Unchanging – Part II

I promised you some song details so here they are!

It all started during a conversation with a friend.  We were discussing the wide variety of names and descriptors applied to the Trinity in Scripture.  The more we talked, the more we focused on the meanings of those names and what they revealed about God’s character.

The conversation with my friend ended, but the topic continued to occupy my thoughts for the next few days.  Somewhere, somehow, my thoughts shifted from simply thinking about the names or titles and their meanings to dwelling on one simple yet startling realization – all of those names?  All of the roles they describe?

God is ALL of those things simultaneously.  He FUNCTIONS in all those roles simultaneously.  Effortlessly, perfectly, eternally.

Let me explain this another way – I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a grandmother (just four weeks ago!).  While I’m always each of those things, I cannot simultaneously function in those roles.  I may be able to shift quickly from texting with my daughter to chatting with my husband and back again.  But I cannot successfully do both at the exact same time.  I miss pieces of conversation or lose my train of thought.

But with God, nothing ever gets missed or lost.  No one is ever neglected.  He can be everything He is to everyone all the time.  Redeemer, Healer, Comforter, Lion of Judah, Lamb of God . . . every facet of his character functioning perfectly at the exact same time.  Whichever part of his character you need to be touched by, he is that for you while being whatever every other believer needs at the exact same time.

But my thought process did not stop there.  As I began writing the lyrics for “Unchanging”, my focus shifted from this “simultaneous functioning” concept to the most overwhelming thought yet – this God, who is everything that anyone could need all the time, this Creator, Redeemer, and Savior . . . loves me.  Lyrically, I expressed it this way –

Beyond the names and titles

One truth rings out so clear

I was always known,

Always loved

You are always standing near.

As He is wrapping me in the peace I need, He is providing comfort for another, healing someone else, and gently correcting one more.  And it doesn’t stop there.  It doesn’t stop ever.  He’s always touching, reaching, enveloping, and redeeming.  Because of love.  We do nothing to earn it and will never be able to repay any of it.  It’s all because He CHOOSES to love.

It’s that simple and the profoundly beautiful.

Unchanging – Part I

I finished a new song.  That always feels big to me.  I rarely ever – almost never – sit down and say “Today, I will write a song.”  Usually, I experience something or come across a thought-provoking piece of scripture or devotional writing.  This causes me to mentally devote a stretch of time to a thought, a concept, an idea, a phrase . . . you get the idea.  When I have a line or two of lyric stuck in my head, I jot them down in a notebook specifically designated to hold all my “songs in progress.”

Then the actual writing process begins.  I revisit the lyric snippet, seek out relevant Scripture to ponder, start crafting possible melodies, play around with chords and their progressions . . . you get the idea.  Eventually, a song comes together.

Sometimes, I get all the lyrics in one breathtaking creative burst.  I’m almost grateful that doesn’t happen often because it’s emotionally draining!  There was even one time (ONLY one time, thank heavens!) when I got the whole song – lyrics, melody, and accompaniment – in less than 30 minutes.  Talk about an overwhelming experience!  Intense and exhausting.

I tell you all of this in the hope that you’ll understand something. I have a personal connection to each of them.  Each one reminds of specific moments or lessons learned.  Each song is a reflection of some part of my personal journey.  When they are finally complete, there is usually a huge piece of head space that gets cleared out and the next moment of inspiration can move in and take up residence for awhile.

So when I tell you that this new song I just finished won’t move out . . . this is new.  Different.  Uncharted territory.  It wants more time; it wants to occupy my thoughts a bit longer and I have no clue why.  I’ve gone back to see if, subconsciously, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the song.  Was I maybe, subtly, telling myself it needed to be re-worked?  Were there lyrics I wasn’t happy with?  Maybe a piece of the melody I think could be better?

Nope.

Every time I sit down and play/sing through it, I’m impacted even more.

Based on past experiences, I should be freed up to move on to another one of the “songs in progress” waiting in my notebook.  But I keep dwelling on the concept that first inspired the song.  It just keeps spinning through my head, refusing to be ignored or pushed aside.  So I thought I’d share it here and see if maybe that helps me to move on to another creative project!

What is this thought-dominating concept you ask?  That’s what Part 2 is for.  But I’ll leave you with this hint (pay special attention to the bold-faced type!) –

Every good thing is given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. ~James 1:17 

 

In Your Eyes

If you’ve read some of my other stories, you know that I rarely (almost never) sit down and say, “Today, I will write a song.”  The song “In Your Eyes” is an exception.  My sister commented that she thought it would be great if I wrote an original song for the wedding she hoped she would soon be planning.  I was still struggling with the idea that I was writing faith-based songs.  A love song?!  That was a whole new territory I wasn’t sure I wanted to delve into.

Then I got the “brilliant” idea to write a song for my husband.  The year was 2001.  We were living in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he was working for UPS at the time.  A promotion took him to Columbus, Ohio, for a couple weeks of training.  He got to come home the weekend between but he was in Columbus Monday through Friday for two consecutive weeks.  This trip just happened to occur right around Valentine’s Day so I decided the song would be his gift.

Once it was written, I realized I had inadvertently fulfilled my sister’s request with one condition – it was really “Jim’s song” so he had to say yes.  I knew he would – he and I met when said sister was only 8 years old so he really thinks of her more as a sister than a sister-in-law –  but I wanted him to know that the song was intended originally for him and I wouldn’t be tossing it out to brides on a whim.

It’s first audience was just him, in the front room of our home.  That might have been one of the most nerve-wracking performances of my life!  But thankfully he loved the song and two years later, when my baby sister got married, I shared that song as a part of their wedding.   It’s been performed a couple of other times since then for special couples.  But it will always be “his song”.

“In your eyes there is joy and there is laughter
A hope for happily ever after
And love’s unending song.”

Song of Solomon 8:6

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy[a] unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
    like a mighty flame.[b]
Many waters cannot quench love;
    rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
    all the wealth of one’s house for love,
    it[c] would be utterly scorned.

Sing Over Me

I took my first piano lesson one week after I turned 4 ½ and I’ve been playing ever since.  I was classically trained but my mother made sure that I learned some of the basic improv skills used by church pianists and I’ve played in services off and on since I was about 12.  I began accompanying soloists and ensembles in 7th grade (right about 1980) and have been doing it ever since.  I sang my first solo in church at the age of 12 and have sung in choirs at all levels of age and experience since then.

To say that music is a central piece of my life and my worship experience would be an understatement.  It’s one of the ways that I cope with stress, express joy, work through sadness . . . it’s the cheapest therapy I know!

You can imagine my delight when my sister introduced me to a verse that talked about God singing over his children!  The idea that my obedience and walking in faith delights God to the point that he sings over me?!  This musician was delighted at the concept!  Then there came a time where I had to seriously evaluate a ministry involvement that came close to tapping into my passion without going quite all the way.  I was being asked to give preference to opinions of others over the leading of the Holy Spirit and it was beating me up spiritually.  I was unsettled and lacking in peace.  I realized, after some serious soul-searching and the gift of the lyrics that would become this song, that I needed to back away from that ministry.  It was harder than you might think because it wasn’t a perfect fit with my passion, but it got close.  Stepping away meant there would be nothing.

So I stepped away and the personal healing began almost immediately.  When I start to struggle with choosing to follow man’s preferences or the Spirit’s leading, I go back to this song.  There is only one audience who truly matters when all is said and done.

“Ev’ry melody I sing, ev’ry note of praise I bring
I lay humbly at the feet of my Savior and my king.
With ev’ry single rhyme, from now until the end of time
I seek nothing more than just to hear him sing
Sing over me.”

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

Fear Not

Christmas is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday.  I think I’ve even started to like it more than my own birthday!  I love the decorations, the music, the gift-buying, the television specials . . . I love the whole crazy, busy, chaotic experience!

But I do have one small frustration – Christmas Eve Services.  I didn’t grow up going to them even though I was a Pastor’s kid.  Dad felt that Christmas Eve was for family so he never held one and if we were ever members of a church that held them, we never went.  For much of my married life, we’ve been in churches that did, indeed, ask members to come out on Christmas Eve for a service.  I’m still not a big fan of such things but I think a large part of it is due to the fact that every Christmas Eve service I’ve ever been in feels like a funeral.  But we’re celebrating a birth, right?!

I guess you could say that “Fear Not” is the type of music I’d program into a Christmas Eve service if I was ever given free reign!  A birth – especially the birth of the Messiah! – is a happy occasion, a reason to celebrate.  No long faces or somber expressions at a baby shower!  The story of the cross started in that little stable in Bethlehem, true.  But I believe that all of heaven was excited that the process had begun and that God’s relationship with man was about to radically change forever.

”Fear not, I bring to you great
A message of hope to every
Man and woman girl and boy.
For unto you this day,
Over in King David’s town,
A Savior, Christ the Lord, is born
Heaven’s gift of love come down.”

Luke 2:10-11

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good new of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you:  you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

 

For This Child

Over the last several years (since 1991 to be exact!) my sisters and I have given our parents nine grandchildren.  Between three of the households (including my parents) we have hosted about the same number of exchange students with two more joining the family for the 2016/2017 school year.  In my own experience, my work as a choral director, band staff member, and theatrical director has provided me with several honorary kids who call me mom.  And there is one lesson that has become crystal clear to me over the years – every child/teen needs to know that there is someone in this world who is absolutely crazy about them.  Preferably more than one someone.

My sisters and I have discussed – and even occasionally explored – the idea of foster parenting or adopting.  I’ve met a number of students over the years who came from homes where mom and dad were too bogged down in their own “stuff” to be there for their kids so these young men and women were starving for someone to notice them, challenge them, push them to be better.  I’ve discovered this world is full of kids who just need an adult to care enough to call them up to be the best possible version of themselves!

Right about the time my sister, Becki, found out she was pregnant with her first, I wrote this song.  Yes, it was mostly for my biological children.  But it was also for all of those I’ve sort of “adopted” over the years who needed to know that someone cared and was taking them before the throne on a regular basis.  It means that the prayer list for “my kids” is getting pretty long but I’m okay with that!

The inspiration for the chorus of the song came from the Old Testament story of Hannah.  She wanted to have a son but had remained barren for years.  During a trip to the temple with her husband, she begged God for a son and promised to give the boy back to God.  God heard her prayer and answered it with a resounding yes.  After she had weaned the boy – most scholars figure he was about 3 or 4 – Hannah took him back to the temple and left him there in the care of the high priest.

“For this child I have prayed,
I have knelt before the Father,
Placing all my hope and trust in him
I set my heart on things above.
And now I know he heard my cry
For I have seen his answer
In this precious life before me
A priceless gift of love.”

I Samuel 1:27-28

“For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him.  So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.”  And he worshiped the Lord there.

Welcome Home

My sisters and I are all Michigan “born and raised” but we have all ventured to live in other states at various points in our adult lives.  Currently, hubby and I are in North Central Iowa while the middle sister, Becki, and her two boys are in Richmond,VA (my parents live with her as well) and the baby sister, Andrea, lives in San Antonio, TX with her hubby and their three kids.  Becki also lived in the Dallas, TX area for a while and it was during that time that God used her to inspire a song.

This was in the days before Skype or FaceTime or social networking of any kind.  We relied on emails, “snail mail”, and phone calls.  During one of our weekly (most of the time) phone calls, we discovered that, in a spiritual sense, we were walking down similar paths.  Both of us were learning about our true identity as children of God.  There were a number of times when one of us would talk about a realization or a new understanding and the other person would respond with “Oh my gosh, me too!”

At the end of one such conversation, Becki told me she was going to email me a poem she had recently written, sort of a way for her to capture the lesson in a concrete way for when she needed reminding down the road.  I opened the email and read the poem.  Before I was done, there was a melody line running repeatedly through my head connected to a specific line she had written.  So I emailed her back and begged her to let me turn the lyrics into a song.  With a couple of small tweaks – mostly for rhyme and rhythm – “Welcome Home” was born.  For reasons I won’t go into here, the parable of the Prodigal Son is a family favorite and this song captures that story from the father’s perspective – the idea of a loving father waiting and watching for his child to return home.  No judgment, no conditions; just unbridled love, restoration and healing.

The concept of being God’s cherished daughter has been a powerful one in my life.  So much so that I bear a tattoo that says “Daughter of God” in Hebrew.  The chorus of this song has been a balm in the rough spots of life and the fact that my sister and I had both had a hand in “birthing” this one is special to me.

“Welcome home, my child, I’ve been waiting
I’ve been watching and I love you
Let me fix your broken pieces.
Won’t you let me carry you?
My child, you’ve been gone away so long.
Welcome home.”

John 1:12-13

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Luke 15:22-24

But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet: and bring the fattened calf kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”  And they began to celebrate.

Legacy – The Story

The year was 1996.  My husband, Jim, was serving as the youth pastor at First Evangelical Free Church, a small congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The job was mostly volunteer with just a small stipend attached.  He was also working at UPS in management.  I was pregnant with our fourth child and an ultrasound had revealed that we were having a son.

In late March, Warren, one of the founding members of the church passed away rather unexpectedly.  He was the grandfather of one of the youth group members and had really been the significant “father figure” in that young man’s life.  In early May, the Pastor of the church, Dr. Frederick Moore, went to the National Institutes of Health for the continued treatment of a rare genetic condition he suffered from. I will never forget the morning that phone call came in.

A pastor of a sister church north of the city called and wanted to know how my husband was doing.  Needless to say, we were a bit confused since there was no reason for him to be anything but fine. Or so we thought. That’s when we got word that Pastor Fred had died early that morning.  Complications following surgery.  This man was more than “just” the pastor of our church.  He was my husband’s mentor in ministry.  His impact on my husband’s life was so powerful that my son bears the middle name “Frederick” in his honor.  Pastor Fred had two boys still in the youth group and his oldest was in college.  “Our kids” lost two very significant individuals in just a few weeks.  They were reeling.

Fast forward five years – I was helping to “run” the music ministry of the church and Warren’s widow approached me with a touching request.  She didn’t want a big fuss made but she wondered if it might be possible to have a song done as special music on some random Sunday.  While the grief of losing a spouse never really goes away, she had been having an especially difficult time of late and it would be a comfort to her to have just a little memorial in the form of a song.

I started looking but nothing stood out.  I just couldn’t find the right song.  I wasn’t even too concerned with finding a song specifically for me to sing.  That church was rich with vocal talent and there were any number of vocalists – of all voice parts – that could have done a beautiful job sharing this gift.  I vented my frustration to my husband, who knew about the request I was trying to honor.

“I can’t find a song that will work to honor the memory of Warren and Pastor Fred.  But I promised we’d do something.  What am I going to do?”

“Maybe,” he replied with a smile, “You haven’t found the right song because it hasn’t been written yet.”

Now I do not consider myself a songwriter.  By that I mean I don’t wake up in the morning and think “today is a good day to write a new song.”  Usually an experience triggers a lyric or melodic line and I just kind of work from there.  When my husband and I had the conversation mentioned above, I had only written a few songs. I never would have come up with the idea on my own. But my husband had said it so there it was.  Was I really supposed to create something completely original to honor these two much-loved individuals?  Was I even capable of living up to the task?!

Then one morning, while standing in the shower, of all places, a lyrical phrase ran through my mind – “They left a legacy, built on the solid rock.”  As quickly as was reasonably possible, I finished the shower and got dressed, then grabbed a note pad to jot down that phrase.  I knew at that moment that the song would be about ordinary individuals with no earthly fame who left behind a legacy of faith.  When it was finally written and shared as special music in a Sunday morning service, the sound man made sure to record it.  We passed CD’s on to the family members that those two faithful servants had left behind.  Since that time, that recording has been played at my grandfather’s funeral and my grandmother made me promise I would sing it live at hers which, by some miracle, I was able to do.

I continue to be humbled by the impact this song has on those that have heard it.  It seems that those of us who claim the name of Christ often have those individuals in our lives, past or present, who have left an imprint on us because they embody the truth of the lyrics –

“They left a legacy built on the solid rock;
Their footsteps led the way to the firm foundation.
Their faith in Jesus you could see in the way they lived.
They knew the greatest gift that they could give
Was the legacy of Heaven.”

Hebrews 12:1 (NASB)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.