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You Are a Masterpiece

Fun fact about me: for a long, long time, I hated my personality.

I knew I hated myself from the time I was about 12, when I desperately wanted to be liked by a certain group of people at school who found me less than desirable. I had a crush on a cute boy in 7th grade who really acted like a jerk, and he and the other two girls in our science group shattered my heart by speaking into things that they didn’t like about me. Looking back as an adult, I want to roll my eyes at myself – I was truly scarred and devastated by them saying things like “your hair looks like a rat’s nest – do you even wash it?” and “you have really ugly handwriting – maybe *Name of Pretty Girl* should write for our group” and “why would you even go to the dance? You can’t dance.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, those things are mean, but they aren’t earth-shattering. But to me, with this group of well-liked people who were good-looking telling me these things, I am a worthless person. And the only way I can become worthwhile is to change everything about myself that makes me unlikable.

So I did. Unfortunately, it didn’t work how I imagined. I worked very hard on my appearance, taking hours and hours to tame my wild mane and to improve my ugly handwriting. I worked extremely hard at school to show I was smart enough, and I spent hours practicing music so that everyone would acknowledge my talents and skills. I practiced cracking jokes and making witty comments so that I could be “the hilarious one.” I fed off people’s approval, positive attention, praise, and amusement – it was a drug to me. Still, very rarely did I feel like I really fit anywhere. And I just never felt good enough. I think people can almost smell desperation in a person, and it is a very off-putting scent. In my striving to be good enough in every way, I was inadvertently turning people off.

Kneezel 8th grade spring picture
My 8th Grade Spring Picture, 2001, prime-strive-time

At the end of my freshman year of college, someone I dearly love and greatly respect gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “When I first met you, I really didn’t care for your abrasive, pushy personality. But when I got used to you, I learned to really love you. You’ve taught me more than I could ever teach you.” I’ll never forget the sting of that moment. The person was truly trying to tell me that she learned a lot from me and that she loved me now – I am convinced that it was said with the best of intentions – but what I heard was “you are abrasive and pushy” and “you take some getting used to.” It dawned on me then that my problem – the reason I was so unlikeable – was because of my personality. It all made sense!

I started to regularly tell myself some things, then. My high school dating relationships ended because I have a terrible personality. I couldn’t make long-term close friendships with the people I wanted because I have a terrible personality. People didn’t want me to be their leader because I have a terrible personality. It doesn’t matter if I have a lot of musical talent or leadership skills or book-smarts – I have a terrible personality. I am pushy. I am bossy. I am abrasive. I am a know-it-all. I’m conceited and arrogant about my skills. I bother people. I am irritating to be around. If I can just change everything about myself, then I’ll be good to go.

PENTAX Image
laughing my head off in college with someone who has always loved me exactly how ridiculous I am, warts and all. 🙂

After this “epiphany,” every choice I made for at least the next 3 years was based on this mindset. In my mind, everything that happened to me – everything I felt was an injustice – was because of my terrible personality. My sophomore year, a teacher pulled me out of class and told me that I was going to be a terrible music teacher and he thought I should consider a different career path. I can’t specifically remember his reasoning, but I knew that it was because of my terrible personality. My junior year, the Dean of the School of Music called me into his office to tell me that I wasn’t going to be making OneVoice that year (this was the top jazz ensemble, and I had made it the previous year. It was pretty uncommon to be “kicked out”). He said it was because my voice just didn’t fit what he was going for, but I was sure it was because of my terrible personality. (I handled that really professionally in the moment, but then I lashed out by randomly getting my first tattoo that afternoon!) I remember on the China trip we voted for officers for University Choir for our senior year. I was so incredibly nervous about my speech because I wanted to be an officer so bad that I couldn’t eat a bite of the amazing Peking duck we were having at the fancy restaurant in Beijing. When I wasn’t elected for either office, I was sure it was because of my terrible personality.

You see, when you start repeating a phrase to yourself in lots of different situations, you stop analyzing and doubting whether or not it is true, and you just accept it as truth. So my truth was that I have a terrible personality. I deeply, deeply believed this to be true. I am just a terrible person, and I will never be any different because this is just the way I am. I want to be different, and I wish I was different, but it is really just hopeless.

The real problem was this: I may have had some traits that were unlikable and unattractive, but I was chalking it up to just having a terrible personality. I hated my whole self because there were a few unwanted parts of myself. The enemy twisted the truth into a perversion of what was actually there, which ended up making it worse instead of better. That’s what he does.

He makes fibs or slight lies seem like paramount truths.

I wonder how many people reading this have a phrase like this for themselves – what do you believe so strongly about yourself that you take it to be as true as Holy Scripture? Have you thought lately about whether or not it is actually true?

About two years ago, a person sat down to discuss this with me. This was a person who I had experienced some serious ups and downs with over five years before that moment – a person with whom I had learned the true meaning of God’s kind of forgiveness. At the time when we sat down to discuss it, we were just beginning to mend our friendship from the awful brokenness we had experienced before. I don’t need to go into that whole story, but I wanted to take a second to point out that it is interesting who God used to teach me this life-changing lesson – someone I had really had some brokenness with. I am amazed by God’s work – the conversation could have easily gone so differently because of the still-healing wounds with this person, but it didn’t. God allowed us both to have thoughtful, sensitive, open hearts as we discussed my deepest wound.

Anyway, this person said to me, “Melody, are you holding it against God that he made you the way he did?” I was struck to the core. I had never even realized that I was holding it against God. I thought it was mean of God, even wrong of God, to make me the way that he did. If he had just given me a different personality, I could do His work so much better!

I, the painting, nitpicking the Painter for each brushstroke.
I, the pot, criticizing the Potter.
I, the music, criticizing the Composer.
I, the creature, criticizing the Creator.

What place do I have, as a created one, to criticize the Uncreated One for His work?

According to Genesis 1:26-27 and 31, I am made in the image of God, and God says that what he created is good. God took the time to make me – exactly me – and he says I am made in his image, which means there is some part of himself in me. And the ultimate Critic – the only One remotely worthy of scrutinizing the work – says His creation is good. According to Ephesians 2:10, I am God’s worksmanship – or in other translations, God’s masterpiece, poem, artwork. According to Romans 1:20, God’s creation makes it clear how incredible, powerful, and majestic he is, to the point where humans have no excuse but to believe God because of his creation. That’s me! (AND YOU!) We are so valuable that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen BECAUSE WE EXIST.

I am still trying to work through what it even means that I am supposed to be who I am. I don’t even know who I am! Am I bossy and strong and loud and silly because God made me that way, or did I become that way because of how I was treated in life? And what can be said of the influence of sin? Obviously, God doesn’t call me to be a conceited know-it-all! In Philippians 2, we are taught clear principals about putting others higher than ourselves just as Jesus did, being so humble that he succumbed to death on a cross – the ultimate humiliation. Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of God is backwards from man – the first shall be last and the last shall be first. That means that some of these areas where I’m not like Christ need to be edited. I shouldn’t make myself the center of everything. I shouldn’t be striving for the approval of people. These tendencies need to be edited; God can work in my life to make me more like Christ. Praise God that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” – he takes us exactly as we are, warts and all, but then he teaches us to get better. He’s still working, and he isn’t finished yet (Philippians 1:6). He began a good work in me when I surrendered my life to him, and he is still completing that work until the day of Christ. Praise God, who knows what he is doing!

The difference, though, in acknowledging my sin vs. thinking I have a terrible personality is the hope that accompanies it. When I spent all my time thinking about how much I hated the way God made me, I was hopeless that I would never change. When I embrace the gifts that God gave me and I surrender the sinful parts of myself to him, he uses them all for his glory! God has done and continues to do amazing work in my life to soften those unattractive traits I have. I am truly not who I was, but my entire personality didn’t change, either. I can clearly see the fruit in my life of God’s work, and it makes me so grateful to Him!

Most importantly, we are masterpieces. Do you know that you are a masterpiece? Do you know that the God of the entire universe thought it was important enough to make a “You?” I deeply believe that there is something you can offer this world that nobody else ever in existence could offer. I believe it because I think if you were the same as anyone else ever, God wouldn’t have bothered. There is such order, such purpose in what he created.

When God started to show me who I am in him – that I am a masterpiece, created for a purpose, created in His image, and so, so, so, SO loved by Him, it was so relaxing. What joy to rest perfectly and contentedly in God’s love for me!

I have a 6 week old baby, and she doesn’t strive. Not at all. Not for anything. She just is. There is no pretense to her actions. Totally dependent on us to care for her, content to see and look around, still learning and growing and changing every day – she just is.

There is something to be said of us taking ourselves on as a newborn, totally dependent on our Creator for our care.

When I was a baby and small child, my mom used to sing a version of Sandi Patty’s song “Masterpiece” to me.

“Before you had a name or opened up your eyes,
Or anyone could recognize your face.
You were being formed so delicate in size
Secluded in God’s safe and hidden place.
With your little tiny hands and
Little tiny feet
And little eyes that shimmer like a pearl.
He breathed in you a song and to make it all complete
He brought the masterpiece into the world.

And now you’re growing up
Your life’s a miracle.
Every time I look at you,
I stand in awe.
Because I see in you
a reflection of me
and you’ll always be my little [gift] from God.
And as your life goes on each day
how I pray that you will see
just how much your life has meant to me.
And I’m so [thankful for] you
what else is there to say
just be the masterpiece He created you to be.

You are a masterpiece.
A new creation he has formed
and you’re as soft and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given
you to me,
Little [gift from] God,
You are a Masterpiece.

No.

I feel like I get told “no” a lot.

Sometimes it is a person telling me “no.” Sometimes it is the Holy Spirit telling me “no.” Sometimes it is me telling myself “no.” But still, there are a lot of “no”s in my life.

This has really become a problem for me. I just expect that it’ll be a “no,” so I don’t even try. I want adventure and fun and lots of yes! “No” is demeaning and sad and small and boring.

I inherently feel like something is wrong with me that this keeps happening. Am I making it up? Does God’s will about having good plans for us apply to everyone else except me? Is it supposed to be this hard?

And talking to God, I’m like, no, what? Like, no, not ever, this is something I’ll never have? Or like, I have something better? Or like, no, not right now, in this phase of life? Or like, no, just learn that I am enough?

I’ve very confused about it.

And then, I’m like, God, I have all these hopes and dreams for my life. Are they from you, or are they from me? Why do I desire these things so strongly? Why am I so unsettled in how my life is going? Is it a holy discontent – that you want me to be doing something else? Or is it just that “grass is greener” nature that I have so badly – no matter where I go, it’ll never be enough?

I feel this “no” from God. “No, Mely.”

And I’m like, no what? Just sit here now and be okay with nothing? Is there anything to hope in besides eternity? Do you actually have a great plan for my life, or is your plan for me to stop caring about anything?

I’m very confused about that, too.

Overall, the constant feeling of “no” or “closed door” or however you want to “metaphor” it has given me this general feeling of defeat in my life. Why even try to do anything different? It’s just going to be another “no,” because God always tells me no.

How immature am I, tho?

I’m getting overwhelmed by the lack of guidance that I feel from the Holy Spirit, and it is making me shut down with Him and question the truth of His word.

I’m mistaking God’s will right now with God’s will forever.

“No” and “never” aren’t the same thing.

For one thing, we wouldn’t need hope if everything was always fantastic.

For another thing, God isn’t abandoning me when I don’t get every single thing I want right this second.

No.

I know the deal with the “no.” It isn’t at all about whether my hopes and dreams about how I’m serving God come true. In asking God to allow me to serve him on this earth, I don’t get to determine how that’s exactly going to play out. What else could “Thy will be done” mean? So often, holiness is going to be facing menial tasks in a spirit of unity with the Spirit. Holiness is in the humble servant’s heart, day after day, preparing and cultivating and weeding and pruning along with the Master.

Oh Lord Jesus, help me be willing to sit in these no’s from you. Help me to stop confusing “no” with “never,” and to continue to faithfully serve you in small things. To face each day in a humble spirit right alongside you, the Humblest of all, down from the glories of heaven to sit in our filth.

Oh Perfect, Holy Jesus. A “no” means you have something better in mind, because you have the bigger picture, and I don’t. Teach me to trust you. Teach me to love the “no” as the blessing it really is from you.

Grace upon Grace upon Eleanor

My daughter Eleanor has achieved many things in her three years so far. Mostly, these achievements are related to destroying various things around our home – countless rolls of toilet paper, completely unrolled and then shredded and deposited in various places around the home, countless baby dolls and carpet areas covered in bright pink nail polish that I still don’t know how she accessed, and, most recently, purple sharpie on my white kitchen cabinets.

Last night around 5:30pm, I was dealing with Comcast, who accidentally didn’t process our autopayment for the month of June, and is now charging us a late fee for not paying our bill on time. In case you aren’t aware, Comcast has the single worst customer service on the face of the earth, and Comcast solely exists not to provide internet and TV service like we all think, but because the Lord in Heaven knows that human beings need to be tried through the fires to learn patience (see Romans 5), and Comcast is a direct gift from God to learn these skills. Either that or the Enemy runs the world and likes to mess with us.

I was absolutely fuming at Comcast over the ridiculousness of this (I called and waited NINE minutes to speak to a human, which isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things, but they informed me then that my husband was the sole person on the account, so they couldn’t communicate to me about it, so, of course, I just went online and logged in and chatted with an online customer service representative who communicated with poor English which drove my patience to the brink of insanity and I pretended to be my husband because WE ARE ONE according to GOD’S HOLY WORD and EVERYTHING THAT IS HIS IS MINE so there’s NO REASON WHY the DUMB CABLE COMPANY CAN’T JUST TALK TO ME but anyway I’m digressing so yeah the person wouldn’t refund the late fee because they had record that they had sent an email about the payment not processing).

So anyway, it is super hard when you are FUMING at COMCAST and their RIDICULOUSNESS to be patience and kind and loving. Jared wanted to play ball with me, so I tried desperately to put aside the firey ball of “IMMA KILL YOU” in my chest to enjoy some time with my son who was being delightful and sweet, but I was just still so, so mad. So about 5:30, husband gets home, and he comes in to talk and stops himself to say, “ELEANOR, NO.” This is always the alarming phrase in our house (see above about rolls of toilet paper and nail polish in two-day-old carpet and etc), so I immediately just x’d out of the conversation with the irritating Comcast person (it isn’t his fault, really) and walked into the kitchen to find this:

Ellie destroys the cabinets

Of course, my instinct, with the firey ball of fury still in my chest, was to yell at my daughter for the ONE MILLIONTH time about NEVER DRAWING ON ANYTHING BUT PAPER FOR THE LOVE OF PETE. But this was a whole new level. This is purple Sharpie. This ain’t no colored pencil or washable marker like it has been every other time. Straight up permanent Sharpie.

So I started my “angry mean scold.” “Eleanor, you cannot ever draw on anything but paper! We have told you this so many times, and you still don’t learn. This is not okay!” Of course, my sensitive, sweet little daughter gets her amazing epic pout face which I sorely wish I had a picture of and starts bawling her eyes out because she can’t stand to disappoint us even though she constantly does. Immediately, it was like the firey ball of fury in my chest was submerged in cleansing water, and all the anger was gone. In the middle of my scolding, I started busting up laughing. I just could not, you guys. It was all too much. I’m looking at little Picasso’s artwork on my one-year-old white kitchen cabinets in the middle of yelling at her about it, and I realize that she has drawn these truly lovely smiley faces on the middle area. Something about them being smiley faces (which I didn’t even know she could draw, by the way!), and there being three of them there, and her face being so distraught because she knew that once again, she couldn’t measure up…I have to tell you, it was the grace of God that I reacted the way I did, and it couldn’t have been anything else.

I’m so grateful that God softened my heart toward my girl in that moment. I was able to build our relationship instead of putting barriers in it. I was able to treasure the sweetness of her drawing our family instead of focusing on WHERE she drew it and WITH WHAT. I was able to remember that the real treasures are people, not one-year-old white kitchen cabinets. I can pretty easily paint over purple Sharpie, but I can’t as easily paint over mean, harsh words that leave scars on my tender daughter’s heart.

And also, once again, I couldn’t help but see myself in my children. So often, I ache to do what is right, and I just get it wrong. So often, I am in the middle of having a good ole time when I realize that I majorly messed up something important. And while there are consequences, my God always, always, always responds to me with tender love and grace. He wraps me up in his arms and reminds me that I can do better. He comes alongside me while I clean up my mess. Often, he cleans it up for me.

Oh, and I asked her about what she had drawn before I took to it with a Magic Eraser (and I’ll be trying several other tactics today before the inevitable painting over it that I’ll be doing when it doesn’t all come off). Those two medium-sized smileys are Jared and Ellie (Jared is open-mouthed because “he is very loud” and Ellie has a straight across facial expression which just made me LOL), and the teeny, tiny smiley with appendages protruding is Baby Grace. This sweet little image is the first drawing of all three of my kids, and it is so fitting that it is done by my sneaky, manipulative, sensitive, tender middle one. I just know she’s going to grow up to see people and include them and put herself permanently in the middle of that, just like she did with purple Sharpie on my white cabinets.

Ellie destroys the cabinets 2.jpg

Little Girl(s)

*photo courtesy of Amy Joy Photography – please check her out!*

On the first night that Ellie was born, just over 3 years ago, I was in the hospital having trouble sleeping at like 3am. I stood up and stood over her tiny little body, and I cried over the miracle and great fear of having a baby girl. Then I wrote her a letter.

Having another little girl a week ago, I’m in this crazy nesting mode. I’m about halfway through organizing all the paperwork in our entire house (mostly this is because I forgot to renew my teaching license and I have to track down 3 years worth of CPDUs to input into the system before June 30…whoops!), and I found the letter I wrote Eleanor that first night I knew her:

“Eleanor – shining light, Lynn – water, calm
[and I’ll add Grace – God’s undeserved favor, Olivia – olive branch, a symbol of peace and the truth of God’s promises]

Little girl[s]
I fear for you, because I know what it’s like to grow up as a little girl.
I know the fear of being overpowered
and the fear of being seen as too powerful.
I know the tender heart
and the hardness that comes from never being enough
But Christ is enough.
I know the heartbreak of being unloved
and the brokenness of being lusted after
and the healing of being fully known, fully accepted, and fully loved
because He is enough.
I know the disjunct of imperfect Christian parents.
I know the reconnection of fighting for togetherness
because He is enough.
I know the pain of expected perfection
I know the pride of being right
and the collapse of doing wrong.
He is enough.
Boast in Him – His grace is power and gentleness.
It is tenderness and firmness.
It is whole and exactly right.
It is able to overcome human mistakes.
It is a once broken cord that is stronger when reattached; it is healing stronger than before the break.
It is humility in correction and a covering when there is shame.
His grace is enough.
He is enough.
I only pray that your heart will ache and thirst for this grace – that you’ll be a shining light for His name.’

Sustained

I do not do well without sleep. I would say the average person is just slightly off-kilter when he or she is sleep deprived; I am a psychopath murderess assassin. I’m a “10-hours-minimum-per-night” kind of gal. My sense of patience and calm is completely related to how I slept the night before, not to mention that everyday tasks seem truly Herculean when I haven’t slept and I can’t drive a car or walk through a grocery store without nodding off. I mean it’s like a real issue – I don’t get some kind of awesome supermom power like some do; I just totally fall apart. There’s probably some medical reason, really, because it’s honestly debilitating. As you can imagine, with a 2.5 day old child in our home, sleep isn’t something I’m getting. So far, the three of them have been absolutely worth the sleepless nights (and I’ve taken truly Olympian [but totally healthy, loving, and careful] measures to get them sleeping through the night early in life so that I can be a functioning citizen and caregiver).

But last night, the reality that I will not get to sleep more than a few hours at a time at best until at least the month of AUGUST (😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱) when I have to start working a 12-hour-per-day musical season and interact positively and meaningfully with hundreds of 12-14-year-olds for 8 hours a day – well, the reality hit me, and it was a little much to take. There were tears. There was nausea. There was crying out for deliverance.

These are the times when I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit, who said, “Mel, she ain’t sleeping tonight unless she’s in your arms. You made it to 5am. Go make a cup of coffee and open up my Book and remember that you are allowed to eat sushi again now.” Perspective is powerful. So anyway, I’m going through some Psalms that others have claimed are their favorites, and next on my list was chapter 8. I know it’s a stretch, but I’m so comforted to read that “out of the mouths of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and avenger.” David had, like, actual enemies. I have sleep deprivation. But still, in the “first world” of it all, I am so thankful that my God established his strength and gave power to me.

I believe that God speaks through His word. Sometimes it is big and profound and tear-jerking. Sometimes, it is “Melody Kay, your tiny daughter’s very existence proclaims my unending power. Can you just take a little chill pill for a hot minute and remember that I have this? Remember that you are tiny, and I’m mindful of you. Remember that I made the stars, but I care about you. I have given you some of my power, and you can do this.” Even though I imagine him being a tiny bit sarcastic to me, He is establishing the truth in my heart again and again with love and the same grace we named our daughter after. He says, “Darling, precious child, I have this. I have this. I have this.”

Thank you, Jesus, for this precious gift named Grace Olivia. Thank you for “having this.” Thank you for your Word and your mercies that are new every morning. Thank you for coffee. You are so, so good.

Slowly Softening Heart

So I don’t know…this may be a bit of an overshare, not sure…but, my master bathroom is really the only remaining room in our home that is still gross. We flipped the whole house, but that bathroom needs a bit more effort and we prioritized the kitchen (which I’m not sorry about). We did do the floor and the sink in there, but the shower is horrible and the walls are some kind of gross plaster deal. Also there are two doors – one leads to the front entry of the house and the other into our bedroom. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Unfathomable to me from a design perspective why someone would sacrifice that much square footage in a master bathroom, but I digress. We’re going to have to take out all the drywall, tear down a small wall next to the toilet, seal off that extra door, move shower piping, and replace the shower and all the drywall (bye-bye, money! 💸💸💸).

Anyway, we had these ugly, totally rusted, beige-ish vents everywhere in the house (see top photo for reference). The one in the master bath sat directly in front of the toilet, so literally every time I’ve had to use the restroom (which is a lot, as you can imagine, since I’ll be birthing this child in #sixdays), I had to look at that ugly vent cover. It always bugged me, even after the pretty floors were redone. Ryan replaced it today, and he’s been replacing each one, little by little, much to my extreme delight. We’re noticing as we finish flipping this house, little by little, that the details really make the difference. We did all the big, expensive stuff first, like appliances and flooring and sinks and counters and cabinets, and now we’re in “baseboard-crown molding-vent covers-artwork” mode. These little things add so much to our look as we slowly finish them up.

It may seem silly, but I like to think of this flip as a metaphor for my heart. As I was growing up, the Lord worked on some pretty big stuff, like self-obsession and self-righteousness and lack of compassion or mercy. Now, he’s working each day in smaller ways, in the details. He softens my approach toward my kids when they are driving me nuts – just one little word said in a kinder tone is his doing. He reminds me to see the beauty in the work of others instead of responding with my go-to jealousy. He helps me think of the heart/life-circumstances of that obnoxious person who is driving too slow in front of me. These are little things that I wouldn’t have cared about before, but the Holy Spirit has softened my approach toward people as I’ve learned how to love them a little better. I’m finding that loving people well is in the details – those little things in little moments. And I’m grateful that Jesus can use something as mundane as vent covers to remind me of himself.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil 1:6

The Bigger Picture

This time of year, I love looking through my memories on Facebook. Obviously there are many worth seeing: graduations, vacations, weddings, etc. from over the years.

But my favorite is this: in 2009, I had just graduated from college (I graduated May 17, I believe). The following 2 weeks, I stayed at Millikin while all of my best friends slowly started moving on. I was set to stay in Decatur for the whole summer and nanny again, which was so fun for me, but I was used to having my people surround me, and that was going to be different this year. I was excited about my first teaching job for the fall, but I couldn’t actually do much to prepare for it, so things were a bit stagnant on that front. As I stayed around, I did all kinds of things I’d never done before, particularly hanging out with new people I’d barely known before (especially random boys!). I also was working with my roommates to clean out the house, having our final Friends and West Wing marathons, and just enjoying all being together for the last time. While all of that was in fun, it was in anticipation for what was next, which was unknown and scary and kind of sad.

I had the worst semester ever right before that – student teaching was a nightmare, my relationship that lasted for most of college ended, and I truly felt like I would just be alone forever. As my friends started to leave to go on toward Nashville and Chicago and Boston and other exciting places, I stayed in good ole’ Decatur, Illinois, and I felt boring and plain and alone.

You may be wondering why I look back with such fondness on this. The answer is easy: I’ve read the book before, and I know what’s just about to happen. At this point in history 9 years ago, I am moments away from the greatest joy I’ve ever experienced. As I see these old posts full of hope and immaturity and sadness and uncertainty and silliness, I know now that on May 31, 2009, I will be frantically and grumpily washing dishes in the house where we all lived while a bunch of friends are having a good time swing dancing in the backyard. I know a cute boy will come into the kitchen and ask me for a drink, and I’ll be rude and accidentally make a comment that hurts his feelings. I know that a friend will tell me that he is the best guy on earth and is definitely worth knowing, so I’ll send him a Facebook message a few days later apologizing for being a jerk. I know that we’ll decide to hang out for the summer since we’re both stuck here alone with no friends left. And I know that almost exactly 2 years later, I’ll walk down a church aisle toward him while he bawls his eyes out with most of those friends surrounding us again, and we’ll start the journey together.

I love late-May/early-June each year for this incredible reminder. God knows what he is doing, and he can see what we can’t see. I had no idea how quickly Ryan would be in my life after this. I had no idea about our somewhat controversial whirlwind romance. I had no idea that another human could so perfectly mesh with my weirdness. I had no idea what within 9 years we’d have such an incredibly blessed adventure, almost three beautiful children, a goofy dog, a home we love, so many jobs, and so much love and laughter everyday. I had no idea what was coming! But now I do, because I’ve read the book.

If you are in a place where you are waiting for God to move, you might not realize that he is already moving. You might not realize that in such a short time from now, a dream will be realized or something life-changing will happen. Remember that he can see a bigger picture, and he really knows what he is doing. The story he has for you is a lot better than any you could make up for yourself. He wrote the book, and he knows what’s next.

Psalm 108: Thoughts

A preface: I decided recently to start thinking about one Psalm every day during my quiet time each morning. It has come to my attention that I spend FAR too much time focusing on what I don’t have or what I don’t have yet, and so little time focusing on the One who gives me everything. I think the Psalms are a great opportunity to adjust this focus from myself to my Creator, who gives me all things, and spend time thanking Him for what I have instead of asking Him only for what I need all the time. I spend far too much time crying out to Him in want and far too little time acknowledging who He is.

Psalm 108

My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered. God has spoken from his sanctuary: “In triumph I will parcel out Shechem and measure off the Valley of Sukkoth. Gilead is mine, Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet, Judah is my scepter. Moab is my washbasin, on Edom I toss my sandal; over Philistia I shout in triumph.” Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? Is it not you, God, you who have rejected us and no longer go out with our armies? Give us aid against the enemy, for human help is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.

The first thing that I notice here is that it is sort of split into 3 parts.

PRAISE
From verses 1-6, David talks about God’s glory, and he talks about singing praises to him. He mentions individual praise – he will start praising God first thing in the morning. He will start his day by praising with music. He mentions group praise – he will praise God among the nations – with other people from many different countries and with his own people. Then he says why he will do this – because of God’s attributes, including:

God’s great love (higher than heaven)
God’s great faithfulness (as high as the skies)
God’s glory (we lift you higher even than heaven, show your amazingness over the whole world)

GOD’S POWER
From verses 7-9, David speaks some poetry as if from God’s mouth. He acknowledges God’s power and greatness (largeness). First he basically says that God will carve out and measure off Shechem and the Valley of Sukkoth. These are the two places that Jacob stopped on his way back to Canaan in Genesis 33 when he was returning home to reunited with Esau. Perhaps this is David’s acknowledgement that God has been with Israel all the time and has guided their steps before he brought them to the Promised Land, a representation of and literal victory. Then he talks about Gilead and Manasseh belonging to God. He says Ephraim, which was the most powerful tribe, is the helmet (they are powerful, so they provide protection for the head, makes perfect sense), and he says that Judah, the tribe of David’s, is the scepter (that makes sense because Judah is the tribe the rulers are from, which acknowledges its royalty – also Jesus is from Judah, so this could possibly be considered a prophetic moment?). Then in verse 9, he talks about the enemy –  Moab, Edom, Philistia – and how he will defeat them. One is his washbasin – he’s cleaning himself of it, I suppose. At one he will toss his sandal – that sounds like either he is careless toward it or he will annihilate it by stepping right on it in his greatness. At one he will shout in triumph – we all know how David felt about the Philistines (hello, Goliath).

HELP, PLEASE
Verses 10-13 discuss David’s need for God’s help. He feels like God has abandoned his people up to this point, and that they don’t have victory because God isn’t with them anymore. Only a third of this whole psalm talks about what David needs. He spends far more of the time talking about the attributes of God and praising him than he spends asking for help. He clothes his need in praise of God, who he is confident will help them. He is sure that God will defeat the enemy, and he is sure that Israel cannot do it without God. Even his plea for help is a form of praise – God’s power is what will defeat the enemy, and nothing else. In verse 12, he says “human help is worthless.”

 

Now, I’m going to recreate this Psalm as my own prayer.

God, I will not give up on you. I will choose to sing to you. I will start my day with you every day, singing to you with music and praising your name! I will bring others into my praise – I will gather and praise your name with other people who know you will save. You are an incredible God. You have love that reaches higher than I can imagine. You are faithful beyond anything I could need or even want. I want you to be lifted higher than anything else, so that everything else falls away. It all pales in comparison to your glory. Your glory is greater than I can even see – it spreads beyond the entire world.

Help me, God. You are powerful, and you defeat your enemies. You are victorious. I know you have said that you will rescue your people, and you have been faithful. You will be able to rescue me from my sin, from my selfishness, from my pride, from my grief, because you are all powerful and wonderful.

I know you are the One who will rescue me, but I feel like you have left me alone. I cannot beat my sin, my selfishness, my pride, my grief, and my unbelief. Human help isn’t doing any good. Come with me in this, and heal me. With you, I will see victory, and you will defeat my sin and death with righteousness and light.

In defense of Christian popular music

I have a love-hate relationship with Christian music, especially the newer stuff. I had really unique and constant church music experiences growing up (my dad was a minister of music), and music praising God was literally the center of my life. Then I majored in music in college and learned lots of things about teaching music. Needless to say, I have lots of major opinions about how music should go down in church and/or how music that is designed for worshipping should be. So when I listen to songs on Christian radio, I find myself more often than not rolling my eyes. Oh, this one again? 🙄

I get really worked up as I listen to Christian radio. I wonder about and get really nit-picky about the theology of some songs (did God really not want heaven without us? That seems very human-centered instead of God-centered)(why are we inviting God here? Isn’t He already here because two or three are gathered in His name? It’s kind of asinine to invite God somewhere, really). I question the wording of some songs (“you took the fall, and thought of me, above all” – really? Jesus placed me above everything else? Again, that seems a little human-centered. God constantly says in His word, particularly throughout the prophecies in the Old Testament, that He is doing things for His sake, and that Israel should remember that it is not for their sake that He saves them). And then there are the little things that just bug me or rub me the wrong way (that random whistling in that one really actually great Danny Gokey song…what is UP with that whistling for just two seconds at the climactic moment? It’s like God is an old man in a rocking chair chewing on hay for a second)(the Christmas season Jingle Bell Rock where they sing “mix and mingle with the jingling FEET” instead of BEAT, I mean seriously, you can’t look up the lyrics to make sure they’re right before the song gets nationally produced? Come ON.)(Oh and then that super fun song “Higher” that I actually love, but the lyric “higher” goes lower in pitch as it is repeated. Haven’t those writers heard of text painting? The word is “higher,” the notes should go higher. Drives me bonkers). It also bugs me how shallow many of the songs are – they often just seem like filler lyrics because they rhyme or lazy songwriting where you wanted a hit so you sing about how good God is. I mean, I do get it, He is really really good, so I can’t blame them, to an extent. And then there’s the cheese factor (“hold me Jesus, cause I’m shaking like a leaf” – really? “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss?” You couldn’t get something less gross and cheesy to fill that lyric space? “That’s why God made tears?” Gag-face.). And don’t get me started on all of the water metaphors (even though all of those songs are REALLY good)(“you call me to deeper waters, you said don’t be afraid,” “you call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail,” “you have made me brave, you have made me brave, you call me out beyond the shore to the waves” – I heard all three of these on the radio today, dead serious). And lastly, the number of times per day I hear Chris Tomlin’s voice. I seriously think he writes a number one hit every time he goes number two (talk about holy crap, amirite?). But really, there’s lots for a (please read my sarcasm here) super mature and theologically developed veteran Christian like me to pick apart.

And then my incredible God reminds me of what I just mentioned above – it’s for His sake, not mine. And I am humbled and reminded of why Christian music is worth it, after all (above all? I kid).

1. These songs are written to market to a large multitude of people of all walks. Sure, some of the songs don’t really speak to me lyrically (Third Day’s I Need A Miracle), but they do speak to someone. Am I such a self-centered Christian that I need every song to move me or speak to my personal needs regarding growth? I hope not. Instead, I hope I can be renewed in the simpler truths of God each time I hear them. Worship is a choice – I can choose to worship when listening to any song that isn’t sinful regardless of the lyrical depth. God’s mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness. I can sing the same lyrics again and be renewed, similar to how Scripture can still be meaningful after the millionth read (this is especially true if the song lyrics are actual Scripture). An example of this would be I Could Sing of Your Love Forever. For years, I’ve hated this song, and I’ve rolled my eyes every time it has played. Again? Really? I’d think. But there is something to be said in repeating the title lyrics. Could I sing of his love forever? I will, won’t I? How cool is it that people of every tribe and tongue will come together to sing of his love? How cool is it that my favorite thing is to sing, and it is one of the only things that carries over from earth into heaven? I get to sing of His love forever. That’s actually pretty awesome. And now I no longer want to gouge my eyes out, but instead my heart is filled with renewed love for a Savior who went out of His way to keep His promise to Israel, and then extended that promise to a lowly Gentile. I will open up my heart and let the Healer set me free. I’m happy to be in the truth, and I will daily lift my hands, for I will always sing of when your love came down. Beautiful.

2. Even though not every song is deep or spiritually great, many, many, many are. Take a listen to “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again,” “Blessings,” “Thy Will,” “Broken Together,” “Even If,” and “How Can It Be.” All of these songs are about choosing to praise God when things don’t make any sense. There is a necessary level of spiritual maturity to even understand those songs. Then, there are all the great songs that outline our faith so well. Take a listen to “In Christ Alone,” “Glorious Day,” “We Believe,” “Forever,” “Doxology,” “Be My Everything,” and “All I Have Is Christ.” Honestly, I’ve found that it is worth it to listen to the shallow stuff for a while just to hear some of these played once. I bet some of these songs drive other people nuts, just like I bet some of the songs that drive me nuts mean the world to someone else. There is so much to grow in with our faith, and in different seasons, we have different needs. Certain verses have meant so much to me during particular times in my life, but they aren’t as profound to me now. I would hate to dismiss an entire ministry because I’m irritated by some songs when there are so many excellent ones, too.

3. Many people argue that modern Christian popular music is too emotional, but there is an emotional side to humankind. I’d say it’s half. We are half emotional, and half logical. While I do think we need to practice caution in getting so emotional that we stop thinking and therefore reject truth in favor of feelings, I think it is totally okay to get a spiritual high from singing to Jesus, especially when singing His truths. Some people are really turned off by the wavy-armed, tear-covered faces of worshippers because “they aren’t really worshipping, they’re just having an emotional experience.” I think we’re forgetting that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I almost always get emotional when I remember what God has done for me. When I see the incredible, totally unwarranted blessing that He has showered on me, I am moved. When my heart is moved, my hands and feet start moving, too, and I become a doer of the word rather than just a hearer. This morning, we visited the church Ryan grew up in. That church has an amazing culture of worship – every voice sings. There are only like 200 people in there, and there was one pianist, one guitarist, one box-drum player, and one female vocalist, and that room was totally filled with singing. I couldn’t even sing. I just stood there and cried. This is a glimpse of heaven – people coming together and shouting for joy His praise. “You are good, you are good, when there’s nothing good in me…oh, I’m running to your arms, your everlasting love will always be enough.” It refreshes me and spurs me on to keep living for Jesus. He is enough! I am glad to be emotional over Jesus. He is certainly worth having feelings about.

4. The biggest reason that I’ll celebrate Christian radio is that it allows me to consistently put thoughts about God and His goodness in my head throughout the day. Every time I drive, I think about Him. Whether I eat or drink or whatever I do, I can praise Him in it. The constant thought of His presence reminds me that He is there, and it helps me focus on Him in what I’m doing instead of ignoring Him (and that’s really why we sing about inviting His presence, isn’t it, so that we acknowledge and remember Him?). The reminders of my sin (I am guilty, ashamed of what I’ve done, what I’ve become, these hands are dirty, how can I lift them up to the Holy One) help me confess. The moments of reveling in His glory (worthy is the…lamb who was slain, holy holy is He) and dreaming of heaven (I Can Only Imagine, Glorious Day, I’ll Fly Away) move me and give me a reason to live well, really. I can actually meditate on God’s word all day with minimal effort, just from turning on my car. I think this is the modern equivalent to writing the words on our foreheads and meditating on them day and night. These songs get stuck in my head, and I find myself singing little snippets all the time. I didn’t even realize I knew some of them! Something is always going in our ears these days – what could be better than praise to Him? What we listen to affects us – I know that I’m a more Christ-centered, kind, loving person when I regularly meditate on God’s word.

Christian songwriters should be held to the same standard as pastors, as they are essentially teachers of the Word. The lyrics and meanings of any song written about God should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that it contains biblical truth, not false doctrine or heresy or blasphemy. This can easily happen when songwriters are rushing to put out the next number one or create a song for attention or glory. We should pray, critique, and carefully edit our words of praise since we are imperfect. Overall, though, we must remember how good God is at using things for His glory even when they aren’t quite right. He is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Even though I love to roll my eyes at those same old songs playing again on the radio, I am so grateful that there exists a ministry whose goal is to spread the love of Christ through song. May God give those people clean hands and pure hearts as they work for His glory, and may we always remember that worship isn’t about our personal likes and dislikes, preferences and desires, but it is about giving back to the One who gave us absolutely everything.

Treasures

I always remove my wedding rings before I bathe or shower. They are still just a tad too big, and it bothers me how they spin around when they get soapy with shampoo and scratch my noggin when I’m scrubbing. When I was 18, my dad brought me back a Bohemian crystal ring holder from Czech on one of his visits (oh yes, we’re fancy like that)(actually, my dad was just involved in a Czech music ministry for about 7 years of my young adulthood), so I always put my rings in that. It sits on the bathroom sink, and the master bathroom in our new house doesn’t have much counter space. It kind of freaks me out. So every day, I gingerly remove my wedding rings, terribly fearful that they’ll fall out of my hands (I still haven’t gotten them soldered together) and into the dreaded sink drain, ne’er to be found again, and so I tenderly place them on the ring holder. Then, when I get out of the shower, I carefully pick them back up again to wear.

Yesterday, as I was doing this for like the 1000th time (what’s up, 6 years of marriage!??!), I asked myself why it would be such a terrible disaster if I dropped them into the sink. Well duh, I thought to myself, because they are irreplaceable – the permanent, unending symbol of the love between us, and because they were the most expensive thing we’ve ever bought for one another besides our education and home (and children – hospital bills, y’all). They are treasures. They represent the absolute best part of my life. And also they are pretty.

Of course, the next thing that popped into my head was “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” and I started to feel that guilt that constantly haunts me because I am a broken sinner and I can’t seem to get much right.

I treat those rings like they are so precious, taking extra good care of them. I’m tender and gentle and careful and kind. I’m treating them like they are my treasures. But really, they are a treasure that represents my actual treasures, and the only kind of treasures that are worth storing up on earth because they can transfer over to heaven: people. Those rings are precious on earth in and of themselves, but they are only real treasures because of what they represent. The actual treasure is my husband.

I don’t treat him so tenderly anymore. 6 years of marriage and 2 years of dating before that lends itself to that, doesn’t it? I snap at him, am sarcastic and a little mean sometimes (and a lot mean sometimes), I openly show how frustrated I am when he doesn’t inherently understand my deepest needs and desires. I’m still kind to him, laugh with him, and love him dearly, but I’m just not quite so careful anymore.

Literally every time I handle those rings, I am so, so careful. Many times I handle the actual treasure, though, I am so, so careless. My carelessness results in hurt and brokenness instead of encouragement and support. How can I think of Hubs as the actual treasure? What would it mean for my marriage if I was gentle, tender, and careful with each interaction with him? I think it would certainly mean growth of my character, and I bet it would result in growth of his, too. And it would be storing up a treasure for heaven – a pale shadow of the truly perfect relationship we’ll share someday, restored by an absence of sin and the presence of God’s face.