Tag Archives: freedom

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

Standard

DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

On Refugees: A Poem & A Few Ways to Help

Standard

dsc08915I could have been you.
I could have entered the world at war,
Could have seen horrors that echo,
Could have known nothing but danger and the desperation for escape.
But, somehow, I’m me.
I’m not where you are,
Don’t understand suffering the way you do,
Don’t know what it’s like to be hated in my core.

I could have been you.
But, somehow, I’m me.
So I choose to be your sister,
And fight so you’ll have a seat.
Your heart is safe with me.

I ache for my refugee brothers and sisters. But I also burn liquid hot with a growing passion to help them in every possible way I can. Here are some of the ways I have found, and encourage you to engage in as well:

Share the facts. Don’t let the voice of fear be the only one speaking. Be a voice of truth and of love. Share that the screening process for refugee entry into the US is already intensive, more rigorous than that of any other form of immigration. Share that the odds of being killed by a refugee-disguised terrorist in the US are 1 in 3.64 billion per year; you are more likely to be struck by lightning– while drowning. Share that “compassion and security are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing.” Share that the overwhelming majority of terrorism in the US has not come from foreigners. Share that “in cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” Share that banning any human being from anything solely based on their religion or nationally is discrimination and an attack on religious freedom, period. Share that ignoring the helpless is ignoring Jesus, and He will not tolerate it. Fear is a liar. Love tells the truth. Let love win in you.

Contact your officials. It is actually wildly easy to reach your government officials and let them know you want action on an issue. This form lets you email the president, your representative, and your senators all at once and helps you figure out what to say. You also have the option to see their phone numbers and call them with your concerns. The greater the volume of voices speaking the same thing, the more likely they are to take notice. Do not relent.

Support those working on the front lines. There are a few main organizations my friends who work in humanitarian efforts have recommended to me:

  1. Preemptive Love Coalition. They are based in the countries facing ISIS right now, providing real-time relief and aid to the people there. You can also directly donate to the work they’re doing specifically in Aleppo. They do things right; their mission and their methods are simply holy.
  2. World Relief. From their website: “Through partnerships with local partners and churches, World Relief is providing help, temporary shelters, hygiene items, and psychosocial counseling to displaced refugee families, as well as sponsoring child-friendly spaces for mothers and children. In addition, World Relief has been empowering local churches to resettle refugees in the United States for more than 35 years.” Explore their website to find the specific way you feel led to help.
  3. My friend, Delaney. She works with refugees and is currently getting ready for a trip to Germany to meet physical and spiritual needs of the refugees in the camps in Berlin, specifically the unaccompanied children. This woman shines bright, and supporting her work is something you can be proud of.
  4. I am also adding the ACLU, the group that brought this weekend’s executive order to court and put it on hold just one day after it had been signed. They appear before the Supreme Court more than any other organization besides the Department of Justice, giving voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. A different kind of refugee aid, but still important, especially given our current circumstances. The immigration ban is still being enforced despite the court ruling; we still have much work to do.

Be an advocate. You can sign petitions of solidarity, but you can also simply speak kindly of every race and religion, no matter what the people around you are saying. Align yourself with the marginalized; if someone wants to oppress refugees and/or Muslims, let them know they’ll have to face you first, not in an angry stance but in a poised, firm one. I am learning that we can be angered for righteous reasons, but our anger itself is not the righteous thing. Feel the anger– then let it go, instead of feeding it. Let the passion it awakened in you lead you forward, in love and in peace. We don’t fight fire with fire; we don’t fight fear with fear; we don’t fight hatred with hatred.

Keep creating. This one may not sound important, but it’s a way of pushing back darkness with light. I’ve talked about this before, about how putting our deepest loves into action in the world is how we kill the fear. Keep doing that. I don’t know what your passions are, but live them. We need that from you. We need what you have to give, whatever form that takes.

Pray. Genuinely, this is not a cliché or a cop-out. Your prayers reach the Father. And when you pray for refugees, you are praying straight into His own heart, because He is near to the broken, He takes up the cause of the oppressed, He avenges His children. Pray. It is not a fruitless thing. It is fuel for everything else you are doing. God is working, today. And He will not stop until every single one of His children is safe with Him.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

-Matthew 25:31-46

Turning My Darkness to Light

Standard

“Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  -Philippians 1:14

DSC04846We don’t like to vocalize our struggles until we feel they can be wrapped up somehow. Until it becomes part of our past, we don’t tell more than a few people (if that) about our most broken parts.

What happens when the past doesn’t stay there?

What happens when the past used to be a long time ago, but this year we stumbled, and the past became February? And what happens when February turns into five days ago?

All week, I have known my recent stumble demanded a new response from me. I learned a lot last month about what it means to be real; I value no-exception honesty in people more and more every day, and have gained unspeakable comfort and strength from those who vocalize the raw, unfinished pieces of themselves. I cannot escape the knowledge that there is power in being wholly genuine in every context I find myself. Even Scripture has encouraged me to bare it all, has said, “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

Our darkness becomes light when we shine light on it.

Light can only enter broken things, after all.

I can feel my heart pound wildly against my chest at the thought of the freedom I would be walking in if I just released everything… including the parts I don’t want you to see. But I’ve been afraid. People can generally accept someone’s messy past. But a messy present? One that may or may not go away soon… if ever? It scares us. Because it’s imperfect and we can’t fix it with our usual, one-size-fits-all answers.

I used to be afraid of the struggles of others. But when I stopped denying the existence of my own, when I couldn’t ignore them anymore, I found such comfort in the company of those who were openly imperfect. Even if they weren’t physically with me, I knew they were with me. I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with garbage like mine.

It is time for me to be that company for others, too.

I have to bring my darkness out into the light. For me, but also for you. It might scare you once you see it; it might make you leave me, or attempt to fix me with no result. Those are deep fears I keep running into as I write this. But… what if it helps heal you instead? It might do that, too. It might embrace you, or spark some measure of hope in you. Because you might remember it when you think you have to hide your own struggles, when you think you have to deal with them by yourself. And it might lead you to accept the open arms of your Father more readily. I know this because others shining light on their garbage has done the same for me.

You are not the only one. You are not the only one who tries but doesn’t always succeed; who has been doing well but knows they could fall again; who still deals with things they hate, things they know should belong in the past. I’m here, too. I’m with you.

And here is what I have in my garbage right now: lust and pornography.

I accidentally found porn around three years ago. It horrified me, and I sobbed into my Father afterwards, repentant and deeply pained. It truly was an accident. But months later, in one weak moment… I remembered how easy it had been to find. So I found it again. On purpose this time. And it horrified me, and I repented in deep sincerity once again.

This cycle has repeated itself since. My Father has forgiven me and welcomed me immediately each time. He has never condemned me. Instead, He has comforted me, and let me weep inside Him as my shame and disgust overwhelmed me. He has promised to teach me to renew my mind, and has done so much in restoring me.

And I still struggle.

I deal with lust in some form on an almost daily basis, but it’s only been twice this year that I have given in to pornography: once in February and once last week. But twice still feels like so many, because I know there shouldn’t be any instances of this in my life anymore. Both times, I have written to a friend I go to for accountability, and lamented: “I thought it was gone. It had been so long, I thought I was finally rid of it. How did I get here again?”

I hate pornography. I hate the industry, I hate the effects it has on us psychologically and physically, I hate the perversion it displays of something that was made to be pure and dazzling. I hate it with the deepest passion. Yet I have consumed it twice this year. I consumed it last week, even with all I know. And I don’t know if this time was finally the last.

I believe there will be a last time. God has kept His promise to rework my evil intentions into good things for His glory, making me stronger with new revelations every time I have failed. I just don’t know when that last time will be. I hoped it would be February, and it wasn’t. Now I hope it will be last week. It could be. But I honestly don’t know. Not one piece of me wants pornography in my life, but what happened last week that somehow made me feel differently? I don’t understand it. I hate fearing the ticking of a time bomb inside me, never knowing when or if it could go off. Because I know I have control over my actions… yet I do what I hate.

This is where I am today. I’m emerging from grieving my sin. I’m wrestling with what it means to be a human being with flesh warring against my soul. And I’m exposing my darkness so it can become light. Altogether, I am learning how to live in freedom. Freedom from my struggles, but another kind of freedom, too– the freedom that comes from living fully in the truth, without hiding anything and without fearing what others might see in me.

My unsightly pieces are visible to you now. But I hope when you look at me, they aren’t what you see. Instead… I hope you see a companion. I hope you see there is so much more to me than my struggles, that my garbage is not who I am– and that the same is true for you.

We have let fear and shame keep us from our freedom and from each other for too long. It’s time we take back our ground. We have been given the gift of being able to bear each other’s burdens and walk toward healing together; I don’t want to forsake that anymore.

I am with you. I am with you.

And we are still fully loved, even as we are fully known.

We get to learn how to live in our freedom now. One stumble and one step at a time.

On Letting God Do His Work (Or, That Time I Accidentally Observed Lent)

Standard

“Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being and communing with Him.”   -Scott Sauls

easter bloomsI had no intention of observing Lent this year. It has always just seemed too religious to me; the idea of religion is something I wrestle with, something I consistently need to find balance in. But in February, the day after the Lord asked me to let something go and I (hesitantly, painfully) obeyed, I discovered He had done so on the first day of Lent.

Religion is not bad, and I constantly have to remember that. On the way to church Easter Sunday, I was thinking about the past forty days, and I articulated to myself: “It’s so funny that He used Lent to do all this for me, when it’s such a religious thing.” And I heard inside me a chuckle carrying the words:

“Tessa, you love religion.”

Maybe that was true, I began to realize. I make boundaries for myself all over the place (if it’s necessary or not). Symbolic acts and ceremony matter greatly to me and help me process and remember. In some measure, maybe my soul needs religion.

Religion isn’t bad. The problem comes when I begin telling Jesus He has to operate within the boundaries of it. When I try to fit Him into a mold, to make Him follow the rules, to make sure He never deviates from the established way things are done, I am making religion my god. And that is the opposite of the point.

By religious standards, I failed Lent. For weeks after I gave that thing up, I would check in on it multiple times daily, and I picked it back up before the forty days were over. But God was present for every single thing that I did, and I acted according to His lead. He was proud of me. I felt it.

On days when I cracked under the pressure, He would scoop me into a long hug and tell me it was okay. He wasn’t exasperated or disappointed in me. He told me this was His work, not mine. My work was trusting Him enough to let Him do it.

We feel like we’re being lazy, like we’re not doing enough, when He tells us the only thing necessary is to sit at His feet. Those feelings are from the voice of shame, and it’s lying. Redemption is His work. Our work is believing and saying yes. Shame told me I had to do more, that I needed to make Him more proud.

The lie I believed was that He could be more proud of me than He already was.

He is proud of me even when I stumble, because He knows He is teaching me to walk. He lets me learn at my own pace; leads me through a process. I gave up that thing piece by piece, and each moment was led by Him. When only one piece was given up, that was all He’d asked of me. He wasn’t glaring at what was left, He was pleased with the one thing that was gone. Because I’d said yes to Him despite how it hurt me. He never rushed me; He knew what I could handle.

I blamed myself and my lack of discipline for my pain, when He was waving me over to gratitude for the growth that was happening in me. I made it about my shortcomings, instead of His lavish grace and love. There is so much more freedom in Him than I allow myself to believe. His way is so much kinder than mine.

During Lent, I learned to trust Him. I learned that I can trust Him. I learned that I am fickle and that He’s not mad at me for it– He loves me. He loves me enough to hurt me in order to remove something that is killing me inside. That thing? It was an idol to me. I needed my Father to be my God again. And He knew the best way to make that happen.

Weeks later, when He told me I could pick that thing up again… I didn’t want to.

I didn’t think I was ready. I was afraid of myself. I had turned a vessel into an idol, and it had taken so much for me to cut those ties and to see those altars start crumbling. That thing’s importance in my life was decreasing, and although it was so painful, I knew it was redemptive. I knew my Father would never ask me to do something painful if there wasn’t purpose in it; it was hard and holy work. He was not being cruel, He was protecting me. Now, I was afraid to give myself too much leeway and go back to where I was before, back to the obsession and the distress. I didn’t trust myself. But then He asked me:

“Do you trust me?”

So I said yes and picked it up again.

I asked Him why He let me pick it back up. His only response was a hug that wouldn’t let go. Grace is not about what makes sense; it’s about His love for me.

I wasn’t perfect about it, and I’m still not; to be honest, it’s been a struggle, and I’m still learning what it looks like to have this thing in a new place in my life. But I’m better than I was. Because I ask Him to take over now, and He is doing the work. Lent reminded me that being with Him is the most powerful thing I can do. I didn’t give that thing up for Lent; God entered into me so I could let go of that thing during Lent.

He did Lent for me.

Maybe that’s what religion is for. It gives us tools. It creates spaces and opportunities for us to find it in ourselves to let Him in so He can do His work in us. Maybe religion isn’t us doing the work– it’s a reminder that we can’t and that He can. And will.

“I keep my eyes always on Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”   -Psalm 16:8

[Listen]

Life-Moving Messages {Part One}

Standard

Over the course of the year, I’ve heard a few sets of messages that moved me deep in my core and spurred large-scale change in my heart and life. All were shared at my school, during the two-day conferences we had each semester. We would cancel all classes for those two days to invest in our spiritual growth, and it helped me not only stay sane during the school year, but transform my life indefinitely. I would definitely like to share my notes from those messages with you. They won’t be as well-organized or cohesive as the messages themselves, as they’re simply the things I wrote down as I listened and processed, but there are some incredible truths within these. I hope you hear something from them that you needed.

This first set was shared by Pastor Alex Michel on the first day of the fall semester conference. His emphasis was emotional health and spiritual healing.

Message One

  • Jesus came to deliver us from sin, not distract us from it.
  • John 16:12-15
  • The process is worth going through if freedom is at the end.
  • John 8:31-32, 2 Cor. 5:17 DSC07435
  • Jesus didn’t die for “mostly free.”
  • Eph. 4:22-24
  • You’re trying to change your behavior without renewing your mind.
  • Old mind = feels right; renewed mind = prioritizes what is right despite feelings.
  • To get a renewed mind:
    • scripture and prayer
    • dealing with harmful thought patterns
  • Hurt leads to “No way will this happen to me again,” leads to corrupted thought patterns, leads to corrupt actions.
  • Sometimes depression, anger, etc., are like a winter coat. But seasons change, and we often forget to take it off.
  • John 5:19
  • “I didn’t ask you to save the world; my Son already did.”
  • When it’s time to take off the winter coat:
    • Admit you’re wearing it.
    • Articulate why you put it on.
    • Accept responsibility for wearing it this long.
    • Advance into the new season.
  • When you live in reality, sometimes it’s depressing.
  • If there’s a vow in your life, something you swear you’ll never do, hurt probably exists under it.

Message Two

  • Emotional health is real and His idea. God has emotions.
  • Emotions = insides being released.
  • We’re not good at having good and bad at the same time. But it’s a continuum; Your heart is beautiful and it also hosts conflict. And that’s okay.
  • Exodus 20:5-6
  • You never know what He’s trying to protect you from.
  • Putting energy in faking it leaves no time for actually making it.
  • The body of Christ is a spiritual family. The family you grew up in does not have to discourage you.
  • You are born in it, you can’t choose to not get on. But you can get off.
  • New fruit only comes from new roots.
  • You can’t deal with something unless it comes to the surface.
  • Surgery is painful, but heals.
  • Do you drive looking your rearview mirror the whole time? No! But you do need a rearview mirror.
  • Phil. 3:13-14, 1 John 3:13-14

Message Three

  • Growth is the goal, not perfection.
  • We should celebrate growth, God does.
  • Equation: grace + truth, over time = growth
  • John 1:14, Luke 13:6-9
  • If it’s not producing fruit when it should, don’t cut it down; look at the roots and tend.
  • Grace = the foundation upon which all healing of the human spirit exists.
  • You can’t do anything until you acknowledge that there is a problem.
  • AA has it right– celebrate sobriety even if it’s only existed for one day. No condemnation. This is Jesus’ model.
  • Truth gives us direction, clearly defines what will help and what will hurt.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • Healing is a process, not a light switch.
  • Chains are broken in a moment; learning to live like a free person is a journey.
  • Phil.1:6
  • We are to model grace– to ourselves, too.
  • Anesthesia = grace, scalpel = truth. You need both. And recovery takes a little while. Be available to these things.
  • You need Him, and you can’t go alone.

Freedom & Living Life in Love

Standard

I have so, so much I could say. My heart is bursting with the things I’ve recently lived, and I want them to explode all over everyone! But I also want this to be conveyed to you as clearly as possible, so I’ll just say:

I’ve tried living life in love. And nothing is better.

painted by meHave you ever been involved in something, and meanwhile you were never quite sure if you were supposed to be there? It really hurts, doesn’t it? You expect it to be frustrating, but it’s more than that. It’s actually painful, very easy to let overtake your thoughts. I so understand, you are not alone in that. But–

Maybe this isn’t something we have to go through.

Do you remember when Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love Him with all you have in you? And the second is to love other people as you love yourself? When He said that, He concluded with, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). We ask so many questions about specifics. We rationalize, weigh options, count pennies, take in opinions of other people, envision the possible results, and, amidst all these energy-stealing things, we pray: “Jesus, do you want me to do this? I am called to this?” Nothing is wrong with being practical and thinking things through. But, if you’re asking these questions about something that is good and allows you to love people. . . are they really necessary?

Jesus was about to heal a man whose hand was withered. The Pharisees were ready to accuse Him of healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus asked them: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 2:4). And He healed that man.

There is never a wrong time to love people.

Never. Because love is all we are commanded to do. That’s your calling. God does has specific plans for you, and He’s carrying those out, but if you’re struggling because you just can’t figure out what your job is in the middle of it, maybe your focus needs adjusting. He planted passions in you and gave you His love, and He calls you to simply not let those things collect dust; to use what’s in you to love Him and the people around you. It’s simple. We try to complicate it, but it’s so simple.

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, the question doesn’t need to be, “Am I called to do this?” Instead, maybe you should just ask, “Am I loving well? Is this giving me opportunities to love people with passion?” If the answer to that question can be “yes,” you’re right where you need to be, because you’re doing what He’s told you to do: you’re living your life in love.

I’ve been doing something for almost a year because I rationalized myself into it. The hard thing about using rational, non-passionate reasons to decide if something is your calling, is that it’s just as easy to find reasons to abandon it when things get hard. And things got hard for me. I kept finding reasons to leave, but there were reasons to stay, too, and I was carrying that battle inside me at all times. Finally, a few weeks ago I cried: “Jesus, was I ever supposed to do this in the first place?!”

He didn’t answer.

But He did whisper: “Why are you doing it right now?” And I found that my motive was void of love.

After that heart-breaking discovery, I determined to stay. But instead of having a rational reason, or some kind of mission I needed to accomplish, or some kind of person I needed to become– I simply resolved to love people. And it completely changed everything.

I went from being lonely to finding people I could talk to everywhere I turned; from feeling like an outsider to feeling like a sister; from desperately needing validation to receiving kind words from many; from nitpicking everything I heard to building on the good things; from feeling trapped to completely knowing that I am free. There is so much freedom for us when we live in love, and it gives us even more room to worship and live in fullness. I feel full, and I just want to keep recklessly loving.

If anything I’ve said sounds like where you find yourself right now, just love. Don’t focus on anything else. I had been making it much too hard. I thought love was a battle, something I had to work for and labor over. But it is so simple. All I need to do is give myself, and suddenly others give themselves to me, and we live in love for each other. Don’t succumb to the fear. Wherever you are, you are living in freedom. You are free to live in love.

[Listen]

A Few Meaningful Albums

Standard

I used to write a review/recommendation for every cd I bought. Now I am terribly behind, and this is quite the frightening undertaking. I think I’ll split it up into two or three posts. . .  anyway, let’s get going on this!

The StruggleTenth Avenue North’s “The Struggle” album. I was so excited for this cd to come out in August 2012; I bought it immediately. Maybe a week afterwards, I took a trip to California with my youth group, and not wanting to part with my new cd, I loaded it onto my ancient mp3 player and took it with me. Now every time I listen to it, I feel a little like I did on that trip: free. Free to feel anything I’m feeling without beating myself about it. And I think that this cd might have been used to aid in that a little; I think that was something Tenth Avenue North hoped for. “Hallelujah, we are free to struggle/ we’re not struggling to be free/ Your blood bought and makes us children/ children, drop your chains and sing/.” Those are lyrics from the title track, which is my favorite song on the album. My other favorites are “Losing”, “Don’t Stop the Madness”, “Strangers Here”, and “All the Same.” “Losing” is a song about forgiveness. It admits that although it’s necessary, forgiveness is stinking hard, and begs the Lord to teach us grace to do it anyway. “Don’t Stop the Madness” shares the hope that suffering is not pointless, praying that He would continue allowing us to suffer as long as we need to. “Strangers Here” reminds us that everything here is temporary; we don’t need to chase anything but the eternal. And “All the Same” is the song that really reminds me of my week in California. My youth group was so diverse, but in that bus, on the road all day, eating snacks and singing and reading and sleeping. . . I realized that we had the important things in common. We were all there for different reasons, but we were ALL THERE. I treasure the song and that little lesson. I think this album can give moments like that to a lot of people.

The Upside of DownChris August’s “The Upside of Down” album. I’ve been a fan of Mr. August since the beginning of his career, and I’ve loved seeing him grow as an artist; his style has become more specific and his lyrics just get deeper and deeper! I got this cd in fall 2012, and if it had come into my life a little sooner it would have been the only cd I listened to. If you don’t really feel much of anything right now, go buy this cd, sing along with the songs, and mean what you sing! It will give you the words you need. My favorites are “The Upside of Down”, “This Side of Heaven”, “Let There Be Light”, “I Believe”, “1989”, and “Water Into Wine.” “The Upside of Down” has a fun sound that I love to sing along with, but it also has this line that makes me praise in agreement every single time: “In the midst of this sadness I’m closer to You now/ that’s the upside of down/.” I know the truth of that. “This Side of Heaven” is an excellent reminder for me to keep out of pointless debates, especially if I feel like I have the answers. “Everyone’s got their own opinions/ there’s nothing they don’t know about/ but in the end, nobody’s winning/ ’cause nobody’s got it figured out/ oh, the things we think we know/ but honestly, we really don’t/ this side of Heaven/.” “Let There Be Light” is a good-mood bringer and a prayer worth praying. “I Believe” is the song that made this album what I needed.  We all need to sing it at some point; we all need to declare that we believe in our Lord despite the way everything looks and feels. I will always adore it. “1989” is a cheerful, light-hearted look at child-like faith; it makes me smile brightly. And “Water into Wine” is simply beautiful, both a prayer and a declaration of our own personal miracles from Him. Thank you for birthing this cd, Mr. August!

Blue MountainBrandon Heath’s “Blue Mountain” album. Brandon Heath is a biggie for me. This cd is a bit different from his previous offerings, but it’s still lovely and special. A bit of a country vibe, but don’t let that scare you off, it’s not overwhelming at all. He created a fictional mountain-side town and wrote these songs to tell the stories of the people there– people just like us. I think it’s a unique idea and that he carries it out well. My favorite songs on the album are “The Harvester”, “Diamond”, “Love Will Be Enough For Us”, “Paul Brown Petty”, and “Dyin’ Day.” “The Harvester” is a great opener for the cd. It gives us a clear picture of what Jesus was talking about when he said that the fields are ripe for harvest, and asks us: why are we sitting around? “Let’s harvest this field from sunrise to sunset/ the Master is coming are we are not done yet/.” “Diamond” is probably my favorite on the album. It carries a determined, optimistic tone, and reminds us that although we aren’t perfect, we are being refined and we have value. “Love Will Be Enough For Us” is an adorable love song that captures my longings– simple life with the people I love. “Paul Brown Petty” is a biographical song, which are always interesting to listen to, at least to me. It reminds me of my great-grandfather in some ways, so of course I like it. And “Dyin’ Day” is one of those songs that gives me chills every time I hear it. It’s written in the perspective of a prisoner who is dying, but halfway through the song you realize– you are that prisoner. And it becomes even deeper to you, and you pray that you can have the humility and grace that the man in the song does. I am in love with this song. A winner once again, Mr. Heath!

Until We Have FacesRed’s “Until We Have Faces” album. I am slightly obsessed with Red. If I need a fix of emotional music, they are my go-to. This album, again, would have been something I clung to if I’d owned it earlier in life, but maybe hearing it later gave me more insight into what had been happening  inside me? Anyway, my favorites on this album are “Feed the Machine”, “Faceless”, “Let it Burn”, and “Hymn for The Missing.” I think a lot of their songs are up for interpretation, but to me “Feed the Machine” speaks of the things we do because we think we have to, things that fill a void for a little while or make us feel something. The song reminds me of the reality that nothing from this world will fix what’s inside me; when I remember that, it’s almost like waking up. “Faceless”. . . I don’t even know what to say about this song. It captures where I once was so accurately that I’m sure they went inside me and wrote about what they saw. If you are struggling with depression in any amount, if you ache to feel Jesus with you again, this is your song. It speaks for you. “Let it Burn” has a sound that grabs me and makes me listen. I think it’s written about moments when you can’t see anything but pain and hardship, and you wonder how long Jesus will let it go on. Very honest, with a teensy bit of peace at the end. And “Hymn for The Missing” reminds me of my sister. It takes a look at how it feels to know someone and suddenly lose them, not necessarily through death but in their interactions with you; you can just sense the distance, like they aren’t even there with you. I ache with the song. Red knows how to dig into me.

Light Up The SkyThe Afters’ “Light Up The Sky” album. I’ve enjoyed The Afters since middle school, so I finally got one of their cd’s last year. It’s perfect for when I’m craving some simple, light-hearted but real truth in my head. My favorites on the album are “Start Over”, “Runaway”, “Saving Grace”, and “For The First Time.” A lot of these songs end up making me smile; I can sense the honesty in them. “Start Over” is a fun anthem that encourages us to be excited about the opportunity to keep trying. “Runaway” is another song that reminds me of my sister; it tugs at me. I think we all have someone we deeply love who doesn’t even like herself, let alone believe that someone else could love her. The lyrics of this song are our words for them. “Saving Grace” is just a happy song (this cd is pretty much the cd of happy songs), rejoicing in the work Jesus does in our lives every day. And my VERY favorite song on the album is “For The First Time”; it captures a little of the wonder of waking up knowing anything can happen because you have been given grace. The Afters have brought a little more cheer to my life with this cd.

Yes, I am definitely going to have to split these reviews up into a few posts. Many more to come soon! But for now, I hope you’ve learned of at least a song or two that could become a part of your life. These cd’s are my friends and I am more than happy to introduce you to them.