Boasting in My Weaknesses

“I read the newspaper article and what you said, and I felt like I needed to come tonight. Thank you for talking about spiritual warfare. I am dealing with a major battle right now, and I don’t know who I can talk to about it. I’m afraid people will think I’m crazy to talk to them about how Satan is pushing me down.”

“I am the one who needed to hear your message tonight. I am in a valley right now, and it is so hard. (Tears in her eyes) “

“Your honesty is refreshing. To hear about your struggles makes me feel like I am not alone.”

On the days when I feel like I am being separated more and more from what feels comfortable, familiar, and secure, God gives me moments like these. All three of these were words spoken to me last night after the Night of Worship in Marion, VA where I shared my testimony and songs about the valley I was in, about life, and about my Triune God being my sustenance.

In years past, I felt as if I had to be strong. I had to portray “The joy of the Lord is my strength” in every arena, because I was a Christian, right? If I was struggling, then I couldn’t let it be known. Then I would look weak, my faith would look weak, and people might think I couldn’t handle life.

Then came the valley …. and the liberation.

I have recently learned that people I meet at some of the places where I’ve shared want to talk to me about my story - my story of weakness. It’s so interesting to me that when I share my weaknesses, people seem to react in a way that they feel safe to share their weaknesses, too. Do my weaknesses make me more approachable? Maybe so.

Here’s one: I am being made more aware of how I struggle with lack of control. I KNOW that I need to trust God. I KNOW that He has a perfect plan. I KNOW that He loves me deeply and intimately. How do I get my heart to believe that? Maybe that’s why I know the verse, “I believe. Help my unbelief,” so well. A work in progress. Maybe that’s why God continues to give me new things that I cannot control because I am not equipped or don’t have the knowledge to control. That’s just funny to say. I can hear God saying, “Oh, good grief! Fine, then…I’ll put you into this so you HAVE to trust me, because you don’t know any other way.” Thank you, God, for your patience with me.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I could never have understood how someone would boast in their weaknesses a few years ago. Admitting my brokenness, hurt, and deep sadness was and is liberating. Here’s why: because I don’t have to pretend that I’ve got it all figured out. There’s no more “What would people think if they knew that about you?” playing in my head. I don’t have to be the perfect Christian (ha….as if anyone is). I don’t have to portray this strong woman who is the doting wife or the perfect mother. I’m a hard to deal with wife sometimes. My sweet husband would not admit it, I don’t think, but I know I am. He’s even keeled, and I’m the roller coaster, no doubt. As well, I’m not a perfect mother. I’m impatient sometimes, and sometimes I talk back to my kids in the same way they talk to me, instead of being the grown up and getting myself together and modeling good confrontational, conversational skills… because sometimes I do not have the fruits of the Spirit.

The fact that I can be used in this state is just crazy to me. However….Moses was a murderer, but chosen to lead the people out of Egypt. David was an adulterer and a murderer, but was king. Gideon (oh how I feel like I’m Gideon so often) doubted and asked God to prove himself time and again, and in God’s beautiful patience, He gave Gideon sign after sign and Gideon erected an altar - The Lord is My Peace.

So, this evening I boast in my weaknesses, because this weekend, boasting in my weaknesses brought me so much confirmation in being called out - not because of ME, but because God’s power is made perfect in my weakness. When we admit our weaknesses, we point people to God’s wholly working grace in our hearts and lives, and to His power to change us and mold us more and more into His image.

I Cry, "Hosanna!"

Holy Week. I have been thinking about Palm Sunday over the past few days, and the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

In those days, the annual Passover celebration was occurring; therefore, the population in the city was comparable to the race coming to Bristol (when folks used to crowd Bristol for the race!).  The word had gotten out - this carpenter from Nazareth was healing people in miraculous ways, even raising the dead to life.  He wept with the grieving, he loved the outcast.  He was going to be King!  He was going to save them from all of their governmental troubles, so many of them thought.

The people lined the streets - HE was coming!  I am sure they expected him to ride into Jerusalem on a strong, white horse, with all of the regalia of a normal KIng’s entry.  Trumpets blowing, banners waving. Instead, he sends his disciples to get the colt of a donkey.  He doesn’t ride in with power, demanding people to bow.  He rides into Jerusalem to claim His position as the Savior of the world.  

Those who were there “rolled out the red carpet” by laying their cloaks on the road and breaking branches to wave in celebration.  As their new king rode through the streets, excitement filled the air! “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” FINALLY, their long-awaited king had come!

I try to envision myself there on the road.  What would I really have done?  Would I have believed that THIS was the Savior of the world? Would I have taken off my cloak and laid it on the road and broken branches to wave? Would I have been among the doubters, only there to watch the spectacle and parade, curious to see this Jesus with my own eyes and make my own call? Maybe I would have been all of the above, in some form or fashion.  

Maybe if I’m honest, I am all of the above, in some form or fashion.

A couple of days ago, I sat down to ponder what “cloak” I might spread wide at Jesus’ feet. I made a list: burdens, pride, my own strength, sin and weakness. (Ironic that strength and weakness are on my list.). 

Somedays, I am so weighted by the burdens in my heart, that I can’t even lift the cloak from my shoulders - Jesus has to do it for me.  Other days, when I’m honest, pride invites me to feel like my work should be rewarded, and that my value comes from what others might say of me - opposite of “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)  Then there are days when I am so strong, and believe that I can fight to figure it out, I’m smart enough to figure it out, or I can save the day by my actions. (Notice how many times I said “I” in that sentence.) Lastly, there are days when I am so aware of my own sinfulness, ugliness, and shame, that I feel like God would be crazy to want to use my hypocritical, broken self to bring glory to His name.  

The crowds cried, “Hosanna!” acknowledging that Jesus was their hope over their enemies, their rulers, and their government. Today, I cry “Hosanna!” in surrender and in praise, acknowledging that Jesus is my hope to save me from myself!  Paul said it well to the church in Rome:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:14-25)

Who will rescue ME from ME?  Jesus.

So, every day I MUST lay down my “cloak” for Jesus to trample it by GRACE and LOVE. Only by that grace and love may I wave my palm branch, simultaneously surrendering my broken, burdened, sinful life and praising the King of kings who comes to save me - the King who finds me in the crowd and summons me to lay my trophies at His feet, then lifts my head and pardons me from the immense debt I owe.

Ride on, King Jesus.

“I Cry, ‘Hosanna!’”

Somedays this cloak bears heavy on my shoulders,

it’s the burdens of this life that weigh me down.

Some days this cloak is pride that I am wearing,

as if I’m the one deserving of a robe and a crown.

But by Your grace I choose to spread it wide before You now…

And I cry, “Hosanna! Hosanna!”

Save me from myself.

Hosanna!  Hosanna!

I cry out in surrender and in praise!

Somedays this cloak is strength that I’m parading,

Like a superhero I can save the day.

Other days it’s sinfulness and weakness,        

How could I be used to bring glory to Your Name?

But by Your grace I choose to spread it wide before You now…

And I cry, “Hosanna! Hosanna!”

Save me from myself.

Hosanna!  Hosanna!

I cry out in surrender and in praise!

Blessed is the LORD, 

the King who summons me 

To lay my trophies at His feet, then

Lifts my head to pardon me.

I cry, “Hosanna! Hosanna!”

Save me from myself.

Hosanna!  Hosanna!

I cry out in surrender and in praise!

Song Story: "Take Captive Every Thought" - The Enemy - a liar!

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. - 2 Corinthians 10:5

2017 and the start of 2018 were not great times for me.

In the fall of 2017, I stepped away from a worship leader position at a church that I loved (still so many that I love there!). I was hurt deeply, and the Enemy’s lies to me and about me became believable in my broken heart.

“You’re not a good enough singer.”

“You’re not smart enough to write.”

“Your songs shouldn’t be shared - they aren’t good enough.”

“What makes you think anyone cares?”

My weariness was a wall I could not seem to get over, as if each time I began to reach the top, I was knocked back down again. Spiritual warfare. It’s real, y’all.

One day I broke down and shared my weariness and these attacks with my friend. She clearly stated, “That is NOT what God says about you!” She encouraged me to analyze every thought, ask if it is TRUTH, then choose how to react! …She was right! What a relief! GAME CHANGER!

I began to envision thoughts as a baseball being thrown toward me. The shield of faith was my glove, stopping/catching each “thought” before it hit me, and analyzing it in the light of what God’s Word says. If it is a word to hide in my heart, I keep it. If it is not, I’m throwing it back! Get that outta here!

My heart often leads, for better or for worse. I often have to get back to what I KNOW in my head, often times with my level-headed husband’s encouragement. For me, that’s why the armor of God includes the helmet of salvation! I KNOW God is for me. “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!” That knowledge often protects, strengthens, and sets my heart right, despite what insults are hurled at me.

In writing this song, I gathered words of TRUTH from the Bible, bringing light to the darkness, and power to stand in my weakness!

John 8:44b - [The Devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

1 Peter 5:8 - Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Ephesians 6:11-17 - Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

John 1:5 - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

1 Corinthians 15:57 -  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:1-2 - Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 

Proverbs 3:5 - Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding..

Philippians 4:8 - "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Whenever I’m finding myself at the losing end of strength, beaten down by insults and seeds of doubt planted into my heart and head about me, or my marriage, or my kids, I pull this song out! Singing these words of scripture help realign my heart, laying things in the light of God’s love, because darkness cannot overcome the LIGHT! That’s the POWER of the Holy Spirit to fight against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, bringing the devil’s secret schemes to light!

I may have believed the Enemy’s lies before, but this victory’s the LORD’S!

Song Lyrics:

vs. 1 - The Father of lies is prowlin’ around looking for one to devour, planting seeds of doubt and thoughts that will tear down.

But, I won’t be that one today. I put on my armor to fight against the things he may say.

chorus - I take captive every thought that stands against the knowledge of God, and lay it in the light of God’s love, where darkness cannot overcome.

Lies may have won before, but this victory’s the LORD’s!

Vs. 2 - I set my mind on the things of the Lord, and not on the things of this world.

I lean not on my own understanding, but with all my heart trust in the Lord.

bridge - I guard my heart with whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just and pure,

Whatever is lovely, excellent and good, whatever is worthy of praise.

ending - This victory’s the LORD’s! You won't tear me down anymore, ‘cause this victory’s the LORD’s!

Song Story: "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation" - a Springboard

I grew up attending a small church in a nearby small town. The hymns that we sang were hymns that I am sure many of you would know. Singing hymns as a child was my favorite part of a worship service. I could read music because of my classical training on the piano, and could follow along with notes and try to sing harmony parts. Mostly, however, it was a time that I could participate in worship and did not have to sit still or be quiet while someone else was speaking.

“Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” was a hymn that I do not remember singing as a child, though. I believe my first encounter with this hymn was in my college years at King College, now King University.

For seventeen years of my adulthood, I either participated in or led a worship team at one church. (When I say the words “worship team,” I am referring to the components of a group of people who worked together for a Sunday morning worship service. Within this team was musicians, singers, people who ran a sound board, scripture readers, and those who were responsible for keeping up with words on a screen so that others may sing and follow along. Many people call it a “praise band,” but that sounds and feels outdated to me, as well as lacking the inclusiveness of those who work together for corporate worship, so I go with “worship team.”)

When I began planning worship, I always took note of hymns being sung in the other worship service, especially ones with which I was not familiar. One day I read the words to “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation,” and I thought about the richness within the lyrics.

Christ is made the sure Foundation,

Christ the Head and Cornerstone;

Chosen of the Lord, and precious,

binding all the Church in one,

Holy Zion’s Help forever, 

and her Confidence alone.

To this temple, where we call Thee,

come, O Lord of Hosts, today;

with Thy wonted lovingkindness

hear Thy servants as they pray.

And Thy fullest benediction

shed within its walls alway.

Here vouchsafe to all Thy servants

what they ask of Thee to gain;

What they gain from Thee forever

with the blessed to retain,

and hereafter in Thy Glory

evermore with Thee to reign.

Laud and honor to the Father,

laud and honor to the Son;

laud and honor to the Spirit,

ever Three and ever One;

Consubstantial, co-eternal,

while unending ages run.

This hymn identifies where the foundation of the Church has to lie - in Jesus Christ. The second verse invites the Holy Spirit into the worship and asks for a blessing. The third verse reminds us of where our promise lies, that through the grace of God and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we may reign forevermore with God. Finally, the hymn ends giving honor and praise to our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Perfect song for a worship service!…except…. the tune seemed unsingable to a general population, and I was not a fan. (It’s okay if you are a fan of that original tune - totally my opinion.) So, I sat down at my piano one day with the lyrics in front of me, and a new tune flowed easily over the words. In July 2009, I introduced that same new tune to the congregation in the service where I was serving in worship. From that point forward, when we sang “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation,” we sang it with the new tune. People seemed to like it, it was singable, and it was memorable.

Done!….well, until 9 years later…

On the first Sunday of 2018, my family and I were then attending a different church, and the pastor spoke about how we cannot simply dwell within the circle of our own church and church family, encouraging those gathered that we have to be a “city on a hill,” as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14 - "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."

When I heard that, I thought of “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” - this was the missing, important piece: we cannot only dwell in our own circle. We have to be MOVED into action. We cannot “hide away.”

James 1:22-25 says,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

WOW. I asked myself (and maybe you could ask yourself) So, do I go to church, hear the word, and leave to put my faith and confidence into action? OR, do I hear the word, then leave and, as James says, “forget what I look like?”

In Luke 6:45, Jesus says,

“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Are we so filled by the Holy Spirit that we cannot contain the overflow of our hearts?

Sometimes, I remember what I look like, in whose image I was formed, and the overflow of my heart brings forth words of the goodness and faithfulness of God. It is written all over my face, it shines forth from my eyes! However, sometimes I hear, and then forget what I look like, and so flows from my mouth the overflow of a heart of worry, doubt, and anxiousness, so heavy that I almost cannot bear it. It, too, is written all over my face.

We, as individuals, as “Thy servants,” cannot take the light we’ve been given and simply keep it tucked away in our hearts, or look at it and think about it and relish in it - we have to set it on a pedestal for the whole world to see. AND, we cannot expect people to just want to come see the light within our churches: we have to go out and invite them to come see, to come hear about what God has done in our own lives. We all have a unique, personal story to tell of God’s goodness.

Our foundation in Christ must be a SPRINGBOARD. We must use that foundation and knowledge and peace to propel us into our communities for the Kingdom!

So, nine years later, I added a new chorus to complete the song:

To You, O Lord, our lives we bring:

Stir in us an awakening.

A city on a hill for Thee;

let this church be Your hands and feet,

O let us be Your hands and feet.

So, may we look into the mirror, remember whose we are, remember our foundation, and walk away not forgetting what we look like. May we use that foundation as a springboard to confidently propel us into ways that we may be the hands and feet of Christ, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.

Treasure Beyond the Thorns

Since I was a little girl, I have liked rocks, specifically collecting rocks.

In my early elementary years at Chinquapin Elementary School, I began a rock collection. Many days I would invite other children to join me to gather up rocks from the schoolyard and surrounding woods. We formed a massive rock pile that stood many years after the school closed in 1986, and was later torn down. After gathering so many rocks, the rocks seemed to run out, as if we had collected every single one in the allowable area. So, when another rock was found, it was as if a treasure had been discovered!

My family and I recently acquired a small piece of woods behind our house. My husband dreamed of our kids playing army and building forts, while I decided that a walking path would be what I would create. I cleared weeds, thorns, and branches to create a path. When I started clearing the way, I began to find rocks that I would toss to the side to clear the path. I found so many that I created a rock lined portion of my path. It was almost storybook worthy. However, just as a young girl at Chinquapin Elementary School, the rocks seemed to run out, as if I had collected all there was to find in the woods.

I am not sure how it happened, whether the thick dirt settled or whether my keen eye for looking for rocks has become more defined, but recently rocks have begun to “appear” in places I scoured when I was on my rock hunt. Some have appeared just outside my path. Surely I would have seen them before?

This morning, while I was on my daily (at least I try) walk in the woods, one of those rocks appeared. It was just off the path, but I had to look through a huge patch of thick thorns to see it. During the summer, the thorns would have concealed it completely, as green sprouts would have covered and darkened the area where the rock rested. However, a new season revealed a rock that had been there all along, just hidden from sight until the right time.

Lately, I feel like I am experiencing new seasons and changes often. I am not used to this, and some of it I find exciting, but other seasons I find very lonely and isolating. A new season makes the leaves of the thorns die back, revealing what’s there underneath. In my own life, it seems to be that way, as if God is saying, “This is what I’m revealing to you - cut away the thorns to retrieve your treasure.” The treasure has been several things: forgiveness, another step in a new direction with my music, a new perspective to make a situation understandable. Unfortunately, sometimes the thorns are my own sinful thorns of bitterness and grudges; but, sometimes they are thorns of hurt that have dug deeply into my skin, tearing places and leaving scars of where I’ve been.

In Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, He offers God’s promise,

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

Psalm 63:8 says (and I love the way the old school KJV reads,)

My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.

All the time we are following hard after God, His right hand upholds us. I love the way AW Tozer writes about this:

The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him. and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand.

God promises to be found when we seek Him. That’s a promise to KNOW with my head, and to remind my heart when it FEELS like He is nowhere to be found. God doesn’t promise an answer right away, because maybe the clearing of thorns has to happen to reveal His plan, or to make us (ME) aware of our (MY) own sinfulness.

So, follow hard. Seek with all your heart. Cut away the thorns. Wait for a new season. There is (more) treasure to be found, just beyond the thorns.

Success & My Daddy's Birthday

“Success. If you have tried to do something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you had tried to do nothing and succeeded.”

I cannot remember when I first noticed it, but my dad has had this quote on a piece of paper for quite some time. It looks as if someone photocopied it from another source, with lines and folds on a normal sized sheet of paper, and this quote taking up 1/10 of the space.

I describe my daddy as one of the hardest men I know, because I’m not sure what other word to use to describe him. Today is his birthday - he’s 71. I don’t know any other 71 year old man like my daddy.

From the time he was a young boy, he had responsibilities on the farm. His childhood was completely unlike my childhood, or my children’s current childhood. The only extracurricular activities in which he participated were 4-H, showing cattle, and working with my grandfather on the farm. He often tells my kids, “By the time I was your age I was driving a tractor by myself sowing wheat,” which would be at about the age of 10. In high school, my daddy had a route selling eggs - before school started. He had several stores to whom he delivered eggs prior to his day starting at school, where he was at the top of his class.

His mom died from radiation treatments for cancer when he was only 16. My aunt was 13 at the time, and was left with keeping the home running while my dad and grandfather were keeping the farm running. My grandmother would have been 100 just a few days ago, had she still been alive. So many years have passed, but every time he is proud of me, or one of my sisters, or one of my kids, he always tells me (with tears in his eyes) how proud my grandmother would have been to see it. That is a high compliment, because in his eyes, my grandmother hung the moon.

The thing I remember about my daddy throughout my childhood was how hard he worked. He was usually up and gone very early because cattle had to be fed and the day had to start. Weather does not have any effect on whether farmers go to work. No snow days, and barely time to stop to take a short vacation with family.

I am a twin to Sara, and a younger sister to Allison. Sara and Allison formed a bond the minute we were born, because Sara was small enough to be fed by Allison, who was 3.5 years older. As a result, I was constantly fighting for my place as the third wheel in the sister group….and when I say fighting, it is literal. My Riley is a fighter (not physically, but the girl is beyond loyal to friends, and sometimes is overboard with standing up for herself and for her friends.). When Riley was little, my husband asked my dad if I “fought” him like Riley was doing. My daddy’s response: “Shannan would fight anything.” I think he is proud of that.

My daddy also has an extremely tender heart, and years are proving that we get to see evidence of that. After fighting with one of my sisters, almost a daily occurrence of my childhood, my daddy would invite me to “rock” with him. Many times as a girl, I thought the world was against me, and my daddy would invite me to curl up on his lap, and he would just rock us in his recliner and watch tv together. I don’t remember many words spoken, just being held. The world could have fallen apart around us, but I was safe there in my daddy’s arms, while he rocked my cares away.

My parents supported me, my sisters, and now my kids in each new endeavor. Sometimes the only thing for which my dad would then stop working, and will now stop working, is to watch my kids play sports or perform in a talent show, or to come see me sing and play. He soaks in every moment.

A year ago my dad had a heart attack…in the field….chasing cattle on a four wheeler. Did he stop? Nope. He had the cattle he needed in his sights, and that had to be finished before he stopped to think about having a heart attack. Again…one of the hardest men I know. Praise God he was ok until he got to the hospital, and he is back to working 10 hour days.

“You just have to keep on a goin’.” My daddy says this frequently. Cattle trading - it is not for the faint-hearted, nor for the “non” risk taker. Sometimes things go for the great, sometimes things go south. “It’s just business. You just have to keep on a goin’.”

Maybe that’s where my sisters and I learned risk-taking. I cannot remember a time when my parents ever said that we couldn’t do something (except for cheerleading in third grade - thank goodness my mama said that. I would have missed out on playing basketball and volleyball!). My dad and mom always encouraged us, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” I think that has played out in our lives, and certainly has played out in the way we approach things in the world. Analyze the situation and go for it, if it’s something you want to do.

This approach to new experiences encouraged all of us to try new things, with little doubt that we were either smart enough to figure it out or that we could work hard enough to achieve anything.

I think about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:16)… (I bolded parts)

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, today, on my daddy’s birthday, I think about the SUCCESS quote that he gave to me. He didn’t say anything when he handed me the framed quote, and he didn’t have to. I knew why he was giving it to me…he was encouraging me to keep being vulnerable and taking risks with this music that I’m writing. He was telling me not to look back and have any regrets about not trying. He was telling me how proud he was of me for figuring out what I’ve figured out so far, and to keep pressing on, making the most of every opportunity.

I have to add…my daddy also has another saying, “As Dizzy Dean said, ‘If you done it, it ain’t bragging.’”

Song Story: You See Me

One year ago today, I finished a song entitled, “You See Me,” and later included it on my first album.

To set the stage for how and why this song was created, I will start with the Saturday before Valentine’s Day. On this particular day, I went to my former church (where I had left only a few months prior) to attend the funeral of a friend’s mother. It was the first time I had entered the building since leaving that church. My family and I were getting ready, and my intuitive Reed asked if I was nervous about going back. He could see that I was a bit anxious, as I am terrible about hiding my feelings. Instead, I usually write them all over my face and into my demeanor, despite my efforts of being fine.

We walked into the church, and I was almost nauseous. I had loved that place. We were married there, and all three of our children were baptized there; however, the building now held other emotions, including those from events that occurred leading to my resignation. Entering the sanctuary was overwhelming, and I took deep breaths to hold back tears, as emotions flooded back into my head and heart. I gathered myself, and wore a facade to try to appear as if I was doing well. I barely made it out of the sanctuary before I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. I went to my room when I got home, and wept. Prior to this day, I thought I was moving past all of this, but the scabs just seemed to be scraped off of wounds still present, only hidden.

The next day my family and I attended church where my dear friend Justin Gillespie was pastor at the time. I was carrying the sadness from the prior day. The sermon that day was about the “woman of the city” found in Luke 7:36-48.

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Never before had I been the prostitute in this story, but the life to which Justin pointed was one about which I hadn’t previously thought. The woman knew that at the feet of Jesus was where she needed to be, despite also knowing that her reputation in the town preceded her. She would never have been welcome in a Pharisees’ home, and on the way there, she would have endured snide comments from others, whispers and stares. She had to push all of that aside, despite the hurt that would plant so deeply, to get to Jesus.

She falls at His feet knowing that is where she will find peace. Maybe she was a prostitute because she was a mom who had been left by a husband who was deceased, and thought that was the only way she would make money. Maybe she longed for someone to need her, and her profession fulfilled that in small bits, like a drug that satisfied for a time. Maybe she didn’t realize that she found her purpose in her profession.

At a moment in that service, my sweet friend had to go get tissues for me. Justin’s point was clear and so true: Jesus sees us as we really are - every piece of us. The worst and the best. The ugly and the beautiful. He does not turn us away, even though our reputation precedes us.

AND, when we see Jesus for who He really is, we are drawn to His lovingkindness and grace. There, at the feet of Jesus, is where we, too, find our peace. Jesus tells the woman, “Go in peace,” and replaces the emptiness and aching in that precious woman’s heart with His peace. His love. His wholeness. His righteousness. He covers our sin and shame with His grace.

That day was life changing for me. I realized that we all have a similar story. Our stories all come down, if we dig deeply enough, to a point where Jesus Christ is our only righteousness and peace. That’s the foundation. If we strip away all of the excess, that’s what is left. “My soul finds rest in God alone.” -Psalm 62

1 John 4:19 - “We love because He first loved us.” I want to love like that. I want to see beyond the surface of people’s skin. Lord, help me, by Your grace. The plank in my own eye vs. the speck in someone else’s.

And so, even though I wrote this story about her and about me, I know that this story is most likely about all of us, taking our entire selves - the hurt we have endured, and the hurt we have done to others, falling down at the feet of Jesus, and hearing him say, “Go in peace.”

You See Me

You look beyond the surface of my skin. This fearless shell I’m wearing hides my wounds within. Beyond what others say of me, beyond the mess I’ve made of me.

You hear the words that plant so deep. I pull them out, but then they creep back in on me; recurring whispers of disgrace. Undeserving, out of place.

But You see me for who I really am, and You don’t turn me away. No, You welcome my praise to You. And when I see You as You are, I fall down at Your feet, drawn by Your love for me.

You see my past and my today. You see the hurt and hurtful things I say. You want my worst, You want my best. You love me in my brokenness.

But You see me for who I really am, and You don’t turn me away. No, You welcome my praise to You. And when I see You as You are, I fall down at Your feet, drawn by Your love for me.

Jesus, You replace the aching in my heart with Your peace. You take my sin and shame and cover it with grace. Jesus, You replace the aching in my heart with Your peace. You take my sin and shame and cover it with grace.

And You see me for who I really am, and You don’t turn me away. No, You welcome my praise to You. And when I see You as You are, I fall down at Your feet, drawn by Your love for me.

I fall down at Your feet, drawn by Your love for me.

The Plank and The Speck

I was incredibly blessed to be in a Sunday school class taught by Chuck Thompson. Chuck is an author, therapist, and psychology professor at King University. I had the opportunity at King (College, back in the day) to take a class of his about the book of James, about which he wrote, ”The James Prescription.” (link below). This class was THE class wherein I learned the most applicable knowledge in my entire four years at King. Maybe it was that my heart needed to try to understand my own trials and past. For whatever reason, “James” is always my answer to the best class I took in college.

Having a Sunday school teacher with a counseling background has given me new eyes in which to view people and situations and events in the Bible. Upon dissecting a story or passage, Chuck would encourage us to look more deeply at a situation, at a person’s background, at the culture….and THEN to rethink and speculate on how or why something happened.

Not only did we analyze what was going on in scripture, but we applied it to present day, here and now, and in our own personal thoughts and lives. Chuck often referenced the story found in Matthew (or Luke), when Jesus says,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I will be the first to admit that I am loyal to friends and family, and will defend those I love quickly (sometimes too quickly). Sometimes I step away from a situation, and am confident that my defense was in love, and that what I said or my reaction was warranted. Sometimes I step away from the situation, and with some self-evaluation, determine that I have allowed the speck in someone else’s eye to become larger than the plank in my own.

This passage of scripture, when I keep it in the forefront of my mind, humbles me greatly. Number 11 on “Pressed, But Not Crushed,” is a song I wrote entitled, “You See Me.” (I’ll do song stories in this blog soon.). The song addresses how God looks beyond the shell we wear on the outside, often a shell of fearlessness or “everything’s fine” facade. In the second verse, however, I did address the plank in my own eye.

You see my past and my today.

You see the hurt and hurtful things I say.

You want my worst; You want my best.

You love me in my brokenness.

Although I (or close friends or family) had been hurt (and will be hurt) by others, I am also an offender. Jesus loves me in my brokenness, too. Just like He loves those who hurt me, whether I or they hurt intentionally or not. Shew. That’s grace. That’s what it’s supposed to look like coming from us, too.

The Enemy wants us to compare ourselves to one another:

“You’d be better if you looked like her.”

“You’d be a better mom if…”.

“You’d be a better wife if….”

or “You are so much better because______.”

“You’re not as good as __________”

“You’re too old.”

All of these are judgments, against ourselves and against others, and the Enemy loves it. It’s divisive.

When I call one of my kids out for not doing something he/she should have done, I’m often redirected to another sibling who was not doing “the right thing” either. A diversion in a conversation like this makes me bonkers in the moment, and I often respond with “This doesn’t have to do with him/her; this has to do with you!” Oh, I know God says this to me when I feel like I’ve been treated unfairly or when I feel like I’ve been singled out.

The only comparison we can offer ourselves is the “old self” vs. “new self,” not because we have done all of this work, it’s a gift. The blood of Jesus Christ is covering over all of those comparisons, and continues to mold and shape us into His image.

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:9

When we give grace to ourselves and others, stress and unrest are exchanged with peace and reconciliation. I am working toward that. Sometimes pride gets in the way, but sometimes a simple change of perspective makes a situation absolutely understandable, and forgiveness is so much easier if we can understand why a person would react in a certain way or say what was said.

So, today I pray that my focus would be Jesus, and who I am in Him. Then I will see the plank in my own eye, and the great amount of grace that covers over it….then, the speck in another’s eye isn’t even in my periphery.

Thanks, Chuck.