Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Coming Up for Air

Breath of Heaven.  

A song I've heard for several decades now at Christmastime.  For me, it's one of those songs that has been played and sung so many times that it's lost its appeal to me.  As I listened to the soloist sing this at church on Sunday, the words took on new meaning and came to life in my spirit.  

Several days before,  I found out that blood test results show that I have Lyme disease.  This really did not come as a surprise, as I have had symptoms for several years now, but I've known people who have this disease and have heard of the hardships it tends to bring symptomatically and financially.  I also found out that my blood sugar is borderline high, my cholesterol is high, and I have a genotype that causes my body to over-produce cholesterol.  But wait...there's more!  That same gene is linked to Alzheimer's disease.  The good news is that a little bit of change will diminish most of the risks, but it has been a lot to process and has had me feeling a bit blue.  

Back to Sunday morning...I've been leading worship regularly once a month at a local church for several years now, and this was my Sunday to be there.  I was already feeling a bit fragile because of the previous week, and I kid you not, during the greeting time, the pastor informs me that I'm no longer needed.  Seriously?!  Have you ever in essence been fired during the greeting time at church??  This kind of stuff only happens to me!  And with that, I sat down to lead the congregation in worship.  I will tell you that as we sang, my brain was processing what just happened.  You'd be surprised how many battles were being be fought in my mind during those fifteen minutes while we lifted our voices in songs of praise.  

Following the worship time,  a sweet friend started singing Breath of Heaven for special musicAs she sang,  I clearly sensed the Spirit saying, "I'm about to do something new."  To be honest, I had been holding on to something that I knew I needed to let go of.  Letting go of this area of serving had been on my mind for some time, but I had developed friendships at the church, and it was a source of income in a season of debt related to the album I released earlier this year.  Having the decision made for me was in a way a relief,  but, even so, politics within the church have a way of causing pain.  

What does any of this has to do with the song?  Stay with me.  I'm getting there soon, but first let me share the lyrics with you.

I have traveled many moonless night
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy Father, You have come and chosen me now to carry your Son 
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone? 
Be with me now... Be with me now

Breath of heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of heaven
Breath of heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For You are holy...Breath of heaven

Do You wonder as You watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am for the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong...Help me be...Help me

Breath of heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of heaven
Breath of heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For You are holy...Breath of heaven
(by Amy Grant & Chris Eaton)

Have you ever listened to this song not from a Christmas perspective?  In  my heart, I suddenly found myself identifying with the main character in the story line...Mary.  

The "moonless nights" represent the darkness I've walked through following deep wounding within the church community.  

While I'm not with child, my body is a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.  

Father God has chosen me, as He has chosen you, to carry the light of his Son, Jesus Christ, to the world around us.  We have all been created uniquely and are gifted in different ways to accomplish this.  I've personally been called to do this through music and through a heart that loves to worship and leads others in His worship.  

I find myself now in a season of waiting for the "something new".  I've always had a feeling that my music ministry would take me beyond the borders of my little hometown in PA.  And, if I dare make myself vulnerable to you, I'll share that I've always felt it will take me to states across this great big country we live in.  Now, that can be a scary thought, and I definitely know it's not something that I can do on my own.  So while I wait, I'll pray that Christ will be with me.  That his Spirit will hold me together and that I'll forever feel his presence near me.  That his light will break through the darkness that tries to fight it's way into my life.  That his breath will be the source that sustains me.  That I will live a life of holiness and complete devotion to God.  

I'm grateful for a God who continues to love even when I find myself full of questions, fear and doubt.  There have been and will be days where I wonder, "why me?"  Why would He choose to use me in such a way when there are younger, way more talented people out there who can do things much better than me.  Yet, I am willing to offer all I am for the sake of his calling on my life.  

And I plead for him to help me be strong.  I know that He will do so, because He said, "My gracious favor is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness."  His promises are backed by the honor of his name.  

I don't know what tomorrow, or next week, or next year may look like, but I know that wherever He leads, I'll be held together in his care.  

 Luke 1:26-38...Mary's story

In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary.  She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, "Greeting, favored woman!  The Lord is with you!"  Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  "Don't be frightened, Mary," the angel told her, "for God has decided to bless you!  You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; His Kingdom will never end!"  Mary asked the angel, "But how can I have a baby?  I am a virgin."  The angel replied, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So, the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What's more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!  People used to say she was barren, but she's already in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God."  Mary responded, "I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.  May everything you have said come true."  And then the angel left. 


Monday, December 26, 2016

The Power of a Song

Almost There!

After several years of being in the works, I'm excited to let you know that my new album, Another Mile, is super close to being finished!  All of my vocals are finished and we're reviewing final mixes before we send the songs off to be mastered.  We're also working on the artwork for the CD cover and inserts and should have solid plans for those things in the next week or two. Then it's just a matter of sending everything off to be duplicated.  We're hoping to be ready to release the album by February.  We have used some of the best players in Nashville to build the band tracks, and I've been able to work with some amazing producers on my vocals.  I'm really pleased with how the mixes are sounding and hope you will love the new songs!

I'm in need of a little bit of help to see us through the completion of the album and have launched a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo.  Please visit my page to see how you can be involved on this project.  You can read more about the people involved in making this album happen, see some additional photos taken along the way, and follow updates as they become available.  When you make a contribution, you'll be able to pick from perks (my way to say thank you), which include a download link to my new Christmas single which was released two weeks ago and you'll get to hear a pre-release mix of one of the new songs.

Perhaps you're wondering why you should consider giving toward album expenses when there are many, many charitable causes that you could give to.  I've had to ask myself that question, too.  To answer that, I'd like to share a story that has taken place over this year.  In January, I received a message on my music page on Facebook from someone who came across one of my songs.  This was the message that was sent: "Was playing around on Fb and heard your song someone to call my own... Never been much into the god thing but that song kinda got to me...just thought i'd tell ya that... Don't know if your music gets at a lot of ppl but it got at one".

She went on to share that she felt that I seemed to really believe what I was singing about, which led into deeper conversations about whether I truly believe in God and why.  This presented a perfect opportunity for me to share my faith and to cross-examine my own heart for what I believe.  As we continued to chat, she shared with me that she is battling brain cancer and fears death.  She also shared how lonely she is and that she grew up in an abusive family.  Through our conversation, I could feel the weight of her brokenness.  I could also sense that the Holy Spirit was moving in her and causing her to seek Truth and perfect Love.

We have kept in touch through messages and even a couple phone calls.  I'm excited to share that over these months, she is still seeking and has visited a couple churches. I pray that one day she'll be open to receive God's gift of salvation and will no longer be bound by fear, but will find the peace and joy that come through relationship with Jesus Christ.

She gave me permission to share a little bit of her story, and I share it with you to help you see the power a song can have in someone's life. My music may not get heard by the masses, but if it helps one person come to faith in Christ, the it's worth the time and resources that go into producing an album.  It is because of this experience that I feel confident in knowing that asking for help with this is just as valid as the other causes that are out there.  Each offers the hope of changing lives...just in different ways.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

O Come Let Us Adore Him

The stockings were hung. 

The lights were strung. 

Signs of Jesus...there were none.  

The box holding our nativity set sat unopened, moved from room to room to get it out of the way.  In fact, I was getting ready to carry the box upstairs.  After all, it's December 20th...why bother now? I would need to clean to make space for it.  Inside the big box were many little boxes safely storing all the pieces.  Little boxes filled with styrofoam that crumbles when it's taken out, and those crumbles are staticky and make a mess that would demand more cleaning.  It seemed like such a hassle with Christmas only a few days away, and packing it up is always a chore once Christmas has come and gone.
This old box has been around for a while! 

But I couldn't carry the box away.  Instead, I sat on my couch and cried.  And prayed.  And said I'm sorry to the very One whose birth is why we have this season anyway.  Of all the decorations, His nativity should have been the first to be displayed and His very being should have been first in my heart, but I was ready to put Him into storage until next year and my heart grieved this place I found myself in.  This place of exhaustion.  This place of busyness.  This place of striving. This place of meeting deadlines.  This place of worrying. This place of feeling like I'm failing at life.  This place of brokenness.  This place of feeling so dry, and empty, and desperately needing a fresh filling of His love, and His joy in my life.

Soon after, my first student came and handed me a gift with a card with a beautiful picture on the front and these simple words...O Come let us adore Him.  Inside the card read, "Praying your Christmas is filled with silent wonder, simple joys, and sweet memories."  And the tears flowed as I was reminded again that He is why we celebrate.  And I had to explain to this sweet young girl and her father why I was crying.  That I have been so busy doing, and being, and running that I hadn't made room in my life this Christmas season.  And she played her song while those tears flowed and the words to that song were: "Father, we have come to bow down in worship. Lifting up our hearts, we bow down in prayer." (Alleluia by Bethel)

And so, I made room.

  I made room in my heart

and in my home

for Him

And I will reflect on the wonders of His love.  I will take time to enjoy the simple things of the season.  And I will hold to many sweet memories of the past and soak in the moments of today.  And so, I invite you to join me in making room for Him to dwell in your heart and in your home.

"Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing.  
Come adore on bended knee...Christ the Lord, the newborn King."

Wishing you peace and joy in abundance as we celebrate the birth of our Savior!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Which Side are You On?

  For many of us, the past week has offered private and corporate times of remembrance of Jesus' journey to the cross.  We celebrated His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem with children waving palm branches during church services.  There were love feasts and foot-washing services commemorating the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples and providing the opportunity to love and serve one another with  humility, as He did on that evening, even though knowing one of his closet followers would betray him.  We reflected on the time that was spent in the Garden of Gethsamane and pondered how his friends could sleep when Jesus was in such deep agony and grief over the darkness and suffering he would experience in just a few short hours that his sweat fell as great drops of blood. 

 We watched movies that portrayed pain that not one of us could ever begin to imagine - both physical and emotional pain, as he was insulted, beaten with lead-tipped whips, spat upon, and pierced with thorns on his brow and nails through his hands and feet.  As parents, we can't imagine the anguish one would feel watching their child endure such brutality.  We pondered how one can be mindful of the needs of those around him while hanging on a cross, struggling for each breath that sustains life.  We wept at knowing that He did this willingly because of his great love for us and desire to be in relationship with us.  

Today we rejoice in his resurrection.  We sing Alleluia, and hail him King of kings and Lord of Lords, and declare his sovereignty over all that is.  We proclaim his greatness and declare his victory over sin and death. We celebrate the new life we have in Jesus and we go through the day with a renewed sense of hope, joy and promise.  

So, how does this affect your tomorrows?  Just before Christ died, he said, "It is finished." 
Through his death on the cross, Jesus completed the work of salvation.  He was the final sacrificial Lamb and his death brought an end to the work of following strict rules, guidelines, and making sacrifices to atone for our sins. 
Once for all time he took blood into that Most Holy Place, but not the blood of goats and calves.  He took his own blood, and with it he secured our salvation forever.   Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people's bodies from ritual defilement.  Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our hearts from deeds that lead to death so that we can worship the living God.  For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. ~ Hebrews 9: 12-14

It feels so freeing to see the big, red "paid in full" stamp on an invoice after making the last payment for a big item, like a car or house.  In essence, that is what his blood has done for us.  There is no earthly work that we can or need to do to obtain his salvation.  When we believe in our hearts that He is Lord and receive the salvation that is freely extended to us, he covers us in his blood, makes us clean, and sets us free from our past sins. Sometimes we tend to hold onto our sins and feel unworthy of forgiveness for things we've done.  That is exactly where the enemy wants us to stay...trapped in the land of fear, guilt and on the far side of the cross and not experiencing the abundance of life and freedom extended to us on this side of the cross.  He wants to keep our shortcomings and sinful choices forefront in our minds and make us feel like we have to continually nail Christ on the cross for those things that haunt us.  God puts those things behind us when we acknowledge our need for him as our Savior and come to him with a repentant heart. 

He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. ~ Ps. 103:12

For Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now before God as our Advocate.  He did not go into the earthly place of worship, for that was merely a copy of the real Temple in heaven.  Nor did he  enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the earthly high priest who enters the Most Holy Place year after year to offer the blood of an animal.  If that had been necessary, he would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began.  But no! He came once for all time, at the end of the age, to remove the power of sin forever by his sacrificial death for us.  And  just as it is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died only once as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people.  He will come again but not to deal with our sins again.  This time he will bring salvation to all those who are eagerly waiting for him. ~ Hebrews 9:24-28

Before Jesus died on the cross, there was a curtain in the Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, and in which only the high priest could enter, and only once a year.  When Jesus gave his last breath, this curtain - or veil - was torn in two, from top to bottom, signifying the work of Christ making the way for each of us to be able to approach God.   Once we receive Christ as our Savior, he gives us another gift...the Holy Spirit, who reveals the Father's heart toward us and breathes life into his Word, guides us through each day and makes us aware of new sin in our lives that needs to be repented of.  It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can face each day with confidence in who we are as a child of God and know that we are no longer slaves to the sinful nature and have been set free.  

Walk through each of your tomorrows in the freedom of living on this side of the cross!

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, "You are my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings.  And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  ~ John 8:31-32




Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cross Examination

Over the past couple weeks, I've had several tests done to check my heart.  I've dealt with an elevated heart rate for several years now, but lately I've been feeling an increase in the number of flip-flops my heart seems to be making each day.  While all the tests confirm tachycardia, I've been fortunate that nothing concerning is showing up in the way of defects, blockages or other serious issues.  In the midst of going through these physical exams of my heart, I was also doing some heart searching from a spiritual point of view after a new friend asked if I truly believe in God and why.

In Luke 9, Jesus challenged his disciples with two questions: "Who do people say I am?" and "Who do you say I am?"  These were the people Jesus had been walking closely with during his time of ministry on this earth.  They were doing life with him. They were personally on the receiving end of teaching from the Teacher himself.  They were eyewitnesses of miracles that he performed.  Even so, they had to decide if Jesus was indeed who he said he was.  It wasn't enough for them to go along with what the crowds thought or believed.  They each needed to take a stand for what they believed about Jesus.

It is no different for you and me.  We are are on the receiving end of the greatest love story ever written.  God's thoughts toward us have been recorded and passed down through generations.  We are able to read first-hand testimonies to his life, his transfiguration, his death, his resurrection and his ascension.  The evidence has been presented, but we have to decide what we're going to do with it. Each of us will be held personally accountable for what we believe.  For those who choose to follow Christ, we are told to always be ready to give an answer when we're asked about our faith. (1 Peter 3:15)

So, to get back to my friend's question...I'd like to share some of my response to her question with you.  It is with joy and hope that I stand in confidence of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I am a life that has been changed through my faith in Christ...that is probably the biggest reason for my confidence. 
Growing up, I was brought up in the church and learned all the stories in the Bible.  But at some point, I needed to choose whether to believe in Christ as my Savior.  As a child, it was an easy decision to make. But it wasn't until my late teens and early twenties that I started to grasp more fully the extent of God's grace and experience a more meaningful relationship with him...after making some stupid choices and careless decisions.   He is a triune God (meaning Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and when we accept him into our lives, the Holy Spirit breathes his life into us.  I know that probably sounds weird, and it's hard to explain.  It's the Holy Spirit alive in me that makes me confident in my faith.  His presence offers a peace that cannot be explained until you experience it.  It is also what guides my thoughts and makes me conscientious in my decisions and actions.  When I spend time with him, I can actually hear him talking with me...not in a loud audible way that anyone else can hear, but more in the way of gentle whispers that the soul senses.  I think that's pretty cool that the Creator of the universe would want to be in relationship with me.  
Jesus Christ walked on this earth as a man and experienced much of what we do in our lives...physical pain, rejection, grief.  He understands because He's been there.  He endured suffering and death on a cross out of his great love for us and out of his desire to be in relationship with us...regardless of who we are or what we've done in our lives. His grace and forgiveness is a free gift.  All we have to do is believe and receive it and love him in return.  It is because of his resurrection that I...that we... as believers have hope for the future regardless of what's going on in the world around us.  
As a Christian, I still walk through tough stuff.  In fact, I have a strong history of depression.  I have found much healing through reading the scriptures which reassure me that I have worth and value and significance.  Even when I've been at some of my lowest points, I've still been able to feel that I truly am loved by God.  His Word is packed with promises toward us.  As a family, we have seen some incredible answers to prayer in the midst of medical crises.  We have also had times when our prayers were not answered as we would have hoped, but have felt his presence with us through the journey.
I also choose to believe because history has revealed the Bible to be true.  Most of the prophecies that were given have already been fulfilled and I truly believe we are living in the days leading up to Christ's return and seeing complete fulfillment of those prophecies.  

I was grateful for the chance to share my faith.  In fact, I had been praying for opportunities to share and impact others for His kingdom.  As I told my friend, it's good for me - for all of us - to reflect on what we believe and why.  It reaffirms our faith in the process.  It can be easy to take things for granted, but the stakes are too high when dealing with matters of eternity.  There's no room to be silent.  

As for my physical heart needs, taking a little white pill everyday is all that's needed to keep a slower pace.  And for my spiritual heart needs, a daily dose of time in His Word and in His Presence is all that's required to keep me resting firmly in my faith.  

"I will give thanks to your name because your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.  When I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me the strength I need. "
~ Psalm 138:2b-3 ~ 

The beauty of His love is that it's for all people...not just a lucky few.  In the Christmas story, the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, "Don't be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy for everyone. The Savior - yes, the Messiah, the Lord - has been born tonight in Bethlehem."  - Luke chapter 2.  In Romans 3, verses 22 -25, we're told, "We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.  And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.  For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard.  Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty.  He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.  For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us.  We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us."  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Toilet Bowls, Tears and Thoughts on a Wall

Wall art in Sarah's room
Three weeks ago today, we packed up our van and started on our trek to Nashville, TN, where our daughter, Sarah, is attending college.  My mom came to our house to stay with the boys while we were in TN with Sarah, so on top of packing, I felt the need to do a bit more cleaning before we left. I was cleaning the toilet in the kids' bathroom and tears started pouring out (no exaggeration!) as I realized that I didn't even know if Sarah knew how to clean a bathroom.  I had eighteen years to accomplish this and failed. I have never been good at making the kids clean the bathroom, or kitchen, or anywhere, if I'm going to be completely honest.  

Always finding the positive side of things, Sarah assured me she knew how to clean a bathroom, and then told me that I may not have taught much about cleaning, but I taught her how to love, how to be herself, and how to have fun. I'm not sure about the fun part (I tend to take life way too seriously), but if she says so, I'll receive it. Surely, those things are more important than cleaning toilets!  

Finding her identity in Christ
As a mom, my deepest desires are that my children would know they are loved completely and that they would walk in the truths of God's Word.  In fact, for Sarah's birthday, which we celebrated shortly before she left for college, we gave her a necklace with charms that had "loved completely" engraved on them.  Hopefully, this will serve as a reminder of both our love for her and the love our heavenly Father has for her.  

In that moment of not feeling like I've been enough, done enough, taught enough...the Holy Spirit reminded me that by myself, I am not enough, but He is enough and together we are enough. And more importantly, that He will be enough for her also. And for those things that I maybe didn't teach or do so well at, I'm choosing to trust the Spirit to fill in the gaps.  For now, I rest in knowing love trumps all.  I smile when I see her embracing who God created her to be.  My heart is full when I see her passion for the lonely, the lost, and the outcast.  I find peace knowing she finds her strength in our Savior.  And I know without a doubt that she will make a difference in the world around her.

 How to get through the day
Tears still flow easily these days, but after spending some time in Sarah's room, I know she's going to be just fine.  Her walls tell much about what she has learned in life.  In fact, I plan on hanging out in there more looks like there's much she can teach me.





Monday, April 27, 2015

God. Love. Chocolate

It was a simple question.

"How have you been?"

That's all.  Four little words and a question mark contained very neatly in a text message.

But I didn't have an answer.  To say I was fine didn't feel honest, nor did saying I wasn't.  So, I decided to wait to figure out how I really was before responding.  The day passed and I still didn't have an answer.  I spent the following day pondering what I would say and finally sent a reply being as real as I could in the moment:  "Still working on it...".

The truth is life is full of many good things right now.  I'm on the other side of an intense battle with depression.  I can get back into my favorite pair of jeans which feels great!  My husband is thriving in a new position he took on last fall.  I'm finally getting back into the studio with some new songs.  My son got the summer camp job we had hoped and prayed for.  We will watch my daughter graduate from high school in a few short weeks.  All good things!

But in the midst of these good things, I have found myself struggling with increased anxiety.  Tears flow easily.  My heart feels like it's doing somersaults throughout the day and doesn't stop for rest at night.  Sleep is at times elusive.  The not-so-little littlest one of my crew asks me daily if I'm ok and sometimes multiple times over the course of the day.

In an effort to get to the root of my issues, I decided to write out all the things that were weighing heavily on my heart and lay them out to pray events, financial needs, health concerns, big changes coming up for us as a family.  Some of these things could have had subcategories with multiple bullets under them, some were interconnected, but they all had a common denominator:  I was trying to carry the weight of them on my own.

It wasn't coincidence that one of the first verses I read that morning was "Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you." (I Peter 5:7)  Give them away.  All of them.  With the verse came the gentle reminder that I needed to let God take his rightful throne in my life and be sovereign over all these things that have been weighing me down.

I've been working on release this week.  And to be honest, it hasn't been an instantaneous thing for me.  I've held those papers in my hands and prayed over them again since that morning.  But I can say that in acknowledging my need to relinquish my grip on these burdens, my load has felt a bit lighter.

In a moment of feeling incapable of navigating through the next couple months, my daughter reminded me that all that's needed to get by is God, love and chocolate. Unfortunately, I can't rely on chocolate right now because of dietary restrictions (that's a whole other story), but I'm grateful to be surrounded by family that loves immensely and I have faith that God who has proven to be faithful time and time again will continue to be so.

To my dear friend who was checking in on me...I hope this answers your question.