Mary, Martha, and the Beauty in the Small…

The world is buried in a cacophony of sound and volume.

We think everything has to be “harder, better, faster, stronger” (shout-out to Kanye for that earworm); everything has to be so much more “-er,” or it’s just not good enough.  We can’t be satisfied with “basic.” In fact, the term “basic” is now an insult! We’ve completely forgotten how to be satisfied with the “bare necessities” that our dear Baloo sang about with such sweet abandon. Everything has to be “Extra,” and if it’s not, well, then it’s “basic,” and that’s BAD. J

It’s so hard to just get quiet.

It’s difficult to get low…to get completely focused…to see the Beauty in the Small.

Last Sunday, I was privileged to be on an “abbreviated” worship team of 3 people. In a church that averages around 50 people or less, we usually have a team that includes a keyboardist/singer, another keyboardist/singer, a guitarist/singer, a bassist, an acoustic guitar player, a drummer, a bongo/cajon player, and 3 background vocalists (of which I am 1). That’s a worship team that’s around 20% of the size of the congregation.

I know that sometimes, there’s a focus on the “sound” that emanates from a team of musicians and singers. Number = volume = emotional impact. I’m not really about that (and that’s not intended to be any kind of a derogatory thought or statement). I’ve been on teams of 40-50 singers, and I’ve been on teams of 2, and one thing I’ve found is that if a heart for worship is there, the Holy Spirit moves. His heart isn’t moved by numbers or volume. His heart is moved by worship, and by a willingness to put ourselves out there to focus on Him.

That’s hard to do when you’re dealing with distractions.

Distractions come in so many forms. As a singer, I struggle with technology (anyone else hate Avioms? Or at least, Avioms that seem to have been chewed up internally by rabid mice? Okay, that hasn’t LITERALLY happened, but my Aviom is constantly going in-and-out, and that is a…problem). I struggle with understanding cues, and with knowing my place. I struggle with my age—am I still relevant as a team member in worship, at 41, when more and more kids and young adults are coming up? I don’t understand click tracks and talk-backs, and I’m not a musician, so I don’t always understand the “right” chord progression. I have this terrible tendency to switch harmonies in the middle of a song if I don’t stay focused, which is a nightmare for anyone singing with me (I’d assume—most people are nice to me about it). More times than not, I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “Dear God, I’m a mess. I’m TERRIBLE.” I’m distracted by my own self-esteem, and every single Sunday, I have to push past that to focus on the reason why we come together as a team to worship God: He is worthy. He is so much more worthy of our praise and our attention. He is EVERYTHING, and everything else is NOTHING, so I push it aside—as does every other musician on the team—and we unify in the single focus of worshipping our Savior.

Sometimes it’s messy…but He is always glorified, and we always have the privilege of watching a congregation join us on that journey to praise Jesus.

So, last Sunday, most of our team was at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, taking part in the final One Thing conference. The theme was, “Reset,” and David & I live-streamed as much of it as possible. So many things from the conference really resonated with me…particularly, the discussion led by Corey Russell about Mary of Bethany, and her dear sister, Martha (who is one of my favorite people in the Bible…can’t imagine why).

Martha & I have a LOT in common. Mary and my husband have a LOT in common. My sister and I are about as naturally opposite as two people can get. Mary and Martha were about as naturally opposite as two people can get. J

I identify so strongly with those two sisters.

Martha had work to do, dangit! None of this sittin’ around, listening, whatever! There’s food to make, dishes to wash, things to clean! “You got time to lean, you got time to clean,” right? All of this lounging around, listening to some Guy talk?!?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!!! DANGIT, MARY, GET YOUR REAR IN HERE AND HELP ME!!!!!!!!”  How many times have those words come out of my mouth to my husband?!?  “DAVID!!!!!!!!!!!  Put your tablet/Bible/whatever down and HELP ME!!!” “WHY can’t anyone see that I need help? Why do I always have to ASK?!? Why doesn’t anyone have INITIATIVE to come in here and do the stuff that needs to be done?!?!?!”  Oh, Martha, I love you—I’m so glad the Lord saw fit to put you in the Bible, because women like me NEED to know we’re not tyrants. We’re just the kind of people that see a need and fill it, and pour out constantly….

And we pour ourselves into exhaustion and in doing things in our own strength, because we NEVER take the time to get Small, and get focused.

We never get out of our own heads to find our rest in Him, because we’re convinced in our broken arrogance that the volume of our work, and the number of our works, will turn the heart of God and everyone else.

We break when our efforts go unacknowledged, because we strive so much, even subconsciously, to be recognized and valued.

We so often forget that when we get Small and get focused, then we can hear Him say, “I love you. Just rest.”

BUT WE CAN’T REST, RIGHT?!?!?  THERE ARE THINGS TO DOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

We are distracted, even with our good intentions.

It’s time to stop.

Last Sunday, 3 people came together in worship. It wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t bombastic or voluminous. It was simple…basic (in the best way)…and it was beautiful. It was Small, and it was intimate, and it felt like a healing balm in my heart.

When things are quieter, you have to listen harder. You have to focus more; you can’t be distracted, because then you miss the cues and there’s nothing that you can hide behind.  There isn’t a blanket of sound that covers mistakes or cushions missed cues. It’s stripped down, and it’s pure…

There is Beauty in the Small.

For us Marthas in the world, we “go big or go home.” We’re going to do what we have to do; we’re going to do it to the best of our abilities. We’re going to produce good works, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It becomes “wrong” when it becomes our focus, instead of the Jesus we say we want to serve. How can we hear what He wants when we’re so busy doing what we think needs to be done? If we don’t have those “Mary Moments” where we get quiet and focus at his feet…where we go Small and seek intimacy…how will know His heart?

We “go big,” but ultimately, in an All-Martha world, we get broken.

The Beauty of the Small is that in it, we find rest. We find focus; we find His heart in the simplicity and we are refueled and refocused to face the complicated.

The world throws volume and distraction our way….it keeps us from worship, and it keeps us from that place at His feet that He’s reserved for us.  When we reset, we find our seat with Him…where we are His, and He is ours, and the joy of the Bridegroom for His Bride is complete.

As I stated in my last blog, my husband lost his job shortly before Christmas. There’s a funny thing that happens when your finances get cut by 60%:  You stop running around. You no longer have the resources to fund things to do, so you find yourself staying home the majority of the time. Truth be told, had we done more of that prior to him losing his job, we probably wouldn’t have some of the financial troubles we’re currently struggling with. The sudden lack of income has left us reeling and has forced us to break down expenses, debts, excuses, bad decisions, and a lot of things we didn’t realize or didn’t want to deal with. Staying busy means that you can often ignore reality. Getting suddenly “unbusy” means reality comes crashing in, along with a WHOLE LOT of fear, failures, burdens, and things we hadn’t realized were quite so strong in our lives.

As a family, we’re in a bit of a “forced” Mary-Moment, and the Martha in me is FREAKING OUT. It’s a minute-by-minute process to stop, breathe, refocus, pray, and beg for peace. The conversations between my husband and I have been brutal, and outside of the death of our daughter, this is the hardest thing our marriage has been through. The anxiety is crushing, & while David tends to internalize to the point of my frustration, I am fighting to keep from exploding (to the point of HIS frustration). We don’t know how to deal with or process any of this…but we are. What else can we do?

And where else can we go? We have One place to turn with all of this.

Day by day, we look at each other…we watch our words very carefully, and sometimes, we fail. There’s a lot of unraveling…but as difficult as this is, we are taking the deep breaths and walking the path.

It’s not God’s “fault.” It’s an uncomfortable redirection, and it hurts. I don’t want to say “He has a plan,” because that phrase is so cliché. I want to say that He knows what’s happening, and what’s going to happen, so I will trust Him. We will trust Him…but to hear where He’s taking us, we have to embrace this Mary Moment, to focus, and to stay at His feet, even as everything within me wants to get up and run. “WHY ISN’T THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO FIX THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!” It’s not in my nature to sit down and wait.

It’s time to get a new nature.

It’s time to find the Beauty in the Small…to realize the vanity of the distracting…to dull the outside noise and to take off the burden of the to-do list.  It’s time to celebrate intimacy with the Father in quiet and in worship without the vanity of volume.

It’s time to reset.

 

(BTW, if you are looking for worship songs to help you in your journey of resting in Jesus, check out my friend, Bizzy Grapperhaus. She’s written so many songs that I call, “milestone songs;” the songs are Scripture-based, and for me, have truly helped key verses get ingrained into my heart through some of my toughest times. Right now, “Drink Offering,” “Here We Are,” and “Faithful as the Son” are on repeat on my Spotify account. This is NOT a sponsored plug, if you’re wondering; it’s just truth, because she’s awesome.)

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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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