Music, Worship, & a Little Bit of Chicken Fried

And if you know that next line is, “cold beer on a Friday night,” you might be my people. I have a thing for the Zac Brown band.. I can’t help but to appreciate a group of true, honest musicians with REAL talent. I like music with meaning, and I like sounds that can be recreated face-to-face, instead of only in a studio.

Music is my happy place. When I hear a song I like, it feels like someone has recharged my batteries. I can’t identify the feeling, and I can’t tell you what it is about a song that gets my attention. I heard “Almost Human” on the radio this morning, and felt like I could go into war. I blogged about “Reckless Love” the other day, because it completely undid me (and continues to do so, every time I get to sing it). A good, truly well-written and/or well-performed song hits places in the spirit like nothing else.

I’ve sang for as long as I can remember. My mom is one of those harmonizers that you only hear once in a lifetime; I remember singing Gatlin Brothers‘ songs with her while we did dishes, back in the Single Mom Days. If walls could talk, I’m pretty sure my childhood home would sing.

I used to sing in a small group of mediocre people on behalf of our college, on a scholarship team. Yes, I said “mediocre,” as I am also, “mediocre.” None of us were ever going to rise up to be Kelly Clarkson. 😉 We were all comfortable midwest singers who did what we did to get out into various congregations to raise money for our school. We didn’t really have the resources or the training to take it any further. There are certain things about that time in my life that I remember fondly, but most of it is with sadness. Music was a performance on so many levels. I was singing about a Jesus that loved us all, but I felt unlovable and ugly…singing had been a refuge, but at the end, it was more of a prison.  It was a very difficult time in my life; I was very, very good at playing “church,” but my heart was broken.

It wasn’t the fault of anyone that I was singing with; I needed more help than anyone knew how to give, or that I even knew how to ask for. Every day was increasingly difficult, and by the time I graduated from college, everything crumbled. I didn’t want to sing…I didn’t want to worship…and I really didn’t want to do anything.

I was clinically, deeply depressed, but this was 1999, and no one really talked about such things.

Church relationships that I had over the following years fell apart…family relationships struggled…and at some point, I hit the bottom, and I lost my song.

I never turned my back on my relationship with the Lord, through all of it…but you can shut down and hide in a cave, without turning your back on Him. My prayers were a string of unfinished sentences and runaway thoughts, for the longest time…and then, things began to shift…

I can’t remember if it was a book or a song, or a message; I don’t remember. I’d have to dig through some journals to see if it was a catalytic moment that began to pull me back. But gradually, slowly, my heart began to thaw out, and the music began to come back.  Random songs began to pour out…songs about laundry, songs about the walk to work, songs about Jesus, songs about my future husband. I never really wrote any of them down, but they began to rise up like grass in a forgotten pasture. They were there; they never left, even when I shut my eyes and closed my ears.

In 2003 (or was it 2002?), I met my husband. We bonded over a shared love of Caedmon’s Call and Vineyard music that he introduced me to.  We don’t have a whole lot of musical tastes in common (I like rap. No, that is not negated by my opening paragraph. Anyone that can recite in rhythm the amount of lyrics that are in any given rap song is TALENTED. Rap is poetry, and poetry is art). He likes jazz (which I think they play in elevators in Hell), I like Americana; he hates country, and I want to punch Diana Krall. We do have a mutual love of 90’s music, so there’s that–we’ll always have “Holiday,” LOL.  I feel like most of David’s personal music catalog is some kind of cross between Rod Stewart and Norah Jones, with some Melody Gardot thrown in. My musical catalog is something like Chris Stapleton with some Steffany Gretzinger and some Tiffany, crossed with Andy Mineo, Jason Mraz, and some Alanis. It’s a mess. We don’t “fight” over the radio, but we know we can only listen to 3-4 stations together (oldies, soft rock, and K-SHE 95). It’s a beautiful compromise.

I spent a long time with a strained relationship with singing for any reason at all. I really struggled with self-esteem,  with not understanding direction in various musical settings, and with the fact that I am not a musician (there’s a difference between a singer and a musician, just like there’s a difference between someone who can plunk out a melody on a keyboard and a trained pianist). I do not play any instruments, and I can barely read music. I totally can’t read chords (they make no sense to me at all). It makes me feel like I am “less than” the people I am surrounded by.

In the late 2000’s, I joined a worship team led by a man named Chris Clausen, who is just ridiculously talented as a musician, a singer, and a songwriter. He & his wife, Paige, are also incredibly kind and nurturing. Chris has every reason to be an arrogant clod of a man when it comes to music (he is anything but), and I have no idea why in the world he decided to let me be on his team at church, but for a few short years, I was privileged to be a part of his crew. It was a musical education that I hold very close to my heart. More importantly, it was a time of internal healing and recognition. I’d been in such a bad place mentally and spiritually the last time I sang in a group; I had no faith in myself or in any abilities, and I was absolutely petrified. I vividly remember sitting in a classroom in our church at one point, having a near-panic attack just before we had to lead an extended worship set. I was consistently focusing on the wrong things, and it took my time on the Clausen team to work through those issues.

My time on the team was such a great experience for me…to have a teacher who was humble but direct, who recognized abilities that I didn’t know I had, and who had so much patience, was a blessing. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that my soul needed that time to remember what music can do in our relationship to the Lord. Music is a method of healing. Music is a method of how God speaks to us, of how He speaks THROUGH us. Music affects us physically, spiritually, and mentally. When we allow ourselves to focus, and to direct our heart and our intentions to Him in worship, He hears it, regardless of how it sounds in our own ears. I think that music opens up our hearts and our brains to receive from Him in ways that words just can’t. Music carries His message like nothing else can.

My husband got the message that it was time for us to move to a different church in 2011 or 2012, and we found ourselves in our current congregation. I think I finally (fearfully) stepped out and asked to join the worship team in 2013 or 2014. It’s a different vibe, but it’s a good thing. Our pastor is a musician (and a beautiful guitarist), and he’s a man that understands that God speaks through music. Worship is something we can do to give back to Him, to tell Him how we love Him; things change in worship that wouldn’t change in any other way. Worship evokes the prophetic, which is so, so important (and which is so totally forgotten in may churches today). God speaks in worship!!!!  God speaks through music!!!  Every note, every trill on a piano, every chord on a guitar, every beat of a drum–it all affects atmospheres in worship! Nothing else does what worship and music can do. There’s a reason why there are so many references to music in God’s Word (over 1,150!). It’s so important to our lives, and is such an important medium to get His message out into the world.

I still deal with anxiety and occasionally, depression. When King Saul was going through his crazy days in the Old Testament, he sent for a harpist to come in to play to calm him down. I get it. I’ve rarely been Saul-Level Crazy, but any time stress or anxiety are an issue, music is the first place I go to refocus. Even if I’m not in a place where I can sing along, just having it play is huge. And singing….There’s something about the physical act of singing that releases endorphins. Like, physically, you just feel better when you sing (Carpool Karaoke, anyone?!?!), not to mention the spiritual ramifications of pouring out your heart in worship. There are times when it feels like the world is somewhere between imploding and exploding. Worship is where you find the balance. Music carries the journey of finding that place of peace.

It’s just so important…worship is so important. As a singer, as just an average, run-of-the-mill, mediocre singer, I know from the depths of my heart that where worship is concerned, there is NOTHING mediocre about a soul that worships Jesus in complete humility and in complete honesty. It’s not the sound–it’s the heart, and hearts united in worship CREATE a sound that moves the heart of God. It’s so amazing, to be a part of a body of believers that come together every week with that one focus. It’s a movement that carries through the rest of the week.

Worship feels like home to me. I’m at a place right now where I am not afraid (which isn’t something I say very often). I’m not afraid of “doing it wrong.” I’m not afraid of embarrassing myself. I’m not afraid of being a mess in a room full of people. They’re family, after all. I know that when I come to that place, whether it’s on the platform or in my regular seat, that I am in a safe place where my King remains. My song–however it sounds–is beautiful to Him, and He hears me. It’s worthy of Him, because He makes it so. Worship is this beautiful whirling fire of incense that rises from our hearts to the very throne of God. He loves our worship, whether we sound like Cory Asbury or Gilbert Gottfried. He hears our hearts, and He LOVES our song.

I told David the other day that worship is the only place where my soul feels completely at peace. When I had my thyroid removed in 2015, I was so scared of the effect on my vocal chords, because I was so scared that I would lose my ability to get to that place…but I didn’t. My voice is different (weaker), but it’s still there, and I am so grateful. Worship is the only place I feel like every worry, every fear, every concern or outside thought, is shut out. It’s the single greatest place of focus that I can know.

Anyone who knows me or who knows how static I naturally am, knows what that means. Peace. True, unadulterated, uninterrupted peace. There’s nothing like it; there’s nothing worth more. It’s the eye of this hurricane called life, and when I’m there, I never want to leave. It’s taken so many years to get to this point, to have a revelation and a revolution in my relationship with music…so many years. I feel like I’m just getting started, and I get so excited when I think about an eternity with Jesus and endless worship. Ridiculous…just amazing….He’s preparing a place for us, with THAT. Crazy.

So, I appreciate music, and I appreciate excellence in music, because I understand Who gave it to us. I know what He gave it to us for…not to be entertained, but to bring it back to Him, for His glory…it’s all for His glory, and it’s unbelievable that He gives us all that gift to be a part of.  There are so many wonderful musicians that are so gifted; even if they don’t know Jesus, they are still part of creating a sound that He can use in ways we don’t understand. People’s hearts identify with the messages in music. It’s why musicians have a responsibility to celebrate goodness and joy with their sound, instead of misogyny and violence.

I love music in so many forms. It all has value, even the stuff I don’t like (jazz…ugh). It all creates movement in the spiritual, so as Christians, we have to be aware of the tug-of-war we’re a part of. Sing freely, especially this season. Worship freely, especially because we live in a country where we still can. “Let everything that has breath (it doesn’t say, “let everything that sounds marginally on-key, LOL, so don’t let that stop you if you “can’t” sing) PRAISE THE LORD!”

Psalm 150

 

Praise the Lord.[a]

 

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

 

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

 

 

 

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