January 30, 2017

Reweaving Music

On Sundays, there are two services in the prayer room while in another part of our facility, there is someone playing an instrument and worshipping in prayer to keep the “fire burning.”  You see, the International House of Prayer Atlanta has been active since February 11, 2006 and since that day the worship and prayer has not stopped.  Their vision is, “on earth as it is in heaven,” prayer and worship the Lord our God unceasingly and so this has been going on 24/7/365 for eleven years.  More than it being a feat or goal to accomplish, I see the hearts of people here; hearts that genuinely and deeply love Jesus and want to worship and glorify Him and see His face shine upon them and all the earth.  It is from the foundation these deep relationships with God provide, that they are now a missions base for the local community as well as among unreached people groups internationally.  If you care to check it out, there is a live stream of the prayer room on YouTube, search: International House of Prayer Atlanta live stream.  Whatever is happening here at any time of day or night, it can be listened to on this link:

During the first Sunday evening “Encounter” service, I was struck at a heart level how wonderful the musical community is around here.  There is always worship music of some kind being played live in the prayer room.  People who are on fire for the Lord and using their God gifted musical talents to bless Him and everyone who walks in these doors.  The music fills this place like no place I’ve been before and it’s just beautiful.  At this very moment, I am sitting in the prayer room and there are two young women playing keys alongside each other while harmonizing their worship and prayers.  It is so lovely; I have chills down my neck.  As the music of that Encounter service struck my heart, I felt the Lord speak to me that it is time to reweave music back into my life in a much fuller expression than it has been in recent years.  This is one reason among many why He has brought me to this place.

Music was a significant part of my life from a young age.  I learned how to read music and play the classical violin at four or five years old I think and in high school I planned to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music education at a competitive music program in upstate New York.  Somehow, over the years my music got all wrapped up in my relationship with my father.  He was the musical parent and I assume where I got my abilities from.  Anyway, when I was elementary age I remember playing violin as my dad accompanied me on his guitar.  It didn’t happen often.  In fact, I think I only remember doing it a few times but they are steadfast in my memory.  During my freshman year of high school, my dad passed away suddenly and I played a solo during his funeral which for a long time tainted one of my favorite hymns, Amazing Grace.  The last time I saw and had any interactions with him was the Thanksgiving before his death when he taught me how to play a few chords on the guitar.  Soon after this, I started teaching myself to play the piano and continued to practice the guitar on occasion. 

When senior year came around and I was trying to study music in college, I had a lesson and an audition scheduled.  I never made it past the lesson…  The instructor immediately told me that I was not good enough to get into the program and so there was no point in trying to audition the following day.  I did not complete the rest of my visit there nor did I pursue music education after that.  His words cut deep to my numbed wounds from losing my father and the music that was so closely connected with him and the last time I had seen him.  You see, as the years went on I started to believe the lie that dad didn’t love me enough to stay alive for me, that somehow I wasn’t good enough for him and I wasn’t good enough for the career in music I had once wanted to pursue.  I think I could count on less than ten fingers the number of times I’ve picked up my violin since graduating from high school.  That wound added to the already present wound and stayed numb and sensitive to the touch. 

Thankfully, I went to college in a musical environment and I continued to be involved in other ways for a time.  I sang in choir a couple of semesters but never stretched myself to audition for the “good” choir and just stuck with the lower level one.  I also played in orchestra and had a blast, playing the viola.  I learned a whole new instrument and played it all four years though I never had one of my own.  I kept up with learning piano and guitar on my own but there was always a wound underneath that kept me from pushing myself.  After college, music basically disappeared from my life apart from singing on worship teams or choirs where I was not the center of attention. 

At some point in the last couple of years, I felt the Lord nudging me back into playing my violin and really investing myself back in music again.  I sang a couple short solos in a church musical of sorts.  I played violin in a quartet once for Christmas.  I attempted to have a friend teach me some more chords on the guitar while I taught her to play the violin.  But that, while so fun, didn’t last long.

And now here I am, in the most musical environment I’ve been in yet and God didn’t waste any time in tapping my shoulder to get involved.  I told some people around me that God was nudging me and they have graciously kept me accountable.  I tried out for vocals, my first try out since my epic fail in high school and got approved for fire burning, what I had referred to before.  There is a wonderful girl in Task school with me who is my age and has a masters in music.  She plays violin, keys, and sings and has agreed to give me violin lessons so I can learn improv for playing on sets with the different worship teams here!!!  I really feel a level of freedom, healing, and the breaking of strongholds in my heart.  It is so wonderful!  I am so thankful for what God has done to reweave this talent He has given me back into the forefront of my life.  Praise God and rejoice with me with each step forward I take.

January 20, 2017

We've been hit with a fire hose of the love of God

I find myself at the beginning of a pleasantly unexpected season where the only requirement is to receive and soak in God’s love and love Him more deeply with every day.  Yesterday, I was in a class about the bridal paradigm, the analogy made several times throughout the Bible about how Jesus is the Bridegroom and we, the “church,” are His Beloved Bride, the people he wants the absolute most intimate personal relationship with us possible.  This is for you men too; deep down, we all desire to be deeply loved and deeply known no matter what we tell ourselves. 

Slowly by slowly, God is revealing my own heart to me and touching it’s corners deeper and deeper the more I learn in class, listen to truths and listen to Him and sit in His presence throughout the week.  I challenge you to pay attention to the bad things you think or say about yourself and think, is this what God would say about me, His greatest creation?  Is this what a husband or wife would say to his or her beloved or a loving father to his son or daughter?  Surely not.  Look for the ways each day that He is trying to romance your heart to get you to turn toward His great love for you rather than run away from it.  (Ex: I randomly got told I had pretty feet the other day.  Weird? Maybe.  But I’ve often hoped that I had pretty feet cause I like feet and pretty feet are so, well, pretty.  And I felt like rather than it being a funny compliment, it’s what Jesus thinks.  Sorry for anyone who has a foot phobia.)

I didn’t fully know what this season would entail other than that I would be sharing some sort of living arrangement, I would be spending several hours a day in the prayer room, learning a lot about God and about His vision for me, and building a strong foundation for His call on my life.  I knew it would be an intense season of growth and healing much as going to seminary was last year, only this is specific to people who have a deep heart for missions domestically and internationally.  On any given day we will have some combination of:

Two hours of community intercession – A worship team leads the room in a time of congregational worship, then singing in the Spirit, then intercession where there is a prayer leader who brings everyone together by praying over a certain topic and using Scripture to pray into it.  The worship team then responds by singing the prayers of the person leading the prayer and then worship with the Word where the team sings the Scriptures.  The prayer leader will often close with a time of prayer over people in the congregation who need it by the laying on of hands and small group prayer. It’s all very powerful and beautiful music!

Lunch with all of us interns.  There are about 35 of us and we have a lot of fun eating together.

Lots of class time on various topics—the knowledge of God, Heart of the Father, Song of Solomon, Fellowshipping with the Spirit, Evangelism training, Foundation of Missions, Mission Support Development and countless others.

Prayer Room—sometimes we have a guided prayer room time and other times it’s free for us to pray, reflect and process, do personal devotions, study notes, journal, blog, read and study the Bible, etc.  We usually have a two to six-hour block depending on the day.  This sounds like a long long time but seriously, I usually am not able to do everything I wanted to in this amount of time and wish I had more prayer room time during the day. 

Connect Groups—small groups that meet weekly to share about harder things going on.

I had no idea before starting this training time, just how powerful it would be in setting the foundation for a possible career in missions as well as just building my own relationship with God for living out the life He has for me to live.  It’s truly awesome!  Something I was told about this place and I’ve noticed on my own since I got here: when I spend all day every day learning about or soaking in the presence of God, I can’t help but realize my own brokenness and imperfections and He can’t help but meet me there and bring healing and deep love and restoration and truth into those untouched places.  It’s so gradual though that I barely notice it in the moment.  I will share about one of these specifics in another post.  But for now, here are some verses that have particularly struck my heart since I’ve been here.  If there is one that is particularly hard to read and believe, I encourage you to read it repeatedly and let it soak in, daily if need be until you believe it.  It was our assignment that I’ve been practicing…

Song of Solomon 4:7 You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.

Mark 1:11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

John 14:8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

1 Peter 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Deuteronomy 8:1-20 This one is longer so I won’t write it all out but read it and reflect for a good thirty minutes on what you find if you feel so inclined to see how God provides and how He invites us into a partnership in life with Him.

Ephesians 1: 3-10 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5heb predestined us for adoption to sonshipc through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9hed made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

January 6, 2017

Embracing a different grocery store

I have been back in the United States for a little over a month now and most days it feels like only yesterday but thankfully feelings are always real but not always true.  This month has been filled with the blessing and comfort and encouragement of seeing many loved friends and family.  Truthfully, if it weren't for so many cherished people and the steady arms of God in my life, I would be so much more depressed and unable to cope with the transition in a healthy way.  If you haven't spent time in another country especially an underdeveloped or developing one for a short or long time, you may struggle somewhat to understand this.   No matter how many times I've traveled overseas, there are aspects of returning to what is supposed to be and feel like home that are really hard and confusing and uncomfortable and foreign but familiar all at once.

Regardless of how long I've been somewhere, I've experienced things that no one has and changed in ways that even I don't know about and so upon returning to the place everyone else sees as my home, I feel out of place and unable to relate to my surroundings and people in the same way as when I left. These changes are still developing and will eventually solidify in some way but aspects of these experiences will stick with me forever and I have to relearn how to live in my culture among family and friends and everyone else around me has to relearn about parts of who I am and how I have been affected by these experiences.  I don't fully understand myself in this context in order to enable others to understand better and so relationships that were once relatively easy, aren't; communication is a struggle and engaging in life goings on are no longer my normal and so I feel strange doing them.  This difficulty in relationships is by far one of the most difficult parts of dealing with reverse culture shock.  I like to be understood and I like to understand and neither happens often in transitions like this.  People, relationships, are so important to me and all of a sudden I returned from Uganda and felt like I didn't belong with my people anymore.  It is heart wrenching to somehow meander through.  

I remember when I returned from spending four months in the Middle East and being completely unprepared for the emotional upheaval of a trip to Walmart.  I walked in and walked immediately back out overcome with emotions--anger, resentment, confusion, sensory overload, and others that I don't have words for.  I must have forgotten about it or expected it to be different after returning this time, but I recall my first trip to the grocery store with glaring similarity.  I didn't run away so I guess that's an improvement but again I was overcome with emotion.  However this time, I despised where I was, was broken hearted about the many implications that came from my surroundings, and longed for where I was no longer.  It's sort of similar to if you have moved away from a beloved home and you walk into a place that just isn't the same as where you came from and you just don't like it for so many reasons.  It's a deep grieving and a need to embrace the place where you are and not wanting to.  I wanted to walk or ride a boda to the open market; to buy my fruit and vegetables from Jaaja, the dear old Muslim lady that I always shopped from; to go to Swami's, the small shop Ugandans call supermarkets to buy honey, peanut butter, yogurt, laundry soap, and the occasional Snickers bar; to get a rolex from Rashid, a tomato, onion, and green pepper omelet rolled up in a flat bread.   I almost broke down in tears right in the middle of the aisle but my friend quickly hugged me, prayed over me, I made myself have tunnel vision, and we RAN!  Literally five minutes in the store to get a half dozen items--fastest grocery store experience ever!!  I did not go into another store for three weeks.

I am so very thankful for this friend who understands so much about what I've been dealing with inside.  I don't have to explain anything for her to get it and it's been so helpful!  Over this last month, God has brought small precious blessings through the people around me, people who seem to be able to ask the right questions or just listen to stories and be engaged.  Getting together for breakfast with a friend who gets it without me having to explain anything.  Having things to look forward to.  Making memories.  Processing.  Adjusting. Sleeping.  Learning about how God is moving in people's lives here-- it's so easy to forget that God is still just as present here as He is in Uganda because the usual Western way of living out faith and engaging with God is so different.  I know people who don't allow their walk with God to become stagnant and complacent and numb but I also see a way that feels so Spiritless.  But I tell you, God has been showing me several ways that He hasn't allowed Himself to be forgotten about--He is omnipresent and no matter what we do to stifle Him, He cannot be snuffed out!  It is a priceless gift to see His movement no matter where He brings me!  Above all, this has been my greatest comfort.

God is here, the same, ever present, ever moving.