Thursday, September 30, 2010

It Will Never Stop Being Surreal

First off, congratulations to Matt and Dana for the safe arrival of their new baby boy!  Secondly, a happy birthday to Jim tomorrow!

As I'm thinking about what to write for this post, I'm realizing that I might end up sounding like a broken record.  I've already written about how much I love being a part of HeartSong, how amazing it is to be a part of something bigger than me, and how natural it's beginning to feel.  But I want to write again about this amazing experience in itself, even as I'm still grappling with what it means to be a part of HeartSong.

Tonight our all-HeartSong meeting was more like a rehearsal for Yellow Team, and we were the practice audience.  We all worshipped together, singing songs we all have come to know by heart, but still finding the meaning in them and praying them with all our hearts.  After the worship set, Jim asked the Yellow Team members how they were feeling.  A couple of them said they felt unprepared for the coming weekend, but Collin said that it still didn't seem real; he still couldn't fully grasp the idea that he was actually a member of HeartSong.  Jim reassured all of us that this feeling should go away soon.

Usually I agree with the things that Jim says, but this time I'm not sure if I do.  I think that if being a part of HeartSong ever stops being unbelievable, we stop understanding the privilege we have to be a part of this team.  There are many people at Cedarville who would give anything to be a part of HeartSong, and then there a people like me who didn't even want to be on HeartSong until two weeks before I made the team.  This is a rare opportunity that God has given to us, and we should be amazed and honored that He would choose us to be a part of this ministry.  In time, yes, it should begin to feel natural; the nervous, unprepared feelings will go away as we become more comfortable with the music and with our team.  But the amazed feeling, the surreal feeling, should never go away.  Being a part of God's plan is surreal; our sin and brokenness should have taken away this privilege and honor.  But God called us back and continues to call us to the great adventure in His Holy Spirit to be used by Him "for the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:12).

So saddle up your horses, we've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild, blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our Leader into the glorious unknown
This is a life like no other
Woah! This is the great adventure!

P.S. Please pray for the Yellow Team as they travel to Lake Ann and minister to junior high students this weekend!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Some Things I'm Learning

It dawned on me this afternoon at lunch that this is the first time I’ve been here at Cedarville for Saturday lunch since August.  All week I’ve been looking forward to this weekend, having a free afternoon to get work done and relax a little.  But last Wednesday when Tommy said, “See you next Tuesday,” I felt a little sad that I wouldn’t be spending the weekend with my team.  I became even more excited for summer to come when I will be devoting all of my time to my team and my ministry.  But for now, I have some time to myself, and even though nothing much has happened since my last post, I thought I’d share a couple things that God has taught me this week.

First Thing:
On Wednesday, during our HeartSong meeting, we watched a video of author and pastor Tim Keller and heard his explanation of the Gospel.  Short version: in response to the Gospel, there are three ways to live.  First, one can completely reject the Gospel and choose to find his own way to live.  Second, one can immerse himself in the religion of doing good to please God, making his actions his main focus.  Both of these reject the essence of the Gospel: Jesus is the Savior of our sins.  Thirdly, one can accept God’s gift of grace and choose to do good works, not to get acceptance from God, but because of already being accepted by God.  This person is “simul iustus et peccator,” or simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ, and his motivation for doing good is not fear, but grateful joy.

Recently, I have been living my life based on the second response.  I have been looking for my value in God in how “good” I have been, how well I’ve managed my time or been a servant to others, even though I knew that these things wouldn't bring me salvation.  On the handout we received outlining the differences between living in religion and living in the Gospel, one point under “religion” said: “If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate; I feel like a failure.”  When I read that, I knew that was me.  This sentence was the essence of the five lies I had written down during the HeartSong retreat.  I could never figure out why I still believed these lies; now I know it was because I was living in religion instead of in God’s grace.  In dying for me Christ redeemed me from my failures, and even though I may continue to sin, Christ still loves me the way I am.  I should respond with overwhelming joy that the good works that I do are pleasing to Him and are not overshadowed by my sins!

Second Thing:
Even since I joined HeartSong, I seem to have had Hannah Montana stuck in my head.  Yes, I admit that I am a fan of some of Hannah Montana’s music, especially her earlier songs, because the message is very positive and encouraging.  My favorite of her songs is one that is not that well known, and it’s called “Bigger Than Us.”  Some of the lyrics are:  “I want to see beyond my own little world…to be a part of a greater picture that’s bigger than us…that rescues our hearts with a Love that’s bigger than us.”  I’m not sure if she was singing about the Gospel or not, but when I hear these words in my head I turn them into a prayer for my life.

Being a part of HeartSong gives me an overwhelming feeling that I am a part of something huge.  HeartSong is a legacy of Cedarville, and I am amazed that God would choose me to be a part of it.  And the HeartSong legacy is only a small part of the legacy of the Gospel; HeartSong is a tool that guides people to the Gospel and to Christ.  Being used by God is a much bigger honor than being a part of a college musical group!  So really, this amazement that I’m in HeartSong should hold little value in comparison with the overwhelming gratefulness that God would use me to preach His Gospel with my life, whether through HeartSong, Camp Carl, or anything else.  Right now, God has chosen for me to share the Gospel through HeartSong.  What has he chosen for you?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


“Deanna, we are going to stretch you this year!” were the words that Tommy, my team leader, said to me.  And although he was referring to me becoming more comfortable with listening to “boy-talk” and getting a tattoo (yeah, right!), I took those words to heart in a different way.  Stretching is something everybody should be willing to do, especially when God is the one doing the stretching.  This blog entry is all about the different stretches I experienced this past weekend on the HeartSong Retreat, otherwise known as Brownsburg, after the Indiana town we stayed in.  Many people have asked me about the weekend, and I’ve responded with, “Do you want the short or long version?”  Every time I tell it, it is different, but here I’d like to tell the long story, the story with all the spiritual and emotional details, because by writing them down I can better look back on the weekend and understand everything that I learned.

We arrived at the church on Thursday, unpacked and set up equipment in our separate rooms, and played a few short camp-style games before heading off to our host homes.  I went with Katie D, Katie M, and Candy to the home of a pilot and his wife and 8th-grade son, and the entire house smelled like pumpkin spices.  When the father and son both left for the weekend, we got a chance to have “girl talk” without them around.

On Friday we came back to the church at around 8:30, and the first thing on the schedule was a devotional time.  In my experience, morning devotionals tend to be simple and encouraging for the day, not necessarily too deep or emotional.  Stretch #1: morning devotionals that were incredibly deep and emotional and self-examining.  He asked us to write down 5 words to describe ourselves, calling it the 5-word story of us.  Then, we were to write down the 5-word “ideal” story, possibly changing some of the words.  Finally, after a bit of discussion that I zoned in and out of (hey, it was 8:30 in the morning!), he had us write down a 5-word story of lies that the world had told us that we had believed.  After the difficult day I had had on Thursday, I wanted to stop and leave that area blank because I had just finished forgetting those lies.  But once the pencil hit the paper, those 5 words came out like they were rehearsed, formulated much faster than the other two 5-word stories were.  I stared at those words, wanting to rip that section off the page and burn it.  I knew these were lies; I shouldn’t have to look at them and be reminded of them!  But he told us to keep those papers for later, so I did, but I folded that section over so I didn’t have to see those lies and took one more quick look at my ideal story before heading off to rehearsal for the rest of the morning.

After a great morning of rehearsing, we had lunch, followed by another devotional time.  This time, we were all given a sheet of paper and we needed to find five other people to write 5-word stories about us.  The next 10 minutes felt like 10 hours as I watched everyone exchange papers, grabbing for each other’s papers, eager to write on them.  Three people wrote on mine, and they were all great words, but I saw many people getting more than five people writing on theirs, and it made me feel very alone.  It seemed as though all of these people knew each other well, and I sat there wishing to disappear because I didn’t really belong there.  After we were all encouraged by each other, we were asked to get with our teams and share with each other our five lies from earlier that day.  I felt so exposed sharing those lies that I knew weren’t true.  I didn’t want to accept them as truth, but for some reason sharing a secret makes that secret ring truer, and I felt awful saying my secrets out loud to people I barely knew.  For the rest of the day, rehearsal seemed like a blur as I wrestled with my emotions inside.  By the time the day was over, I was emotionally exhausted, and my roommate Rachel, whose family was hosting some of the guys, could tell when she came to pick them up.  She told me later that all day Saturday she was praying for me because she knew something was wrong.

I needed to read the Bible and get some truth back into my life.  When we got back to the host home and were ready for bed, I opened it up.  I started in Leviticus, which I needed to read for a class, but I couldn’t stand reading a bunch of rules after one of my lies was that I was a failure.  So I grabbed the book that my roommate Rachel had given me for my birthday called “Come Away, My Beloved” by Frances J. Roberts (a daily devotional meant to be a letter from God) and turned to the second page.  The verse at the top was James 1:5; I stopped after reading the verse and turned to James in my Bible and started reading:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”

That was James 1:2-7.  I stopped there and went back to “Come Away,” and read this:

“The days ahead may call for greater endurance and more robust faith than you ever needed before.  Welcome this, for you must surely know how precious are the lessons learned through such experiences.  Even if you are unable to fully anticipate them with joy, you can certainly gain an appropriate appreciation of them in retrospect…Seek Me above all else.”

I knew that God had planned for me to read those verses and that devotional page on that night.  I was the only one still awake as I read, and I knelt down right there by the cushion I had been sitting on and prayed.  Stretch #2: surrendering my life to Christ, not for the first time, but for the first time in a while.  I asked Him to carry my burdens, to give me wisdom, to help me know what is truly important instead of what I think is important, to guide me and be with me, and to strengthen my faith.  Even though I don’t remember the exact words I prayed, God answered by giving me a peaceful night’s sleep and a rested soul for Saturday.

On Saturday we rehearsed some more, this time as all three teams together, which was how we were to perform on Sunday.  It was odd; I was able to play the piano for a couple of songs, but it didn’t seem real to me.  I could not wrap my mind around the idea that I was in HeartSong and I was meant to be there.  In the evening, we all dressed up like we were from the 50’s and went to a 50’s-themed restaurant to eat and play games like mini-golf, ski-ball, and mini-bowling (which I rocked at, by the way!).  For some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong, that I was on the outside of this group of people, especially when I ended up with groups with couples in them.  After we got back, we had some team time, and at that point I was physically exhausted!

Tommy had noticed all weekend that I was tired and stressed, so he found me before we left for our host homes on Saturday.  He asked me how I was doing, and then promised me that it would get easier and told me that God intended me to be here and that I wasn’t here by mistake.  He also said that he was there for me if I needed him.  Stretch #3: getting an older brother.  Until now, the only man in my life that had sought to protect and care about me was my dad.  This weekend, I gained a brother who cares about me like I’m related to him and who seeks to protect me.  I also gained 4 other brothers and 2 sisters, and my prayer is that by the end of the year, we become a true family.

Sunday was the day I worshipped in HeartSong for the first time.  It felt incredibly natural.  Not scary, and not necessarily exciting.  Just very natural.  There was no adrenaline rush, no incredible feeling that told me that I was where I was meant to be, no amazement that I was actually a part of HeartSong.  I knew that I was supposed to be there, ministering to that church, and I knew that my worship was pleasing to God, and that was all I needed.  After our worship service, we walked over to where HeartSong: Generation were leading worship and sang some songs with them, including my ultimate favorite, “Rise and Sing.”  And I remembered why I was supposed to be there; because God called me there.  It didn’t matter what I would do or how God would use me.  When He called, I followed, and I am where I am supposed to be, whether I “feel” it or not.

Stretching is about discovering the scary things in our lives and purposely embracing and facing them, knowing that the trials will produce steadfastness.  It’s about breaking out of the “comfort box,” as Rachel Lee would say, and doing what God tells us to do.  Not just going, but doing and acting His will for our lives, even if that means feeling incredibly overwhelmed and stressed at first.  What God has in store for me is beyond my level of comfort, and that excites me and terrifies me at the same time.  What is going to happen next, I wonder?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Can I really do this?

It's hard to believe that's it's been just a week since I last wrote in my blog.  So many things have happened, and not happened, and should have happened, and it has started to make me wonder: can I really do this?

As I write this, I'm somewhere on 70 W heading to Brownsburg, IN for our first weekend out as HeartSong.  I'm supposed to be excited; after all, I love this, right?  But I started this van ride feeling very reluctant to get in and leave behind so many things that needed to be done.  I'm behind in 2 of my classes, and by the time this retreat is over I'll be behind in 3.  I think I'm in over my head in some ways.  I started thinking this way last weekend, "Pre-Retreat Weekend,"  when we spent 8 hours rehearsing and 12 hours shopping.  For the rest of the week I continued to fall behind in schoolwork (although I did practice enough piano!) and I lost more and more sleep.  I kept trying to come up with a plan, but I failed to follow through every time.  [Thank You God for grace.]

Then I began to discover that I was missing out on stuff because of HeartSong.  I missed women's open dorms, the first ALT night, and the honors mini-retreat at Dr. Mills'; I'm also missing the Maddox Olympics, the aural skills dinner at Dr. Jaquith's, and I might have to miss my little sister's high school graduation because of summer tour.  Ever since the beginning of this experience, HeartSong had constantly been changing my plans.

Before taking a rest stop and eating dinner, I spent most of the van ride staring out the window at the clouds and watching the way they changed.  The thing that first caught my eye was the small bit of blue sky surrounded by a large blanket of gray clouds.  I thought: that's how I feel right now; I knew that after this weekend of blue skies, it would be back to that ever-thickening gray.  The farther we went, the more blue began to show until a beautiful sky of white clouds with shiny silver linings was all I could see, and I had forgotten about the gray skies.  I'm still not sure if my mind has changed with the clouds.  Can I go back and only remember the blue, forgetting the gray?

This is the part of the blog post where I'm supposed to talk about how God miraculously changed my heart and I'm all better now.  But in all honesty, I'm still trying to figure this out.  And that's okay for now.  Part of the sancification process is not having all the answers and feeling uneasy sometimes.  I know that someday all these feelings of doubt and worry will pass away, and until then I rest in the Holy Spirit who lives in me, in Jesus Christ who died for me, and God my Father who holds me in His hands, even when I'm not sure if He's there.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I LOVE this.

"We exalt Thee, O Lord..."

These were the words running through my head as I walked back to the dorm room tonight after an amazing HeartSong meeting...if you could call it a meeting.  It ended with all of us in a circle in the DMC foyer singing beautiful harmonies to our Savior.  "We exalt Thee, O Lord... Praise God, from whom all blessings flow... Take joy, my King, in what You hear, may it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear."  And three words came into my head: I love this.

Yesterday was our first rehearsal as the Green Team.  It was scheduled to go for three hours.  Despite being a musician, I hate rehearsals.  Practicing I don't mind most of the time, but when lots of people get together to rehearse, I hate it.  Yes, I do believe it is necessary and key to sounding great, but in rehearsals I've been in there always seemed to be a lot more talking than playing.  Elements key to any rehearsal that I hate include stopping at the worst places to fix something, listening to the leader fix a problem with an instrument or part that isn't me, when people get distracted, when we take a break (let's just get it done!).  Granted, I hate a lot of these things because I am selfish; I don't want to sit and listen to a problem being fixed if I'm not the problem, or I just want to get this done so I can move on with my life.  God is teaching me patience, for sure.  But that doesn't change the fact that I hate rehearsing.

But last night, three hours felt like one.  We spent a good 70 minutes on one song, but it didn't feel that way.  And I can't even describe what it was that made it so short and so...awesome.  We are all super talented, which surprised me, but shouldn't have because we're in HeartSong.  "Clicked" isn't the right word, but we're learning how to listen to each other, to let each other's talent shine through.  I don't know; now that I think about it, I can't even put into words what made it great.  I loved it.  I LOVED it.

I worked at Camp Carl for two years, I was a junior counselor before that for two years.  I loved it.  It's not that it never quite felt right, it's not that something was missing, because there wasn't.  I loved my summer job, and before this past August I never would have thought of changing it.  Even now I would never trade those amazing years for anything.  But now that I'm in HeartSong, in a place that's "perfect for me" by the world's standards, I feel like if there was something missing before, I've found it.  No, it's not God that was missing; He was filling me the whole time, and that's why I never felt empty at camp.  It's a different place in my heart that's full, an unnecessary full, but a wonderful full.  Music is consuming my life.  But in a different way than how God consumes me; music is not fulfilling me, but it is filling me.  Making music is my heart's desire, and it's a desire that God put in my heart.  And I'm doing it, and I love it.

I can hear God whispering, "THIS is it.  THIS is what I created you to do.  THIS is My plan for your life."  And tonight, when I joined with 38 other people who share that calling and that purpose, and we glorified the One who gave us this desire of our hearts...

How can I go on but to say: I love this.  I LOVE this.

Monday, September 6, 2010

You Are Stronger

"It is written, Christ is risen!  Jesus, You are Lord of all!"

This song has been running through my head a lot over this past week.  It could be the fact that since I need to learn it for HeartSong, I've been listening to it a lot.  More likely it could be that this song is, as a good friend would say, the story of my life right now.  "You are stronger, You are stronger..." I am so thankful that God is stronger than I am, than my circumstances are.  A week after the first HeartSong meeting of the year, and I think that I'm finally believing that God is stronger.

Our first meeting was three hours long, and I didn't come back to my dorm room until close to midnight.  One piece of information after another piled up, and I came back to my room overwhelmed and ready to rest my mind, when Rachel, my roommate, wanted to hear all about it.  It was kind of nice telling her how everything went and what we did, but the more I talked the more I asked, "God, you put me here; do you really think I can do this?"  All week, I made plans to get a couple days ahead on homework, and every single day those plans didn't happen.  I would get all my homework for the next day finished, but I would still feel like I failed somehow because my plans didn't get fulfilled.

This is something that happened to me a lot last year, too.  I would make plans, then not fulfill them, and then give up.  I thought, if I couldn't meet God's standard, why even try.  Then I would "confess" to God, saying I would do better tomorrow, and then the next day I would fail again.  I kept thinking, "Why am I reading my Bible?  Why am I praying?  I need to get all my work done first, than when I'm free from sin, I can be with God."  I felt so guilty all the time because I was stuck in a rut of sinning, "confessing" and promising, breaking my promise and sinning again, "confessing" again, sinning again.  There was no way I could have gotten out of this rut without God's grace, but in my mind there was no way I could get God's grace until I got out of this rut.

I still struggle with this now, and last week is evidence of that.  I keep wanting to please God so He will look on me with favor, but I'm completely missing the point of grace.  God loves me and will keep His promises to me, even when I fail to keep my promises to Him.  I can't truly be made right with God until I allow His grace and His Spirit to enter into my life and change it.  He is the only one that can get out of this rut, and He is begging me to let Him in so He can fix it.  But I'm always saying, "No, let me fix this house first, then You can come in."

In Luke 10, he tells the story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary.  I have always identified more with Martha.  What was she doing that was bad?  She loved Jesus so much that she wanted the house to be clean and the food to be ready and delicious when He came.  Mary wasn't doing anything except listening to Him; wouldn't there be time for that once everything was prepared?  But Jesus says to Martha, "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed."

That one thing is God's grace.  Last year and last week I was worried and upset about many things, and I didn't understand that only one thing was needed.  I only need God's grace, and when He enters in, His grace overflows to all areas of my life, all the areas that I'm worried and upset about, and takes away my burdens, the burdens I can't carry myself.  He is stronger than I am; He is the only One who can save me.

You are stronger, You are stronger
Sin is broken, You have saved me
It is written: Christ is risen
Jesus, You are Lord of All

"Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest...For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
~Jesus (Matthew 11:28,30)