Sunday, December 1, 2013

i just want to thank someone for this

I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around 'December' this afternoon. I've been waiting for December ever since April when I first saw those two little pink lines that spring morning. I was thinking about December all spring in between bouts of all-day sickness, all summer as my belly started to grow, and all fall as the winter seemed so close I could almost touch it yet so very far away.

And now it's here, but it doesn't feel like December. I put on some Christmas music this afternoon in hopes that it would get me in the mood to decorate for Christmas. It sort of worked, but with the sun shining and Matthew outside without a coat raking up leaves, December still feels a long ways off. We are days from our due date, weeks from Christmas with family, and today it feels like it's the beginning of October with nothing but waiting stretched out ahead of us.

Matthew and I had a very nice Thanksgiving, just the two of us. This was the first time, and quite possibly the last time for 20 years, that we celebrated with just us two (well, 2.975). Matthew cooked a delicious turkey and we made all the fixin's. We watched movies and played games and just enjoyed the day - the whole weekend, actually. We know everything's about to change, so we're trying to savor all we can of our "normal life" before our normal changes.

And now Thanksgiving is over. I've put my pumpkin spice candles away in favor of cranberries and peppermint, the big leaf bowl on the center of the kitchen island has been swapped for the snowman bowl from my mother-in-law, and the Christmas tree is up next to the fireplace waiting to be decorated.

And we wait. Advent has some added significance this year. Our hearts wait to celebrate the Incarnation, and Matthew and I wait to welcome our child into this world, any day now.

Below is probably one of my top 5 favorite songs ever, "Don't You Want to Thank Someone" by Andrew Peterson. It haunts me and blesses me and fills me with wonder in thinking about the Story, and how God continually reveals more and more of it in the sorrows and in the joys. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and happy Advent. He is coming soon...

'Cause I can hear the voice of one
He's crying in the wilderness
"Make ready for the Kingdom Come"
Don't you want to thank someone for this?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

the ancient paths

Last Friday night, Matthew and I drove down to Lincoln to hear - get this - Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, and Bebo Norman in concert. Yes, Andrew AND Sara. Talk about a VZ dream show, right? And the evening didn't disappoint. Beautiful songs, beautiful stories, beautiful setting (the stained glass windows at College View Church were breathtaking).

As tends to happen at these shows for me, God was at work. I really don't know what it is about these artists and this music, but when I go to a concert like this, I find I believe in Him more firmly and feel most completely myself than I do in most other settings. I wish I could describe it here, but I just can't. The long and short of it is that evenings like this one really make me feel alive and excited about the story God is telling in me and around me.

Lately I've been (obviously) thinking a lot about the HUGE life transition that is approximately six weeks away. I will soon be leaving the job I've had for almost a decade and becoming a mom. It's baffling and exhilarating and terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. So I've been thinking a lot about my job. It's surreal that I'll be leaving soon. It hasn't sunk in yet. That place and those people have been such a huge part of my life for so long... And I've been thinking about how scary it was to move here back in 2004, and how I really felt so discontent and unhappy here off and on for so many years. I still don't know exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the road, at some point over the past decade, the angst stopped and this became home. I know Matthew had a lot to do with that, but I still can't exactly pinpoint how this all coalesced into this life that I'm living now. I can't explain it, but I'm grateful.

In 2004, one of the songs that I sang a lot was Sara's "Painting Pictures of Egypt", which starts with "I don't want to leave here, I don't want to stay..." That summed up a lot of how I felt during the transition from college to adulthood. And the song ends with "If it comes too quick, I may not appreciate it - is that the reason behind all this time and sand?"

Sara sang this song last Friday night and it gave me goosebumps as I sit poised to face the biggest transition I've seen since (and including) moving here. Yes, getting married was a big transition, too, but somehow doesn't quite compare. Marrying Matthew felt like the most natural thing in the world. And this whole domestic motherhood thing? Not quite as natural.

"The past is so tangible, I know it by heart. Familiar things are never easy to discard. I was dying for some freedom but now I hesitate to go. I am caught between the promise and the things I know..." This baby is all I've wanted for the past two years. It's been a long road to get here. So I suppose I've been surprised by just how scared I am. I'm excited and eager and ready (sort of!), but it is definitely scary to be casting away my familiar, comfortable life, in favor of this wild and unknown promise God is fulfilling in our family.

And last Friday's concert reminded me just how true the Story really is, and how the trials and fears of life are absolutely necessary for us to become the people Jesus wants us to be. Andrew is writing the fourth book in his Wingfeather Saga, and talked to us a little about how the storytelling process started for him. He created this character, Janner, and he thought about who he wanted this young man to become. And he quickly realized that the only way Janner would become the man that Andrew wanted him to be was to ruin his life. He knew that the story would only be compelling and meaningful and character-building (literally, in this case), because of the conflicts and challenges this young man would face along the way.

As an English major, I've always known this on an intellectual level. Yes, conflict is what makes for good stories. But somehow this was a real-life epiphany for me in Lincoln last week. Yes, the conflict that God allows into my life is what is refining me into the woman He wants me to be. The trials are essential for my story. They are not always episodes that should be avoided at all costs, but adventures that should be embraced. Easier said than done, I know... but it was exactly what I needed to hear, not only in terms of my life, but in terms of the life of my child.

I am such a fearful woman. It's going to be hard to not fret and smother this poor kid. But I feel like God is already preparing me to let go and to trust that though my child will suffer and will face trials in life, it's okay... just as God has used hard things in my life to build and shape me, He is going to do the same for this little person. And there's still going to be plenty of joy and grace and beauty along the way to make it all worth it.

The highlight of the evening for me was when Andrew played "You'll Find Your Way", a song he wrote for his son on the brink of his teenage years. I've been singing this song over my baby in my heart quite a bit. It's based on Jeremiah 6:16: "This is what the Lord says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'" My prayer is that, no matter where life will lead this little one, he or she will always keep to the ancient paths, and he/she will always hold on to the hope that the Story is true... and that the author is so very good.

When I look at you, boy
I can see the road that lies ahead
I can see the love and the sorrow

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can't follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you'll find your way

Your first kiss, your first crush
The first time you know you're not enough
The first time there's no one there to hold you

The first time you pack it all up
And drive alone across America
Please remember the words that I told you

Keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you'll find your way
You'll find your way

If love is what you're looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you'll find your way
You'll find your way
Back home

And I know you'll be scared when you take up that cross
And I know it'll hurt, 'cause I know what it costs
And I love you so much and it's so hard to watch
But you're gonna grow up and you're gonna get lost
Just go back, go back

Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that's taken hold of you

And you'll find your way
You'll find your way
If love is what you're looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you'll find your way
You'll find your way
Back home

Monday, September 9, 2013

the story isn't over

"To experience sorrow does not eliminate joy. In fact, I've come to think that sorrow actually deepens our capacity for joy - that as our lows are lower, so are our highs higher. Deep sorrow expands our ability to feel deeply. We feel sadder than we ever knew we could, sadder than we think we can survive. But our sorrow prepares us to experience a more satisfying and solid joy than we've ever known before. When joy surfaces, it allows us to see that deep beneath the chaos and catastrophe is the strong current of confidence that we can be content in the sovereign hands of God. It's just not natural to experience profound joy in the face of heartache. It is supernatural; it is spiritual. This is the kind of joy God has for [us]. It is not produced by the human spirit in response to pleasant circumstances, but by the Holy Spirit in spite of difficult circumstances. It is the very joy of Christ fulfilled in us." - Nancy Guthrie, Book of Hope (page 269)

I've always been a deep feeler, even when I was younger and life by all accounts really wasn't that hard. I have a melancholy spirit... and am also extremely empathetic. The combination of the two can make hard days harder. My heart breaks easily. I really don't read/watch the news much because I find myself carrying the sad stories with me for days at a time.

For me, fighting for joy can really be a battle. I easily can sink into depression, fear, and sorrow with the weight of the Fall on my heart. Sometimes it's hard for me to see and embrace Jesus not only in spite of the sorrow, but because of it. In Andrew Peterson's "Don't You Want to Thank Someone" he sings "And when the world is new again/And the children of the King/Are ancient in their youth again/Maybe it's a better thing/a better thing/To be more than merely innocent/But to be broken then redeemed by love/Maybe this whole world is bent/But it's waking up/And I'm waking up..." Is it really better to be broken, and then redeemed than to never have felt the pain of brokenness at all? Deep down I do think that it is... but some days it's hard to believe. Sorrow does make joy sweeter, but sometimes it's hard to choose joy at all. As Nancy Guthrie says in the quote above, it's not always natural... especially for a melancholy soul.

And when joy and sorrow are walking together closely in the course of a season, that can be even harder to navigate. I am in the middle of a season of what should be much joy. And don't get me wrong - there has been great joy. Every time I feel my little one kick or hear his or her heartbeat or notice that my belly really is getting bigger, I smile. The joy definitely is richer given all that we went through last year. Because of the sorrow of miscarriage, this pregnancy's joys are sweeter. I don't take a moment for granted.

But some days, sorrow still lingers. My good friend Ann recently recommended a book to me called Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist (you can read Ann's review of the book here.). It's a book of essays and recipes about community and friendship and food. Last night, I read the essays about her miscarriages and all that she went through emotionally when she found out she was pregnant again after those losses. I could basically relate to almost every sentence she wrote. But this paragraph really put in to words how I've been feeling, even at this almost 28-week point in what has been a blessedly healthy pregnancy:

My cousin Melody was pregnant as well, after one healthy child and three miscarriages. One night, when we were all gathered around our table, another friend asked me if I was feeling nervous, and I redirected the question to Mel, who was almost thirty weeks along. "Well, I'm nervous, of course, but I'm sure it will get better. Mel, when did it get better for you?"

She didn't bat an eye. "I wish I could tell you something different, but I'm scared every single day. We know too much. We know what can happen." (page 85)

So much can and does go wrong, and my heart hurts over it. Right now I'm holding a lot of sorrow in my heart for a dear friend of mine who lost her full-term little girl last week. I wept for hours when I heard the news, and my heart is still weeping now. This past weekend it somehow felt wrong to watch Matthew and my brother-in-law Kevin paint the nursery, and for my sister Natalie and I, with our identical baby bumps, to start our registries. In the back of my mind there is this grief for our friends, and I frankly just don't know what to do with it.

Meanwhile, earlier today, another very dear friend welcomed her new son into the world. And the thought of this brings so much joy and excitement - a new member in our small group family. He is beautiful and I am so happy for them.

I have so very many pregnant friends right now, and friends who have just welcomed home sweet new little ones, and a sister who is due just six days after I am. But I also have a dear friend who is struggling with fertility issues; a dear friend who is waiting and waiting for her adopted child to join her family; dear, amazing, beautiful friends who are waiting to meet their husbands...

I could fill this next paragraph with cliches and with verses about how God has a perfect plan for those who trust in Him, and how He works all things for good - and He does - but some times you just have to be quiet and cry and listen and wait and grieve and hope.

I know this is only the beginning. I know this child will break my heart time and again for the rest of my life. But I also know that this child will bring me more joy than I can even comprehend. It's going to be hard, but I know that I can't be so scared of the pain that I stifle the joy. There's an episode of the show Firefly where Zoe is arguing with her husband Wash about whether or not they should try to have a baby given the very transient, dangerous life they live. Zoe looks at Wash and says "I ain't so afraid of losing something that I ain't gonna try to have it."

And I know it is all worth the risk. This is the very nature of life - joy and sorrow both permeate the air, and we're walking tentatively on a beam right in the middle of it, trying to keep our balance. As I walk, I'm trying to remember that there is so much beyond the frame, that the story isn't over yet, and that God is with me, steadying me as I walk.

(Andy Gullahorn just released his new album, Beyond the Frame, a few weeks ago, and it has ministered to my heart so much already, especially this song, "Grand Canyon"...)

There are endless tears
And suffering we can't explain
There are dark grey clouds
That never seem to drift away
There's despair in the morning
That will tie us to the bed
But the story isn't over yet

There's a white flag raised
Saying we can't bear anymore
There are silent nights
Because nothing's like it was...
And our dreams retell the sadness
So we cannot forget
But the story isn't over yet

I took a picture of the Grand Canyon
So I could remember that day
Oh but the beauty of the Grand Canyon
Stretches way beyond the frame

I can't sleep
There's too much weighing on my mind
But there's a bird out there
Still singing in the dead of night
Like it knows there's a season
When the sun's gonna set

But the story isn't over yet
The story isn't over

for Becky...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

(halfway through) the new year

Christina sent me this beautiful card last week... Thanks, Christina!

Everyone knows the saying “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all…” Well, in my blogging, I’ve ascribed to the personal philosophy that if I can’t say anything truthful, I shouldn’t say anything at all. The past three months have seen some big things in my life, but I wasn’t ready to share about them openly until recently. I thought about writing about other things, but to be honest there wasn’t much else going on in my heart other than thoughts and feelings and prayers surrounding the new little baby that has taken up residence in my belly and in my heart. So to write about anything else during this season just didn’t feel right.

It was actually only a few weeks after that beautiful Andrew Peterson/Jason Gray concert (see “Nothing is Wasted” post), the one when I felt God bring a lot of healing and hope back into my heart, that we found out that we were once again starting down the road of pregnancy for a third time. The first few weeks were very difficult as I struggled in my heart to truly believe that God was indeed doing a new thing with this child. He kept telling me in so many ways that I needed to be strong and have faith and choose to hope, but it was hard. Through His grace I persevered. We were able to not only make it through the scary 6 to 8 week period to see a little baby on the ultrasound screen measuring nine weeks (!), but we are now in the second trimester and I even have a little bit of bump. It is happy and exciting and we feel so blessed.

I keep going back to that verse that Michelle sent me that morning of March 8: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!" (Isaiah 43: 18-12). For me it’s been hard to forget the past, especially now as we’re just a few weeks away from the anniversary of when we found out last July that we were pregnant for the second time. My emotions can very much be affected by the seasons, and lately last summer’s memories have been creeping into my heart and my head and it’s been a struggle to not be afraid. It’s hard to trust and have faith in what you cannot see – not only in an invisible God, but right now in this child who is ever with me yet still so hidden from me. But God gives so much grace.

Back in February I wrote all about Eric Peters’ Birds of Relocation and how profoundly blessed I was/am by this album. The album is framed by “The Old Year”, in which he basically tells a bad year (like my 2012) to take a hike, and “The New Year”, which is all about hope in change and in God’s healing hand. So when we heard him play these songs back in February it helped me to really say goodbye to the things of old and say hello to the new things God has in store.

Last night, Matthew and I were invited to a backyard picnic in Lincoln centered around a private concert of Eric Peters and some local artists, including our friend Daniel Christian. It was a perfect Nebraska evening – cool, bright, and not very buggy. The crowd was small and the concert intimate. There was a dessert potluck, so there were lots of yummy treats. It started to sprinkle at one point but then stopped, and the sun’s interplay with that cloud cast such beautiful light over this backyard. There were children playing in the sandbox, a string of lights above the deck, and the yard was full of a wonderful community of people who love art and beauty. We felt very blessed to have been invited. 

Eric once again closed out the night with “Fighting for Life” and “The New Year” and I was just so struck by how much can change in nearly five months. When I heard these songs on that cold night in February I was blessed and encouraged and hopeful for what 2013 might have in store for us. And now hearing them on a beautiful summer night, halfway through 2013, with my little belly resting under my hands, I just felt the faithfulness of God wash over me. I thought about how perfect it is that this baby is due December 5, at the tail end of this new year of hope. I could almost audibly hear Him telling me, again, to not be afraid. He reminded me of how He keeps pursuing me even though my heart is a mess of sin and I often feel like I’m losing this battle of faith.

And I was again teary-eyed hearing the end of “Fighting for Life”:

I go into the darkness carrying a light
I will have no fear because I’m not alone
I got angels’ voices and friends who love me for who I am
So when the waters come
I fly above this flooded earth looking for a sign of life
And I relocate on boughs of hope,
Like a living soul, remembering that
In a little while, in a little while
The ghosts return to noise
Ooh, but not right now, not right now
The sky must be enjoyed.

(When I posted back in February, I couldn’t find a video of this song. So last night Matthew recorded the performance, and you can hear it here…)

Monday, March 25, 2013

farther along

Yesterday afternoon I was cleaning the kitchen and this song, "Farther Along" by Josh Garrels, came on my iPod. Every time I hear the opening notes, I find myself stopping in my tracks just to take it in. I stood still in my kitchen and sang along. I tell you what- Nicole rapping (or however you describe the verses of this song) is probably a comical sight... probably why I only do it standing alone in my kitchen. :-) This song just... I can't even describe... it moves me and encourages me and just fills me with hope. It's one of my all time favorites.

It reminds me that perseverance builds character, character builds hope, and that hope will not disappoint.

And after I heard it yesterday afternoon, I wondered to myself whether there was a decent video for it on YouTube and then promptly forgot about it. Later last night, I was catching up on some blog reading in bed and what video did Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts) just happen to post on her blog? Yep! That's the one...

For two more days only, you can download the entire Josh Garrels discography for FREE on All tips go to support the work of World Relief in the Congo. So, win-win situation here. Josh Garrels is probably one of the most intense, unique, challenging and beautiful artists I've come across in a long time, if not ever. His album Love & War & the Sea In Between is simply epic. It's included in the free download,  and I can't recommend it highly enough. You can check it out here:

And that's my commercial. :-) Here are a couple more videos that Matthew came across on Garrels' website awhile back. They both feature some cool animation and are definitely worth a look:

Sunday, March 17, 2013


This past week, I feel like God has just continued to shower so much love on me. Spring feels closer, we're looking forward to remembering the hope of Easter, and my friends and family just continue to love on me in ways I don't deserve.

My dear friend Ann went to a JJ Heller concert last fall, and soon after sent me a video of a performance of this song. In the email she told me to have my tissues ready. Ann told me that at that concert she played a lot of new songs that I really needed to hear when the time came... so when her new album, Loved, came available for pre-order, I was all over it. Well, the CD finally arrived in the mail earlier this week, and has been reinforcing truth in my heart ever since. The songs are full of promises of hope, of God's goodness when things feel hopeless, of redemption, and the simplicity and wonder of His love.

This song, "Who You Are", makes me cry, but the truth of the refrain is something I need to hear time and time again. It's beautiful.

Sometimes I don't know, I don't know what You're doing
But I know who You are

Sunday, March 10, 2013

nothing is wasted

One of my favorite Sara Groves songs is about a girl who spends all night in the backyard, staring up at the stars and the moon: Maybe this was made for me/for lying on my back in the middle of a field/maybe that's a selfish thought/or maybe there's a loving God.

Maybe it's a selfish thought for me to say that the concert I went to Friday night was orchestrated just for me, but the truth is, I believe that it was... that my loving God lined up the perfect evening of song and story, of hope and joy, just for my weary and broken heart.

First, some back story: As I've written in past posts, last year was hard for Matthew and me. We experienced two miscarriages and our hearts haven't quite recovered (I don't know that they ever fully will). It's been a tough journey of grief and fear, but also of a deepening faith and a stronger marriage, ultimately. Still, hope and joy have both been quite elusive to me, often taking back seats to anger, fear, and a very deep sadness.

But one of the things God has given me to help me keep up the fight for hope has been music. It's been amazing how He has loved on me in this way. A week or so after the first loss, Sara Groves was in town, and she sang all of my favorites, including "Open My Hands", which has been my theme song in all of this. Then, just days after I found out that we would be losing our second baby, Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn were in town. The timing for both concerts was perfect, and could be posts in and of themselves.

And God's perfect timing continued with the show we went to Friday night... The two albums that ministered to my heart the most last year were, hands down, Jason Gray's A Way to See in the Dark and Andrew Peterson's Light for the Lost Boy. So when I found out that both Jason and Andrew were going to be playing in town on this particular Friday night, the very anniversary of the first miscarriage, I just couldn't help but think that God had orchestrated the whole thing for me. It was perfect.

Maybe that's a selfish thought... or maybe there's a loving God...

Last week was awful. It was busy, stressful, emotionally draining, and even a bit traumatic (ask Stacy and I about that sometime). I woke up Friday morning feeling exhausted, shaken, drained and just miserable. And then my phone buzzed with a text message from my amazing sister-in-law Michelle. Among other things, she wrote "Today marks the start of something new!" and referenced Isaiah 43:18-21, which starts with this: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!"

And then how did Andrew start his set Friday night? With "All Things New":

Come broken and weary
Come battered and bruised
My Jesus makes all things new...

The world was good
The world is fallen
The world will be redeemed
O hold on to the promise

The stories are true
That Jesus makes all things new
The dawn is upon you

Then Jason did his set. Before he started "Nothing is Wasted" he kind of paused and looked out into the crowd and said something along the lines of "you know, I just really feel like somebody out there needs this tonight..." and it was me. I held Matthew's hand on one side and Charlotte's on the other and I just wept.

-please, please, please watch this video... and note the last image... :-)

In the second half of the show, Jason played "Fear is Easy, Love is Hard"... You can watch the video Matthew took on Friday night here. What I love so much about his whole album is how he continually stares fear straight in the face, and then challenges me to hope, even when it is hard.

My (also amazing!) sister-in-law Kristine bought me these wall placards for my birthday last year, and they pretty much sum up the themes of A Way to See in the Dark.

"Fear is Easy, Love is Hard" ends with this:

It comes down to a simple choice
Shouting devils or a still small voice
One is spreading fear and dread
Oh but love has always said
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid
Do not be afraid

Then Andrew sang "Rest Easy":

Do not be afraid
Nothing, nothing in the world
Can come between us now

You don't have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don't have to prove yourself
You're already mine
You don't have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

Side note: Guess what passage our pastor Ben taught on at church last night? Mark 6:30-52, when Jesus walks on the water. And he says to his disciples "Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid." :-)

After the show on Friday night we had the opportunity to talk to both Jason and Andrew and tell them just how much their music has meant to us, especially in this past year. They signed our CDs. Jason wrote the reference Isaiah 49:16 under my name. This was special to me, too, because all of Isaiah 49 is a chapter that Michelle shared with me last summer and that I read a lot in the wake of the second miscarriage. And 49:16 says this: "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands..." 

Earlier that same day, before the concert, Michelle sent me an email that ended with this: "May you feel His Presence in amazing ways today. He is so very near to you and loves you with an everlasting love. You are in the palm of his hand... like the robin's nest."

Maybe that's a selfish thought... or maybe there's a loving God...

In this place I've been, hope has seemed elusive, my strength has been failing, and I've been weary in the waiting... but I came out of that church on Friday night feeling a renewed sense of hope, of peace, and of joy. I walked out feeling so loved - by my husband, by my friends (so many great conversations this week - you know who you are!), and most of all by my God.

In Jesus... I have hope. I have joy. I am new.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

finding my voice

I was driving home from work the other night and heard this song for the first time (essentially) and it immediately resonated with me. Daniel is a local artist I first connected with via the arts council. He did a great opening set for Eric Peters at the show we were at last month, where I bought his new album, Speak (produced by Andrew Osenga!). Though I'd passively listened through pieces of it over the past few weeks, Thursday night was the first time I stopped to really listen. I listened through this opening track, let out a 'wow', and hit repeat.

I consider myself to be a person who's relatively good with words. I was an English major, after all. But for all of my efforts to communicate clearly, whether in work or in writing or wherever, words are not, as it turns out, always my strong suit, especially in person. I'm insecure. I'm not good at looking people in the eye. I care way too much about what people think about me. I strive to speak truth in love, to share my heart and my faith, to be bold... but most of the time I seem to come up empty.

We can be automatic, carefully diplomatic
I need courage to speak my choice
Now that it's been awhile since my courtyard denial
I am still trying to find my voice

That's part of what this blog is about. It's just me trying to find my voice as I muddle through my faith and my life by the grace of a God who loves me despite that muddling. And this song reflects my heart in this journey perfectly.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

relocating to boughs of hope

There's so much to be thankful for/And so much to be forgotten
There's no perfect secret/To the things that bring us joy

Ha ha! to the old year/Goodbye to the cold fear
Gonna cry when I need it, smile when I need it
Goodbye, denial

The mind is a wanderer/It slips off into a false world
Never stopping for a minute/To take a good look around

Ha ha! to the old year/Goodbye to the cold fear
Gonna cry when I need it, smile when I need it

I'm gonna live like a living soul
Gonna write it on my wretched bones
And stop waiting for happily ever after

Ha ha! to the old year/Goodbye to the cold, cold fear
Gonna cry when I need it

Ha ha! to the old year/Wave goodbye to the cold fear
Gonna cry when I need it, smile when I need it, laugh when I need it
Goodbye, denial, goodbye

-Eric Peters' "The Old Year (of Denial)"

A few weeks ago, Matthew and I went to an Eric Peters concert. Though I've been somewhat familiar with Eric's music for years, and heard him open for Sara Groves last March, I never owned any of his music until recently. I bought his new album, Birds of Relocation, on New Year's Day and it's been on constant rotation in my car and on my iPod ever since. The video above is the first song on the album, and was the perfect anthem for me this New Year's as I said goodbye to a hard 2012. 

As many of you know, Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts has been huge for me the past couple of years (that's a post in and of itself). On the cover is a birds nest, and that image has become very symbolic for me. It's been an image of thankfulness and of hope. 

For my birthday this year, Ben and Michelle got me a Barnes & Noble gift card. I was wandering the aisles on a Sunday afternoon, trying to find just the right purchase, and I came across a devotional book called The Book of Hope. I felt like the Lord had put this book on the shelf just for me as soon as I took a look at the cover, and then started flipping through the pages.

I've been reading through it ever since, and it's been such a blessing. 

So, the symbolism of Birds of Relocation has been particularly meaningful to me in light of these books that I've been reading, and how God has been using these pages to restore some hope into my sad and fearful heart. 

The concert we went to earlier this month was wonderful. It was in a small chapel with a small crowd and was therefore extremely personal. Before the show, we got a chance to say hello to Eric. We told him how we had a hard year, and how this album had really been ministering to us. What I like about Eric is that he's extremely honest. He's struggled with depression and has been very open about it in his writing. He's also just a very melancholy personality much like myself, so I definitely feel a kinship to him. His music that night really ministered to my heart in the deepest places that I can't even properly describe. I felt so close to Jesus in that little chapel. I felt so loved and cared for as I listened to these songs of struggle and, ultimately, hope. The issues aren't wrapped up in neat little 3 minute pop song packages, but over the course of the album the hope just creeps in and takes root... it nests, if you will. 

Eric ended his concert with two songs that are even more meaningful to me than the first. "Fighting for Life" is exactly what I feel like I'm doing a lot of days. I am fighting to be encouraged, to stay thankful, and to choose hope. 

In a little while, in a little while
The ghosts return to noise.
But not right now, no, not right now
The sky must be enjoyed.

Fighting/I'm fighting for/I'm fighting for my life
Fighting/I'm fighting for/I'm fighting for my life

Another way, is there any way
To multiply our years?
Here to stay, I am here to stay
My eyes are bright and clear

Fighting/I'm fighting for/I'm fighting for my life
Fighting/I'm fighting for/I'm fighting for my life

Like a secret hope that is forcing me awake
Dust and quiet rake the ground that I have claimed

Where I'm fighting/I'm fighting for my life

But what got me most about this song at the concert was the end. On the recording, I had a hard time making out some of the words. But that Friday night, with Eric only a few feet away, I heard it loud and clear, and it brought tears to my eyes:
I go into the darkness carrying a light
I will have no fear because I’m not alone
I got angels’ voices and friends who love me for who I am
So when the waters come
I fly above this flooded earth looking for a sign of life
And I relocate on boughs of hope,
Like a living soul, remembering that
In a little while, in a little while
The ghosts return to noise
Ooh, but not right now, not right now
The sky must be enjoyed.

I love this idea of relocating to boughs of hope, of flying above the darkness and the fear, of choosing to believe truth, and the friends who love, and the great cloud of witnesses. There really is so much to be thankful for.

And finally, he ended the night with "The New Year". As he finished the final notes, he looked Matt and I both square in the eye, remembering our earlier conversation, reassuring us that, no matter what, in Christ there is always hope.

This is the year that something changes but nothing ever does
This is the year that all my failures turn into a pile of dust
This is the year, with fallen faces, we learn we're not enough
This is the year to hold each other up

Oh, oh, oh it's a new year
Oh, oh, oh it's a brand new light
Oh, oh, oh can you believe it?
It's the skies that we dream of

This is the year when laughter douses charred and burnt-out dreams
This is the year when wrens return to nest in storm-blown trees
Is this the year of relocation from boughs of old despair?
This is the year to perch on hope's repair

Oh, oh, oh it's a new year...

I was pale and weary sad, tired of ghost debates
A slave to voices old and vile, bitter bones in the grave
But this is the year, it's the year that something changes
This is the year, the year that something changes

Oh, oh, oh it's a new year
Oh, oh, oh it's a brand new light
Oh, oh, oh can you believe it?
It's the skies that we dream of...

(Matthew, Charlotte, and I were actually at the show where this was recorded last March...)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

...and still there are songs

Well, it's been awhile. It's been over a year since I last updated my old blog, Pictures of Egypt. Today I'm not going to write about why I've been silent this past year (though I will, soon). Today I'm just writing to introduce you to my new blog. A new blog for a new year and, in some ways, a new Nicole.

I've been tossing around the idea of a new blog for months. I kept getting stuck on the title. Stacy said she knew it needed to be musical. Liz agreed. "You need a Sara Groves song," she said. My old blog, Pictures of Egypt, was titled after a Sara song about transition, homesickness, restlessness. That was the season I was in when I started the blog in 2006, but it's not really the season I'm in anymore. That's part of why I knew I wanted to start over with a brand new blog for a brand new season.

Liz suggested "It Might Be Hope", an idea I loved. We also talked about "Open My Hands", which has been my theme song this past year. Both would've been great, timely titles for what's been on my heart these days. But then out of the blue, a few days after Liz and I talked, it came to me. I was thinking about how very hard life is, about how so much can - and often does - go wrong. BUT - and it's a big but - God is the one who's in charge, and I know deep down that I can't let the fear of what could go wrong get the better of me in this life. And as I was thinking about these things, the chorus of a different Sara song, "In a Girl There's a Room", came into my head.

Oh, tell me what you know
about God and the world and the human soul
how so much can go wrong
and still there are songs

Awhile back, Matthew and I were driving somewhere and I said to him, "you know, music really is the soundtrack to my life." He laughed. "Um, that's pretty obvious. Music is everybody's soundtrack." Sigh. Here I thought I was being all profound, but he was right. A soundtrack is by definition musical, and everyone, whether they are "music people" or not, has one.

But where I was going with my shallowly profound thought was that music is incredibly important to me. My faith has been defined by music more than just about anything (except the Word). For most significant (and insignificant) experiences in my life, I can pinpoint the songs and albums that were narrating the state of my heart at a particular time. And conversely, if I put my iPod on shuffle, for almost every tune that comes on I can see myself in very specific places and very specific times in my story, and I can see God at work. 

I am in an incredibly difficult season of my life right now (again, more on that later). I've been to some very dark places in my spirit over the past year. But even in all of that, God has given me lifelines - in books, in the Word, in friends and in sisters, and in music. 

Children's author Sally Lloyd-Jones writes, "A bird doesn't sing because it has answers; it sings because it has a song." So that's where I'm at right now, in a trying season where I have more questions than answers, but still there are songs. 

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free
For His eye is on the sparrow
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He's watching me

-Audrey Assad's "Sparrow"