan by ourselves together (and we're still married), so we decided we could roof this one since it is actually a more simplistic roof design than the previous house.  I know, I know.  You're shocked that a prissy pants like me actually tore off and roofed two houses.  But I did.  Oddly enough, I rather like hard labor.  To quote part of a song from one of my favorite Christian musicians, Mitch McVicker, "There is a rest you get from work you can't get from sleep."   There's a lot of truth there.  But back to our money pit, house-roofing stories.  Matt and I are both pretty frugal.  If we think we can save some money, we'll do it--even if means doing back-breaking intensive work, at times.  We did make some good, quick cash roofing our own house.  But suffice it to say, we'll never roof another one.  We're hanging up our roofing hammers and our chalk lines!

All that to say, we've put a lot of money, blood, sweat, and tears into our meager little home.  It is also the first home in which we've lived for longer than four years.  We've moved a lot in our marriage--this is our fifth residence in our nearly 25 years of marriage, and we've lived here for over 13 years now.  We've got roots and good memories in this neighborhood and house.  Plus, we're comfortable here (there's that word again).

So Matt and I have been tossing around the notion of moving into a bigger home so that when our daughter has children (in five years, as she's proclaimed), we have a little nicer, larger home with better entertainment space in which to host our kids and grand-kiddos.  Though we have three bedrooms and two and a half baths here, the layout of our home is not very conducive to hosting many people.  But every time we go house hunting, we just don't find the right thing at the right price (this could have something to do with being tight and not wanting to move)!  We also find ourselves rationalizing why our house is actually better.  We toy with the idea of moving to Lawrence since we love it, it feels like home, and we are there all the time anyway.  Matt would only add about 10 minutes to his drive day, and we'd be a little closer to Kansas City (where we spend a lot of time, as well).  We'd also be closer to family on both sides.  But it is just hard to actually make ourselves take the time to house hunt and consider spending the extra dough when we aren't overly psyched about the whole deal.  We've always HAD to move in our marriage until now (for education, new jobs, and continued education).  Since it literally takes a shove for either one of us to make a big decision, we've just decided to stay put in our little house for now.  We moved so much in the first half of our married life that we are just tired of it.

There are things that annoy me about my current house though.  One thing is all the trees we have on our nearly one acre lot.  Oddly enough, this was one of the things we loved most about this house upon purchasing it.  We have over thirty trees in our yard and along our property line.  They are pretty, and when we look out our front window it feels like we live in a park.  It has also been rather nice to watch the seasonal changes of the trees.  But after thirteen years of raking leaves, picking up hundreds of limbs and sticks (even after small storms and mildly breezy days), planting grass yearly (due to the tree roots), mowing around all the trees, and cleaning the gutters more than anyone should ever have to do in a year, we have decided we despise these trees.  They also seem to bring more spiders and destructive animals in and around our home (termites, carpenter ants, and the like).  We've had to spray for both.  Having so many trees that there is little to no yard space for the gardening of vegetables and sun-loving flowers is also annoying.  For someone who loves flowers and even took several horticultural classes in college (thought I might be a florist one day), I have discovered this house isn't really perfect for me.  But the main reason I have come to dislike all the trees in our yard is that they make our house rather dark and dismal inside.  I call our basement the, "dark dank dungeon."  I have even complained about it to God saying, "Lord, Please give me a new house some day.  I need light!  This place is like a morgue!"  Over time, I have grown accustomed to the petty annoyances of our home and they don't bother me so much.  But God amazed me with an unexpected, small blessing recently.  A blessing I never would have thought He'd bother to give.  

We live at the end of a dead-end street and right beside a huge field that has been unused, CRP ground for the past thirteen years.  Along our east property line and this field, are many trees and so much brush and overgrowth that we can't even see the sunrise.  I awoke one day recently to the sound of bulldozers removing nearly half the trees along this property line and clearing out all the brush that was impeding our view of the sunrise and blocking out the natural daylight to our home.  To our surprise, we learned soon afterward that the owner of this field decided to clear and clean up the field for grazing purposes.  Though we still have a great many trees, the improvement in the lighting of our home and yard has been significant.  We can even see the sunrise now.  This was such an unexpected blessing to me and reminded me how much God does care about the little things in our lives.  God hasn't given me my dream home yet, and He may never choose to do that.  Either way, I'm fine with it.  There are many more important things in life than dream homes.  But He did give me more sunshine for my current home, and I love Him for it.  When God decides to make a change for us, look out.  Here come the bulldozers.

It was a glorious thing to watch them clear that land, though initially I awoke thinking, "What the heck is going on outside?!!"  Now let me state for the record that I'm not someone who is an advocate for plowing over trees.  I'm not a "tree-hugger" either, but I value nature.  However, it gets old living in a house that is so dark you don't even need blinds on your bedroom windows to sleep in on a Saturday morning.  I have thoroughly enjoyed having the glow of the sunrise come through our east window each morning and wake me gently since those trees got yanked.  I have also loved seeing the sun's rays glisten through our existing trees all day and spill onto my lawn where I've never seen sunlight prior.  It just feels like a burst of joy and energy has come into our home.  It sounds really ridiculous and small, but I praise God for it.  I admit that I get a little touch of, "seasonal affective disorder" in the late fall through winter during the dark, cold, dismal days.  This is nothing for which I've been diagnosed or prescribed drugs, but I am a sunshine girl.  Nearly everything I love to do is outdoors or in the sun.  So to me, winter just blows (and I'm not just talking about the cold wind and snow)!  If it isn't Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or I'm not skiing down a mountain in Colorado, it should always be summertime, in my view.  Our house is even darker in winter, and I am so thankful that we will now have more light throughout those long, dreary months ahead.  God is good.

There is one other quite unexpected blessing that God has placed in my life recently.  It is even smaller and perhaps more odd than the tree removal blessing.  I have posted and blogged previously about my lifelong, dear friend, Michelle, who died of cancer in February of 2011.  I posted (not blogged) a rather lengthy memorial about her on what would have been her 45th birthday this past July of 2012.  (You can read this memorial on my main Google + profile page if you so desire and haven't already).  But one of the things in the post that I stated I miss the most about her is the way she smelled.  Weird, I know.  But I have one of those rare noses that can detect even the faintest scents--most people have their own scent and they don't even realize it.  I find them rather wonderful (usually), and I think they are just yet another one of God's little ways of making us all distinct and unique.  This strange sensory trait of smell that I've been given can be both a blessing and a curse.  I swear it makes food taste way better to me than it does to other people (hence my status as a, "foodie," as well as my less than scrawny physique)!  Matt says it really doesn't surprise him that I possess this trait.  He says all my senses are heightened because, as he lovingly puts it, "You're just a very "feeling" person," (his nice way of saying I am an overly sensitive girl)!  But my precious friend had this distinct, sweet smell about her that I'd never smelled on anyone prior or since, and it is one of the things I miss the very most about her. She smelled like an angel.

Strangely enough, the last few times I have seen my darling daughter, Allie, she has for some unknown, mystifying reason acquired Michelle's scent.  We cannot put our finger on why or how this has happened, but it is a fact.  So I praise God, yet again, for this other new, welcomed change with which He has decided to unexpectedly bless me.  I feel like I have been given a little piece of my best friend back and it has given me immense joy.  I pray this continues and isn't just a temporary fluke.  My daughter thinks it is rather surreal but cool, as well.  She appreciates that God has used her to bring a special part of Michelle's memory back into my life.  Pretty wild stuff.  Again, God amazes me.  It is the little things in life...and God does care about them.  As Ephesians 3:20a states, "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine."  Thanks, God.