I Sing Because I'm Free!

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seek me and find me

fullsizeoutput_1d19This is my “life-verse”.

When I was in my early 30’s, I experienced something life-changing.  I had been going to church steadily for a couple of years, and was doing my best to be a “good” person.

But I found myself in a place of complete discontentment.  Everything looked perfect from the outside, but inside, I felt like the dreams I had were slipping away… I wanted to move back to my hometown… I made all sorts of plans about my career and what I wanted to do, and none of those plans involved remaining in Charlottesville.

With every passing day, I grew more frustrated.

Finally, when I realized that the plans I had made weren’t going to come to fruition, I waved my white flag.

One evening I begged God to change my heart. I was sick and tired of being miserable, and oddly enough,  I was compelled to open the Bible and began to read.  I literally sat in my bed and flipped it open and read the first page it landed on.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Philippians 4:11-12 

I didn’t know who Paul was, but something in me wanted to know more. 

I said- “God, if you can make Paul content, won’t you do that for me?”  It seemed like a simple enough request.  Could you make me content right where I am?  And would you help me to let go of  my own desires?  

And from that moment on, I started reading the Word and praying daily.  Little by little, I began to see Him work in my heart and life.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:13

 I handed my pen over to Him- so He could write the story of my life.

And 10 short years later, I can honestly say-

His plans are far better than mine could have ever been!

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All Things New

“All Things New”
I wish  
some things 
in my  life  
had been 
just a little  bit
 different 
when I take time to 
reminisce
wax poetic 
with my pen 
it’s then I see that He 
has made all things 
work for His good 
every little dash and line 
brush strokes 
with His hands of time 
He’s making all things new
every regret 
I’d like to forget- 
all things led me 
to You 
every day 
A new lesson learned 
touch the burner 
you will get 
burned 
forgive me Father 
for I have sinned 
a new creation 
then begins 
Now  I see that 
He has made all things 
Work for HIs good
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.  Isaiah 43 
Now that I have two teenage daughters, I think a lot about my own teen years… the decisions I made, the things I did.  Now I can look back and see how He has taught me so many important lessons over the years from the not-so-great decisions I’ve made.  I am grateful for God’s grace, and how when we surrender our life to Him completely- he takes ALL THINGS, even our regrets- and uses them for His glory.
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Help Us Accept Each Other (a hymn remake)

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,  but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails-  1 Corinthians 13

If I have faith, but not love- I am nothing.

If I give to the poor, but do not do it out of love- I gain nothing

God is love.

I am nothing without God.

I am nothing without His love.

If I do anything that is not out of love– it is meaningless.

How many times have you done the right thing because you knew that was what you were supposed to do? I have done it for years!  But if I really love Him, I have to do everything out of love. Without love in our hearts, “doing the right thing” still doesn’t cut it!

For many years, I have “done the right thing” when it comes to certain situations.  But we aren’t supposed to just do the right thing- we are called to LOVE.  When we LOVE, when we love with God’s love– His love compels us to do the right thing- each and every time- without fail!

And without reciprocity.

No strings attached kind of love. Because that’s what His love is like.

We don’t deserve it.

We can’t earn it.

But when we accept His love, He compels us to give it- freely.   And His love changes people.  I know, because it sure has changed me!

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8 

A dear friend showed me this hymn a while back.  These words have resonated with me for quite some time.  I set it to new music and also added a chorus to it.  May He give us a passion to love those who hunger for the kind of love only He can give!

 

“Help Us Accept Each Other”

Help us accept each other

as Christ accepted us

teach us as sister, brother

each person to embrace

be present, Lord, among us

and bring us to believe

that we are ourselves accepted

and meant

to love and live

to love as You have loved

to give as You have given

to die to our own desires

so we may do Your will

and love as You have loved us 

Let Your acceptance change us

 

so that we may be moved 

in living situations 

to do the truth in love 

to practice your acceptance

until we know by heart

the table of forgiveness 

and laughter’s healing heart 

Lord, for today’s encounters

for all who are in need

who hunger for acceptance

for righteousness and bread

we need new eyes for seeing

new hands for holding on

renew us with Your Spirit, Lord,

free us, make us one

*original text by Fred Kaan 

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no turning back

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I have always loved hymns, and in particular, learning the stories behind how they were written.  The story behind I Have Decided to Follow Jesus is one that I found particularly moving…

“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is a Christian hymn originating from India.

The lyrics are based on the last words of a man in north-east India, who along with his family, was converted to Christianity in the middle of the 19th century through the efforts of a Welsh missionary.

Called to renounce his faith by the village chief, the convert declared, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” In response to threats to his family, he continued, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, “The cross before me, the world behind me.” This display of faith is reported to have led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village.

The formation of these words into a hymn is attributed to the Indian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh. The melody is also Indian, and entitled “Assam” after the region where the text originated.The fierce opposition is possible as various tribes in that area were formerly renowned for head-hunting.  

An American hymn editor, William Jensen Reynolds, composed an arrangement which was included in the 1959 Assembly Songbook.

SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Have_Decided_to_Follow_Jesus

Often when we sing these words, we think of leaving behind frivolous things- like selfishness, a life of partying, or other things like gossiping or gambling.  When I think of this missionary and the courage he had to sing these words as he watched his own family be taken from him- and then knowing that his own life would be taken, too- it takes on a whole new meaning.  Are you willing to give up everything for the sake of following Christ?  

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  Luke 14:33

“No Turning Back”

I have decided to follow Jesus

No turning back, no turning back

Hallelujah, hallelujah!

The world behind me, the cross before me

No turning back, no turning back

Hallelujah, hallelujah!

Though none go with me, still I will follow

No turning back, no turning back

Hallelujah, hallelujah!

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he who began a good work in you…

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I am excited to share with you something awesome that happened to me recently!

After taking ministry prep classes for over 8 years, this past Friday I was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene!  Aside from my wedding day and the birth of my two daughters, it was absolutely the most joyous night of my life!

I told my husband I felt like I was getting married all over again- married to the church!  There was a special Ordination Service held this past Friday evening, and there were 8 other ministers from Virginia that also got ordained.

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My husband and daughters were there, and several other family members, and lots of people from my church made the trip to come to the service.  Then during our fellowship time at church yesterday, they had a lovely reception to celebrate.

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As I listened to the sermon during the Ordination Service, the Lord confirmed in my spirit once again that His timing is perfect and I am exactly where He wants me to be. The pastor made many references to the word “green” and “green grass” in his message that night.  I know it sounds a little strange- but the Lord used the word “green” to spark something in me about 10 years ago…

 I hid it well from people, but inside I was miserable- desperate for something to change.  I made every excuse I could why I wasn’t happy… but what really needed to change was ME!

I wasn’t very involved in church back then- I didn’t even sing during the services. But there was this one song that one of the college students would occasionally lead us to sing during worship that I liked.  It had a melancholy tune, vaguely reminiscent of a Simon and Garfunkel song.

As the months passed, I had forgotten about that song.  But the Lord brought it to my mind one Sunday afternoon.  I couldn’t remember the tune or any of the words to save my life!  It was driving me nuts!

And then out of the blue- I remembered one word-

green

I called my husband, who happened to be working that afternoon- and I asked him if he could remember “the song”… you know it, babe- it’s the one that sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel song?  It’s got the word green in it somewhere!  It’s THAT song! 

Yes, he remembered it, but like me- he could not remember the tune or any lyrics.  But sure enough, that evening,  he remembered some of the lyrics- enough to google them,  and find out what the song was.  He emailed me the words and immediately the tune came to mind.

I can’t explain it any other way- I was COMPELLED to sit at my piano and play that song.  Over and over.  Every time I walked past the piano, I’d sit and play and sing it.  In fact, that “green” song was the first worship song I ever played without having any sheet music to go by.

And then one morning, I sat on my old piano bench, and  I remember my youngest daughter was crawling around on the floor in the next room.  I began to play this song that I had been compelled to play for weeks on end… and for the first time, I tried to sing and nothing came out.  Tears flowed down my face as I realized all this time I had spent searching for the words of this song- I had been searching for Him.  And these words I was compelled to sing- He was doing that for me all along, and had already done this for me… He was simply waiting for me to see it.  You know that saying “fake it ’till you make it”?  After all that time of singing praises- finally in that instant, empty words were brought to life in my heart, and His presence was so real.

He was already with me…I had been blind, but praise God- that was the day that for the first time- I could see!

And my response? Total consecration of my life!  On that day, I promised Him I would do anything He asked of me.

My call to ministry began with the Lord giving me the word “green”…. and every time I heard the preacher during the Ordination Service Friday evening mention the word “green” over and over,  He reaffirmed in my heart once again that I am exactly where He wants me.

You turned my wailing into dancing;
    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.  Psalm 30 

And in case you are curious, here’s a link to the “green” song-“You Have Redeemed My Soul” by Waterdeep-

 https://soundcloud.com/julrayhar/you-have-redeemd-my-soul

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ-

  Philippians 1:6

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Free at last

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I am free 

like a bird 

flying high I soar 

because I’m not

weighed down 

anymore 

the chains

broke 

the shackles

fell 

and I am feeling- 

pretty swell 

because you see- 

I am finally 

free

New Year’s Eve marked the one year anniversary that I began following the Trim Healthy Mama plan. It has been a year of food freedom for me- but so much more than that!  For years I have been a slave to counting calories- how many calories I consume at each meal and how many calories I burn at each workout.  Even on the days when I would “take a break”… I would still keep a running tab in my head.

And the worst part of it all?  None of that effort made any difference!  No matter how much I worked out, no matter how carefully I watched my calorie intake- I couldn’t lose a pound to save my life!!  For years I felt defeated and discouraged.  My body hurt all the time and I had no energy.

I have my friend, Natalee to thank for introducing me to the Trim Healthy Mama plan.  Just give it a try, she told me.  So I began reading about it and checking out recipes on Pinterest.  I started looking for ways to make the things I already eat fit in with the program. And the great things is that I have found ways to eat everything I love!

For all of 2017, I have not counted a single calorie! That is a miracle for me!  And I have worked out less this past year than I have in the last 15 years!  And praise the Lord- at 40,  I feel better than ever!  I have lost 35 pounds over this past year and I have gained so much more-

-balance 

-food freedom 

-freedom from the scale 

-self confidence

Thank God Almighty-  I am free at last!!

 

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.  John 8:36 

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Deep in December it’s nice to remember…

Back in my college days, we sang a beautiful song called “Try to Remember” from the musical The Fantasticks. It’s such a lovely song, with a melancholy melody and lyrics that sing all on their own.  I woke up thinking of this song and remembering what happened to me this past Sunday…

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After I finished leading the music for the worship service, I sat down in between my husband and my daughters.  There’s something so special about sitting with my family in church- it felt like heaven!

I admit that I was more focused on the presence of the Lord than I was on the sermon that morning. But the most wonderful thing happened- I started to remember last December and how absolutely miserable I was.  For the last 12 years I have been dealing with allergies.  My symptoms started off pretty minor, and I would lose my voice for a few weeks in the first few years.  And then each year my symptoms increased- as did the amount of time I was plagued with a cough and laryngitis.  And unfortunately, these symptoms have always been the worst during the Christmas and Easter seasons- which are the BUSIEST times of the year for anyone involved in music ministry!

Last year around this time,  I remember feeling so defeated.  I even questioned if He really wanted me to keep singing for Him.  I am embarrassed to admit that there were many Sundays after church when I cried- feeling like I had let Him down, feeling like I embarrassed myself (by something I said, or by my voice cracking…).  I am embarrassed to say this because it made worship all about ME and not Him!

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After lots of prayer and encouragement from my Christian friends, I resolved to worship and praise Him- even if!  Even if my voice was gone, even if my cracking, coughing, weak voice would embarrass me- I would STILL sing His praises and be obedient to sing!

Well, after the Christmas season last year, I decided to finally visit an allergy doctor.  After going through the testing, he determined that I was having reactions to nearly all of the 60 environmental things I was tested for.  After trying other medications to help alleviate my cough and other symptoms, I decided to try immunotherapy- allergy shots.

I have been doing them since May, and I have FINALLY reached the “maintenance” phase.  It has been a long process, and it’s been quite time consuming- 2 visits each week, 3 shots each time.  I have prayed and prayed that this would help and that I was not wasting all this time!

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But Sunday, as I sat there with my family in the service- He reminded me of all that He has done for me over this last year.  He has taught me so much about worship… how my skills and talents are useless without His power. How being an “instrument” is not for other people to pat me on the back, but to glorify Him!  And usually by September, the coughing begins…but praise the Lord- the cough is almost non-existent!  I am so grateful and thankful!  I wanted to stand up and shout on Sunday when He reminded me of what I felt like last year compared to now!

So whatever trial you are going through- no matter how big or small it is- try to remember all the things He has brought you through, and keep on praising Him!

 

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

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He has made me glad

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I had someone recently tell me they were looking for a sign from God.  I told them that He is always faithful and will give them exactly what they need -in His perfect timing!

I know this because He has been so faithful to me.

With no stream in sight, lately I’ve felt like I am walking through a desert.  As someone who wears her heart on her sleeve at all times, I’ve cried more in the last week than I have in ages.  I HATE to cry.  Especially in front of people.  It is humiliating, embarrassing, and makes me feel weak. But sometimes I just can’t stop the tears from flowing, and I have stopped fighting it.

I arrived at church Sunday morning, and was sitting at the piano- praying and getting ready to begin our worship practice.  As I sat there, I got a text from a friend saying they were praying for me.  I responded, letting them know how much their prayers meant to me and to share with them that I had been feeling very “down” this past week.

As soon as did I hit “send” on my response, I saw someone enter the sanctuary- all smiles, and holding a flower.  I got up from the piano as she came to the stage.

“God told me to give this to you today!”  She had cut the bloom from her yard that morning.

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I cried- yes, again, lol–  but this time they were tears of joy!  It was a gladiola bloom.

“He has made me GLAD,” I said as I hugged her, and in that instant the joy of the Lord flooded my heart.

He is with us, and He shows up in the most wonderful ways!

And always right on time.

For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work;
I will triumph in the works of Your hands.  Psalm 92:4 

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Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:6-7

 

 

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no servant is greater than his master

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I had a profound experience last year during Holy Week.

After a day filled with many obstacles, I decided to wash my cares away in the nail salon.  Honestly, I was ‘not fit for human consumption” at that point.  That’s my fancy way of saying I had a bad attitude! When I walked into the salon and saw a young girl begin to fill the foot bath with hot water, I immediately had negative thoughts.

She probably doesn’t even know what she’s doing! I’m going to be wasting my time and money today. And then she’s going to do such a bad job, I’ll probably have to paint my toenails all over again when I get home!

She sat at my feet and had the most beautiful smile. She was pleasant, and despite my silence, she continued to make small talk.  I was convicted the moment she opened her mouth.  I had already sized her up and had not been acting very Christ-like…even though I hadn’t said a word.  You know- He hears what we say, but He hears what we are thinking, too!

So I began to think about this girl instead of my own problems, and started to chat with her. I asked her where she was from, how long she had been doing nails… all the usual small talk.

And then she asked me what I did for a living.

*gulp*

I told her I was a minister and shared with her the various things I did at church.

And then I knew why God had me there that day.

She opened up about her faith and shared with me some of her struggles and trials. I could see the conviction on her face as she told me that she didn’t go to church much.  You don’t have to go to church to follow Jesus, I said to her.

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we are ALL on a journey!

I’ve been where you are, I said to her.

I asked her if she had any questions and she did.  Lots of them. I simply shared with her my testimony- how I felt empty and void of any joy in my life.  I prayed earnestly one day and pleaded with God- If You are who You say You are- I need to see You!  And shortly after that prayer, He led me to start reading the Bible and praying daily.  I just went through the motions at first, but didn’t give up.  The more I did these things, the more real He became. She listened to every word.

As we shared this beautiful moment, I was humbly reminded of Jesus and how He washed His disciples’ feet-

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.-  John 13:12-17

God humbled me that day.

No servant is greater than his master.  

I thank God for His grace, for how He  continues to humble me, and for how He teaches me these huge life lessons in the most extraordinary ways.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!  Philippians 2:8

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A recent sunset…reminding me of the cross 

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He met the need… and He met me, too

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Pray without ceasing

 1 Thessalonians 5:17

For several months I was aware that the soundboard at our church was on it’s “last legs”.  We had a new church facility built a few years back and kept the old soundboard since it was still in good working condition. After a couple of years in our new building, we began to notice snaps, crackles, and pops coming through the sound system every time it was in use. I knew we didn’t have the money to purchase a new one, but we really needed it.

I prayed for God to somehow provide this need for our church, and after several months I got the ok to mention the need of a new soundboard to the congregation during a Sunday morning service.

The evening before I was going to talk about this to the congregation, I was home alone, praying.  My husband was working late, and both of my girls were at a friend’s home- a rare thing for a Saturday evening!  I remember sitting at my piano and praying out loud.  Now, that’s not something I do all the time- just when I really feel led to do it.  I began praying and talking to God and the strangest thing happened- I began to pray for one person… for one person to step out in faith and meet this need.  For just one person to give and to be obedient.  It sounded like the craziest thing, but that is the exact thing He led me to pray for that night.  In fact, I remember telling someone later that same evening that I prayed those words, and I was almost embarrassed about it.  What would I say if that “one person” didn’t come forward- or what if we didn’t have anyone willing to help?

I just kept pushing those doubtful thoughts out of my head, and I held on to faith. I got up early like always on that Sunday and prayed again.  During the service, I mentioned that we desperately needed a new soundboard for the church, and that it was going to cost a good deal of money.  I asked them to pray about this for us, and if anyone would like to donate towards this to see me after church.

I sat at the piano to play the closing song, and as I played the final note- I remember seeing one person- yes ONE PERSON standing at the base of the stage, motioning for me to come to them.  I bent down, and with tears in their eyes, this person told me to get what I needed- it would be paid in full.

I cried. I was in complete awe…

Not just because God met the need- but because He answered that prayer He had led me to pray the night before in the exact way I had prayed One person

That was a special day for me. God provided- but He also met me in a personal way- strengthening my walk with Him, and strengthening my faith in a mighty way!  And I believe He strengthened the faith of others as I told that “one person” prayer story to the congregation the following Sunday.  Praise the Lord for answered prayers- the big and the small ones, the simple ones and the absolutely impossible ones!  God gets all the glory for He is so good and so faithful!!

O God, we give glory to you all day long
    and constantly praise your name.  Psalm 44

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