Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Open The Gift

Parents reading this- this will especially resonate with you. Remember that first time you were in the hospital room with just your baby and your spouse? The nurse smiled as she shut the door and said, "just let us know if you need anything" with a look that said, "all you need is time alone, together." You slowly unwrapped the layers of swaddling blanket and saw the tiny feet. You marveled at the skinny little legs and wanted to memorize every dimple and curve. You looked at your spouse and you smiled. Maybe you cried. In that moment, you were filled with gratitude. You had just unwrapped a beautiful gift.

I loved meeting all 3 of my sons, but one huge regret I have with my last birth, was that I was loopy. I was exhausted. 12 hours of hard labor followed by an emergency c-section was not how it had all gone in my head in the months leading up the the big day.  After a slow day of a stubborn baby with his head turned the wrong way, everything was suddenly fast. Everyone was moving quickly to get Sawyer out into the world. I saw him for a moment, but as they began stitching me up, I became sick to my stomach and then blacked out. When I woke up, there he was. The stress of the labor, combined with a fresh wound and the disappointment that came with it was hard to handle. I was on all sorts of pain medications and honestly- I know I held Sawyer. I know I looked at him and was filled with joy. I know the nurses left us alone to unwrap him. But I don't really remember it at all. It is heartbreaking. It makes me cry even now as I write this. It doesn't make me any less grateful, but the memory is so foggy that it crushes my heart that I wasn't in the moment. I was not present as I normally am.

I think a lot of times, our lives are like that. There are moments we savor and times that we remember to be thankful. But the majority of our time is spent in a fog. Going from point A to point B. Going as fast as we can. Not remembering. And most detrimentally, not being thankful.

I listened to an interview with author Ann Voscamp in which she discussed this topic and she listed Romans 1:21 as a call to thankfulness and absorbing the moments God gives us:

"For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." 

The truth of this verse and the truth in our own lives is that evidence of God is everywhere we look. Even in our most dark times. We can clearly see Him at work in every circumstance, and yet, we do not acknowledge Him as He deserves.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live this way. Too busy, too stressed, too unaware, too distracted. I want to be a more thankful person. I want to live each moment in wonder and awe of what God is doing- to have an undercurrent of gratitude running at all times during my stay on this earth.

This week is a perfect week to reflect and give thanks as we remember the gift that Jesus gave to the world as He offered Himself as a sacrifice. But the thing is- you have to be aware. You have to open the gift and pause and think about it, not only with your head, but with your heart too. Don't let these moments pass you by. They are precious and overflowing with opportunity to worship the God who has given them to us. Open the gift, slowly, and appreciate it in all it's glory and beauty.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Carrie's Worship Playlist

I often have people ask me what worship songs I'm listening to at any given moment. There are so many good albums out here recently, I just thought I'd let you take a tour through my playlist.

First of all- new Passion CD: Let The Future Begin. Oh wow. Every song on this one is fantastic. I don't love the title track "God's Great Dance Floor/Let the Future Begin" as a corporately sung worship song, but it's got a great beat. My kids and I are often found dancing around to this one. Cohen the other night said, "hold on Mom! Pause the dance floor! I will be right back!" My top 3 favorites off of this one are "The Lord Our God" by Kristian Stanfill (the bridge is based on Numbers 9, where the Israelites would only move when the pillar of cloud, or the fire by night would move-cool concept.) " Here's My Heart" by THE David Crowder is a nice song-simple, but says all that we need to say to God. I also really like " In Christ Alone" sung by Kristian Stanfill. This is a great modern hymn (written in 2001 by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty). Buy this whole CD. You will not be disappointed!

Second on my go-to list is "Burning Lights" by Chris Tomlin. I've got to be honest. I generally do not enjoy his studio recordings at all. He's so dynamic and powerful in live settings. I have been spoiled by all those times we saw him lead worship live back in our younger days. But this album is different. There are a lot of good songs on here. You can't really go wrong with any of them. My favorite song is "Crown Him/Majesty" which we have been doing at LCC. I love that bridge, "All hail Redeemer, hail. For He has died for me. His praise and glory shall not fail, throughout eternity."

I'm patiently waiting for David Crowder to put out his first solo album after the break up of David Crowder Band. We saw him in concert a couple weeks ago. If you are afraid of bluegrass, I promise if you'll just give Crowder's new sound a try, he will win you over. He artfully blends bluegrass and folk with modern sounds and songs. It's a toe-tappin', loud-singin', good time of worship. I am assuming he'll be working on an album here directly as he introduced several new songs at the concert.

In the same vein, "Campfire" by Rend Collective Experiment is great. It's folky, it's organic, and for good reason- it's a bunch of people singing together around a fire in Ireland. Seriously good content- I especially like the song "Build Your Kingdom Here". Honestly, I could do without the song Kumbaya. I get it. Believe me, I do- with the campfire theme and all, it's practically a requirement to have it on there. I've hosted many a campfire and that song has been, is, and forever will be, banned. No offense to whoever wrote it whenever, but it's a song I could definitely go without hearing. Ever. Again. But overall, great CD (if you skip track #1.)

"Zion" by Hillsong United has such a great, fresh vibe to it. I can hardly get enough. The songs and lyrics are unique, but the truth within is familiar. Great stuff!

So buy some new music today! I love how God inspires and directs people to write songs that touch people (maybe even Kumbaya hits someone in a special way...now I feel a little bad about how harsh I was...maybe.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking to Him

   "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into same the image  from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 
2 Corinthians 3:18

     I love to watch my kids' faces when I give them a gift, or hand them their favorite toy, or set a plate of their favorite food in front of them. Just this morning, I was holding my youngest son, Sawyer on my lap and he was just sitting there looking around the room. He was content, but just kind of bored. I picked up a colorful book filled with pictures of animals and was able to watch his face as I opened it to his favorite page filled with lions and tigers. His eyes began to take it all in and they changed. I could see the joy, the excitement, and the change in his eyes.

    If you are a Lancaster Community Church person reading this, I can tell you that your eyes have been changing too. I have been leading worship for several years at LCC and here recently have I noticed a significant change. For the most part, we've all been pretty content. There have been spikes on the worship-meter over the past couple years, and we've all grown so much- we have all been learning what worship really is together. But something is happening and I can't quite pinpoint it or trace it back to a particular moment, but just the last few weeks, as I scan the crowd during worship, your eyes are telling me that you're changing. There is a new sense of seeking. There is a new wave of participating in the worship, in moving beyond singing the songs and going through the motions. The Holy Spirit is stirring. And I can see it. Some faces show incredible pain and hurt, but I watch as people push past the tears and raise a shaking hand into the air, determined to put their circumstances aside and enter the throne room of God. Other faces show an indescribable joy and elation as their hearts rush to the Father they love so much. Yes, there are a few people here and there with their hands still in their pockets wondering what all the fuss is about. But for the most part, people are entering into this beautiful time of praise each week wholeheartedly and with eyes that want to see the beauty and the glory of God. As I watched my sons face light up this morning over the book, it made me think of our time together on Sundays in the sanctuary of LCC. We are awakening. 

    What is even more encouraging for me to think about, is that Sunday morning worship is just a product of what has been occurring on a daily basis, Monday- Saturday. It is the overflow of hearts that have been looking toward Him all week long. I'm thrilled by that! I mean it! I love the idea of people throughout the week worshiping on their own, reading the Word, praying, and studying with friends in Connect Groups. I love to think about people heading out to their various daily routines with Jesus as their focus. I think all along this is what we have wanted. This is what we have prayed for. But it just feels like, to me, that it's all coming together. We are living and being the church that God has envisioned. 

    Have we "arrived"? I don't think so. I think this is only the very beginning. And that fills me with wonder and excitement. And it inspires me to keep pushing ahead with our worship teams. As I frequently say, "we can only lead people to where we've been ourselves." So I want you to know, I am fixing my eyes on Jesus. I am looking to Him as we continue to elevate His name that is above every other name. And during these weeks leading up to Easter, I am looking back at His cross. His beautiful sacrifice for us all. I'm awed at the sight of a God who loved us so much that His Son was willing to give His life for our sins. No one can see the cross of Jesus and the love He has for us all and walk away unchanged. It is impossible. 

    So let's continue to fix our gaze on Him. If you haven't been looking, He wants you to seek Him! And if you have been seeking Him, then let's seek Him even more! And let Psalm 27:4 be the cry of our hearts: 

One thing I ask from the Lord,
This only do I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord,
All the days of my life,
To gaze on the beauty of the Lord
And to seek Him in His temple. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Finding God in the Mess

Have you ever read those Facebook status updates where a woman goes through every detail of her day- how she washed and dried and put away 36 loads of laundry, and how she has changed 17 poopy diapers so far that morning alone?

Have you ever written one? Be honest.

I will. I have!

I had a friend ask me last week why women do that. I had no intelligible answer to that question. But I've been thinking about it. And I think the situation goes deep. Waaaay deep. So if you'd like to explore this mysterious phenomenon AND learn that Jesus wants something better for us, then keep reading.

It's no joke- running a household is not an easy, neat, or drama-free task. There are some days I feel like I could lose my mind. I think the problem with being a wife/Mom/live-in maid, is that life often feels like a mixture of the movie Groundhog Day and the episode of Saved by the Bell where Jesse Spano has to take caffeine pills in order to get everything done (Here's the link to the classic breakdown...you're welcome-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bflYjF90t7c) The thing is though, that as with everything in this life, we have a choice of how we respond to the mundane, often ridiculous, never dull, seldom predictable days that we have amongst our children wiping their noses and then turning around only to have to wipe it again- washing all the dishes only to have to wash them again (and again and again), getting those clothes put away only to turn around to see another pile needing washed...you get the idea. It's a never-ending cycle. There may be a feeling of victory and closure at the end of the day when everything is all put away and lovely and sparkling. But that feeling of closure is ripped open the next morning, just like the lid of the toy box in the family room. And the toys come right back out.

Never. Ending. Cycle.

Well the question of why women feel the need to post their grievances for the world to see got me to thinking. And when I get to thinking, it's downright dangerous. I've come to the conclusion that we shouldn't complain about the life God has given us. "But it's soooo haaaard to do this everrrrryyy dayyyy!" I hear you.

If we shouldn't complain and feel downhearted, then what should our attitude be? (And please, if you post something about laundry or poopy diapers on Facebook, don't feel like I am going to judge you. I'll probably slip up and pop one on there myself sooner or later.) If we look at Jesus' life, we know He was and is the ultimate servant. He said specifically that He came to serve (Matthew 20:28- "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”- Jesus actually died for us...kinda makes our laundry woes inconsequential, eh?) He showed his love through serving others tirelessly. He got down on his knees and washed the filthy feet of His own followers (John 13). He didn't complain. He didn't put His hand to His head in dramatic fashion, hoping for someone to notice His difficulties. He didn't want sympathy or crave a pat on the back. And we can learn from this. All of us.

Jesus' ultimate goal is to get us, His followers, to actually follow Him. And in so doing, to become like Him. Imagine it. It makes the heart soar and the head spin. A word to the ladies reading this, Jesus wants us to be like Him. So in your daily sacrificial duties, and trust me, Mom-of-3 boys that I am, I understand that there are sacrifices- let's look to Him as our example.

Let's be last. With willingness.

Let's bind up those little hearts and wipe away those tears. With compassion.

Let's serve our husbands well and meet their needs. With submission.

Let's complete our tasks throughout the day. With joy.

That's a day well done. That's something to be proud of. That's the kind of day that sheds light into the darkest corners of our hearts and shines right out of our front doors to the rest of the watching world.

Guys. You're not off the hook. If you are a husband, encourage your wife as she grows in this area. Be helpful. Don't fall into the excuse that you're a guy and you just don't know how to clean. Everyone can learn this simple skill :) While I do believe women are better predisposed emotionally and mentally for such tasks as child-rearing and the running of a household, I also believe that marriage and life together is a team effort! So do what you can to lead your family as a team. Recognize your calling to encourage, equip, and love your wife as she learns to serve willingly and well. Roll up your sleeves and wash some dishes. And pick your dirty socks up off of the floor by your side of the bed. Please. Work together! I promise it will be a challenge, but the results will be phenomenal.

I do believe that we learn so much from God in the day-to-day. Those are the real deal, rubber-meets-the-road kind of experiences. He is longing to meet us there. He wants to take us under His wing and show us a better way. He has given us a beautiful example in the life of Jesus to follow.

I'd love to write more, but as you can guess, I have a lot of work to do. Spiritually AND physically. So let's all commit to start looking at our days differently. Whoever you are, whatever you do and wherever you find yourself today- let us serve. Let us give. Let us find Him in the mess!