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 of...well...you 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.