Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hope for Haiti

Sleeping on a rooftop under the stars. Cramming 13 people and luggage into a 12- passenger van. Hearing a new language. Singing late into the night. Experiencing complete poverty. Befriending 31 orphans who would ultimately change our lives. These are but a few descriptions of my recent trip to Haiti. I could try and paint an accurate picture for you of all we saw, heard, learned, and felt, but words are insufficient. All I know is I will never forget their faces, I will never be the same. Our team of 12 only had 2 full days with the children living at the Hope Home in Haiti, but it didn’t take that long to feel the weight of responsibility on our shoulders to love and care for these precious, vibrant, joyful children. Who knows what kind of horrors they’ve experienced in their lifetime, ones that an American adult could never fully wrap their minds around, yet the kids within the orphanage walls no longer resemble those roaming the streets just outside. Granted, their physical needs are still great and dependent upon the financial support of those they’ve never met, but any visitor can see an unmistakable gleam in their eyes, a spark of hope. They have been rescued from dangerous streets, given the promise for long, healthy lives, presented with the saving Gospel of Jesus, fed, clothed, and loved. They are happy. They are hopeful. But there are so many others in need of this same care. I personally have been challenged to the core to help meet the needs of these orphans and rescue other impoverished, abandoned children that they may have this same hope.

 

A few years ago, a young man named Willio and his wife began taking Haitian kids into their home from the streets. Very quickly they ran out of space and funds to provide for these children. Two of them had tuberculosis and needed treatment. Willio couldn’t turn them back out on the street but he needed help. He was desperate, so he googled the word ‘hope’ and the link for Hopegivers International popped up on his screen. He immediately contacted Hopegivers, told them his situation, and Hopegivers agreed to take this man and his orphans under their wing. Thus, the first Hope Home in Haiti was born. Today, 31 kids call this orphanage home, and they have a new building and receive 3 meals a day. There are, however, pressing needs that must soon be met for the welfare of the kids. Currently, they have no clean water safe for drinking and need a new well. Each of them are sleeping on a cement floor and are in need of bunk beds. There are at least 2 HIV positive boys who need to be receiving treatment on a daily basis. Willio is working 3 jobs to pay teachers at a local school as well as additional expenses not being paid.

 

I say all this because I have realized the personal responsibility to meet the needs of these precious children no matter what it takes, to no longer leave it to someone else and casually remove myself from the situation. We are the body of Christ, His hands and feet, having the opportunity to go where He leads, to reach out and touch the ones He loves. If we don’t, who will? Who else carries within them the power and authority of Jesus Christ and can testify of mercy, grace, deliverance, and provision than those who have been set free by the cross? I challenge you, dear friend. Make yourself available to the Lord in a fresh way. Ask Him where He wants you to go, what people you can serve in His name. Let us make a sacrifice of praise to Jesus as He teaches us what true religion is all about and we respond by giving up certain comforts for the sake of the least of these. May we answer the call to love these kids and others like them. Their lives depend on it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Soul Food

I love how God is so faithful to remind us of the aspects of His character that we tend to shelve after having lived with them for a while. What was once a ‘holy cow!’ moment becomes more of an ‘oh, that’s nice,’ and the Katherine McFee tune “Over It” starts playing like background music in our heads. We often forget the impact that the truth and love of God had on our lives in the first place as they fade into our memory bank as ‘another time, another place.’ But here’s the deal: the truth and love and promises of God are still as alive and rich and fulfilling as when we had our first personal encounter with Holy Love. In this over stimulated world we live in it is so easy to coast through and tune out any Divine whispers and stirrings in our souls. It’s easier just to flip on the TV, the only activity being our hand repeatedly going from the bowl of Cheetos to our face. Been there. But I think there comes a point where we simply cannot survive on cruise control any longer. Our eyes may be a little glazed over from inactivity and our hearts may be buried under all kinds of clutter, but our eyes are still open and our hearts are still beating. More than that, God is still actively involved in our lives, whether we believe it or not.

 

This is a realization I came to just last week. Not a new truth, mind you, just a forgotten one. It was as if someone unlocked the 6-foot thick, soundproof door to my heart and let me breathe in the fresh air and feel the warm sunlight on my face again. You see, I had gotten to the point where I felt a bit like a robot, responding to commands and going through the motions, yet remaining unaffected and completely numb. I hate that more than anything, being trapped in some stale box and not knowing how to get out. Thankfully, the Lord was gracious as always and showed me the exit. I was sitting in on a session during our pastor’s conference at Harvest last week, hungry for anything (‘throw me a bone, here!’) but unsure if the plate could even slide under my heart’s door. (Bear with me on the word pictures, I’m a visual thinker.) And then it happened. CJ Mahaney was speaking out of 1 Corinthians, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what He said, but the unchangeable truth of God’s Word gripped me, and the shell around my heart shattered.

 

Whenever we get the notion that God is not moving in and around us, we can become despondent and cold to what He is wanting to reveal. We think that maybe He has ‘moved on’ or forgotten about us. This simply isn’t true. We are easily led astray and can shift into automatic mode or even become jaded by what we see or don’t see. It is in these moments that we have to throw emotions, lies, and indifference out the window and choose to stand on God’s Word. His Word is alive and active and contains truth from the very heart of God that is still setting people free today! And that doesn’t just mean new believers. It applies to Christians old and new as well. In order to walk in freedom we need to constantly remind ourselves of what God says to us through His Word. Let it wash over us. Let it strengthen us. Let it dispel the dark lies that try to take root in our hearts. So as the Lord has challenged me this week, I also challenge you: dig deep into God’s Word. Ask God to open your eyes to what He wants to show you. Beg for a hunger to know Him revealed in the pages of Scripture. My friend, you will not be disappointed.

 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Glory to God Tour

As I type I am sitting in the balcony of Heartsong Church just outside of Memphis listening to my new friends Fee rocking it out. The guitars are blaring, the drums are pounding, our ears are bleeding. But don't be fooled, this is no ordinary rock 'n roll show. Jesus is being lifted high in this place and we're all coming out of our chairs. We're only 4 days into our fall tour with Fee, Phil Wickham and myself, but already the Lord is uniting all of our hearts and moving mightily among us. When we took time out of our busy first day in Powder Springs, GA to come together as a new family and beg God to show Himself to us and through us on this tour, I couldn't help but cry tears of joy. How refreshing it is to be out with guys who sing, play, eat, sleep, live, and breathe for God's glory. That's why this is no ordinary fall tour. I'm officially labeling our next 13 dates as the Glory of God tour. That's the whole point. Not just of our short tour, but of our entire lives. Living for the glory of Jesus is our only rational response to the Gospel at work in us. We boast only in the cross! Let us spend ourselves to spread the life-changing name of Jesus. Who's with me?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You Invite Me In

It happened again yesterday. I was leading the song “Adoration” by Brenton Brown at our Harvest Niles campus, and when we got to the bridge I was so struck by what I was singing that I thought I might just jump out of my skin. The lyric says this in the second half of the bridge: “We’re caught up in the angels’ song, we’re gathered to Your ancient throne. Children in our Father’s arms, shouting out Your praise.” Wow, what a vivid picture. It was almost like while those words were rolling off my tongue, someone took a paintbrush to my brain and left me with an unforgettable image of saints, old and new, gathered around the ‘ancient throne’ of God. And as if that picture burning in my mind wasn’t enough, I was left wondering at the mystery of something that God has been whispering to my heart on a regular basis. He reminds me constantly of this awe-inspiring truth, and perhaps He is so repetitive because I am so easily distracted and forgetful. Nevertheless, it happened again yesterday, and hypothetically speaking, my jaw hit the floor.

What happened, you may ask? No, fire didn’t fall from heaven nor did any white horses come running through the sanctuary. Something better and much more shocking. As we stood there singing our hearts out and by faith believing every word coming out of our mouths, we met with God. Without physically moving anywhere, we entered the presence of the Lord and stood before His throne. He heard us. He let us in. He delighted in His people.

Now you may be wondering what the big deal is, but if you take a step back and ponder the fact that the Holy God who created all things seen and unseen is in our midst, you may be shocked too. I mean, c’mon. It shouldn’t be this easy. But Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” By sacrificing His perfect life on the cross two thousand+ years ago, Jesus paved a way for us once and for all to come to the Father. Our ‘approaching the throne of grace’ has nothing to do with our perfection or lack thereof. The fact that we can come to God wherever and whenever has nothing to do with our parents’ faith, nor does it rest on our moral track record. There are no background checks at the throne of God. Our past, present, and future have already been covered by the blood of the sinless God-man at Calvary. So rest assured, Beloved. God is calling out to you, inviting you into sweet fellowship with Him. He knows your name, your hang-ups, your joys, your sorrows. Now He wants you to know Him. So come, just as you are. Come dirty, come hungry, come downcast, come hopeful…just come. He will take care of your rags when you get there. You have been invited into the presence of the King. What are you waiting for?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pictures from India













Hopegivers

Early January 2005: I joined a team of 17 Liberty students on a trip to India. For most of us, it was our first time to visit the highly populated Hindu country, and little did we know the impact India and its people would leave on our hearts. We flew into New Delhi and made our way south into Rajasthan by bus, visiting schools, churches, hospitals, leper colonies, and orphanages all founded or sponsored by a ministry called Hopegivers. We were all profoundly moved by the faith of the saints in India and deeply stirred by the physical and spiritual needs that were evident on every street corner. Yet perhaps what changed us the most during our short trip to this beautiful land were the little beacons of light called Hope Homes that penetrated the darkness with unbelievable force. 


These Hope Homes are made up of orphaned, abandoned, and impoverished children from India and its bordering countries and are teeming with life like I have never seen before or since. Many of these children sleep 4 to a wooden slab bunk bed or with a mere blanket on the floor because there are so many of them and not enough beds. Everything they own in the world can fit into a little trunk only slightly bigger than a shoebox. Their meals consist of rice with some kind of Indian sauce or spice with the luxury of meat only every once in a blue moon. But do not be fooled, these are the happiest, most vibrant, most joyful kids I have ever met in my life. They know what it is to be in want, but they know even more the reality of having their daily prayers answered by the hand of God. In their youth they have experienced hunger, cold, thirst, disease, death, and persecution, but the light in their eyes is evidence that their hope does not lie in their circumstances, but in the One whom they believe to be loving and holding and guiding them through it all. 


I was (and continue to be) greatly affected by the faith of these precious children, and went back to India the following year to spend Christmas at one of the orphanages. The images of their smiling faces are forever etched in my mind, and the sound of their laughter, their songs to Jesus both in English and Hindi, and their fervent prayers to the God who has shown Himself faithful to them are ringing in my ears and melting my heart to this day. I have not been able to forget these little ones that make up the "orphan army," and have been praying for the last 3 years that the Lord would make a way for me to somehow be a voice for His children in India. That prayer was answered about a month ago when I was contacted by a Liberty grad who now works for Hopegivers and asked to link up with their ministry and champion their cause wherever I go. Turns out, they had been praying for me for quite sometime as well. It's amazing how the Lord works, and Jacob and I are now planning to visit India as well as the new Hope Homes in Haiti before the year is out. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to visit Hope Homes on a regular basis and to share the stories of these children that have forever changed my life. I have a feeling I will be talking about what the Lord is doing through this ministry long after my music is said and done. If you are interested in taking a short-term mission trip with Hopegivers to India, Haiti, or Malawi, Africa, want to get involved by supporting these kids, or just want more information on their ministry, visit hopegivers.org. You won't regret it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Discouraged No More

Discouragement is a very real thing. It is no respecter of persons. I'll even go out on a limb and say that we all, at some point or another, have been discouraged. These feelings of dread and defeat generally sneak up behind and take hold of us in our most vulnerable state and don't tend to let go without a fight. This battle takes place in our minds, and the thoughts we allow ourselves to dwell on will either serve as fiery darts or a fire hydrant to the wildfire of discouragement ablaze in our hearts. 

Here's what I mean. Discouragement is most often triggered by a news flash that something has gone awry or nothing is working out as planned. During these unpleasant doses of reality, our world often seems to come to a standstill and our initial knee-jerk reaction is to throw up our hands and give up. Throw in the towel. Call it quits. Run away. Far away. Can I be honest with you? I felt like that today. Sometimes things just don't pan out the way we so hopefully envisioned them, and when they don't, discouragement sets in and the doubt begins to rear its ugly head. "Am I really being used by God? Does God really care about me? Am I even worth anything to Him? God says He loves me, but how can I believe it when everything I know is crumbling around me? Where in the world is He?" Yep, been there. And I want to tell you it's a very real place. But you don't have to stay there. You don't have to be defeated. Life is hard, that's for sure, but we must resolve to look beyond everything our circumstances are screaming at us and be still before the God who created us and loves us through it all. How do we do that? We focus our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He was sovereign and loving enough to call us to Himself and set us on the journey of a lifetime, and He will be faithful to complete the good work in us, rest assured. 

If you find yourself in that dark place of discouragement, Beloved, I beg you. Do not give into the lies. Do not entertain thoughts that are untrue. Choose to believe the cold hard facts that are found in God's Word and dwell on His life-giving promises. Read through the Psalms of David and notice how he cried out to God in the bleakest of situations and do the same. Pour out your heart before Him, He wants to hear from you, even if all you have to offer are tears and questions. Ask the Lord to help you focus your eyes on Him instead of the ever shifting circumstances. May we train ourselves to constantly meditate on the excellent and praiseworthy things that Paul referred to in Philippians 4:8, no matter how dark the night may be. Let us trust the Lord at all times, for He is good. I leave you with one of my favorite passages of Scripture found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,  yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Recap

Hello friends! Just a few updates and recaps from the past week or so. I made my first trip to Canada (Toronto area) to help lead worship on August 24 at the Hershey Centre in Mississagua for a Primerica business conference. Because many of the top Canadian executives for this company are Christians, they wanted to provide an opportunity for conference goers to attend a worship service and hear the Gospel. There were probably about 1400 people in attendance, and almost half of that number came forward that morning to receive Jesus for the first time! It was amazing. You never know where God is going to show up and start changing people's lives. I was humbled to be a part. 

After Canada, Jacob and I were able to meet up in North Carolina to spend some time with my family. We were able to relax, get some good ole' home cookin', have quality time with family and friends, and meet my parents' new white lab puppy, Ranger. He's the cutest ever, and I confess that I contemplated stealing him. (Our landlord wouldn't be too happy with that decision though.) My favorite part of being home was the conversations I was able to have with my brothers. I love all three of those boys so much, and know that the Lord has His hand on their lives although they may not be able to see it at the moment. As long as I can remember, I have prayed that my little brothers would come to know and love the God who has loved and pursued them relentlessly, and I'll be the first to admit that discouragement often sets in when I see no fruit of those prayers. Yet I will continue to remind myself that God is sovereign in all things, He loves them more than I ever could, and He makes all things beautiful in His time.

On Wednesday of last week Jacob and I were in the Baltimore/DC area for radio interviews and a Live XM taping. Jill from Word also joined us, and we had an eventful and fun-filled day. We started out the morning with Angela and Brennan from WGTS in Tacoma Park, MD and as early as it was, still managed to have a blast. A couple hours later we headed to the XM station in DC where our new friend Jim Epperline gave us a tour of the entire building. It was amazing! I highly recommend taking a tour! Our live concert was from 1-2, and some of our friends from McLean Bible Church and Liberty along with new friends from the DC area joined us for a sweet time of worship. (The live taping will be aired on XM's channel 32 The Message sometime in late October.) After we said goodbye to the wonderful people at XM, we headed to WRBS in Baltimore and met up with Chris and Erin. I happen to be quite fond of the crew at WRBS, mostly because of the extensive time I spent with them at GMA. After lots of laughs and fun times there, Jill, Jacob and I ventured over to the Inner Harbor and had dinner by the water. What a fantastic day! 

This past Saturday I was in the lineup for Celebrate Freedom outside of Atlanta, and was accompanied by Aaron Shust's band. Because of being on the last two tours with them, those guys have become good friends, and they did an awesome job on my songs! I decided I really like having a band. We may have to look into making that a more regular occurrence. :) Atlanta was hot as blazes, and I'm pretty sure I don't even sweat that much working out, but it was great to catch up with old friends and make new ones as well. 

I arrived at O'Hare International Airport later that evening, and since no one I knew was available to pick me up, I opted for the Airport Express. My driver's name was Hassan, and before we could even make it out of the airport we were talking about life. I found out that he comes from a Muslim family from Jordan, and has lived in the states for about 7 years. He was my age and very friendly, and we ended up discussing religion versus relationship with God the whole way home and then sitting in my driveway for a while talking about Jesus, why He came, why He died, and the difference between Christianity and Islam. I invited him to Harvest (my church), and he told me he would come when he could take off from work. He seemed very curious, and I know there was a reason no one could pick me up from the airport that night. His name is Hassan, and I would ask you to join with me in praying for his salvation.

It has been a wonderful week, and I am thankful for every opportunity that was given. Thank you for letting me share these events and stories with you. My only hope is that with every note sung, with every word spoken, with every person encountered, with every blog written, that the name of Jesus was lifted high and that above anything else, God was honored. Let us make it our goal to please Him.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Ten Cents' Worth

I find dimes all the time. No, really. "So what?" you may ask. Yeah, that's what I said until it got to be a little less like coincidence and more like there was some kind of message I was supposed to be picking up on. I started 'finding dimes' my junior year of college and the dime sightings just haven't stopped. From couch cushions to window ledges, bowling alleys to recording studios, from a sidewalk in a Chicago suburb to a dirt road in Guatemala, I'll wager I've found lone dimes on at least 200 different occasions. In fact, I just picked one up in the Chicago airport underneath a vacant chair in the row across from where I was sitting. It is as if someone is leaving a trail for me, but I don't know what it means or to where it leads. Anyone who is close to me knows all about my dime findings, and most people just laugh because they secretly think I'm crazy when I tell them about my growing collection. Nevertheless, stumbling upon this small silver coinage has become a regular occurrence in my life, and I can't help but wonder why.


Now don't get me wrong here, I am far from the superstitious type. But after something as random as finding dimes somehow becomes habitual (not because I'm looking for them but because they pretty much throw themselves at me), I have to at least try and figure out what in the world of dimes is going on. So, one day a few years back while I was driving from point A to point B with an hour in between, I started thinking about dimes. Maybe I'm a distant relative of Franklin Roosevelt? Nah. What would that matter anyway? So then I started pondering the number 10. Ten what? Ten kids? Whoa. I want a lot of children but I doubt we'll hit the double digits. Ten years until...what? This was getting me nowhere. So then I began to think about the actual word, 'dime.' Dime rhymes with time. But it couldn't bet THAT complicated, right? Is this some kind of riddle? After about 40 minutes of this, it hit me. Dime is spelled d-i-m-e. If you split that word in half you get di me. So for one reason or another, I came to the conclusion that the Lord was telling me, every time I discovered a dime, to 'die to me.' Now that might not be it at all, but it's Biblical, and I can't imagine anything but good coming out of remembering to die to myself every time I stumbled across Franklin Roosevelt's silver face. So until further notice, my dimes will serve to remind me of Matthew 16:24 when Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."



Friday, August 8, 2008

Grief Gives Way to Hope

On my wedding day, my dad and I danced to "Cinderella" by Stephen Curtis Chapman, and although that day was full of wedded bliss for us, I couldn't help but cry as the song played and I thought of a precious little girl who had died just 2 days before named Maria Sue. She was one of the inspirations for her daddy's song, and my heart was heavy knowing that she would never have her father/daughter dance on her wedding day.

I just watched Larry King Live on which he interviewed the Chapmans, still wrestling deep in their grief, but obviously remaining deeper still in the hope that has sustained them. I am amazed. I, like many others, have cried reading every article or watching every interview about this tragic accident. My heart has been so moved and encouraged and broken for a family that is truly clinging to Jesus for every breath. How the Lord must trust them to allow such a horrific loss and blinding sorrow and yet still find them holding to who they know their God to be. 

Tragedy is all around us. We see it on the news and read it in the paper and pray to God that it doesn't come near us. But after seeing the honest but hopeful response from the Chapmans, I am forced to ask myself the question, "What if that were me?" How would I cope? Where would I run? Would I sing as loudly about a loving God when I am pained beyond what I can bear as I do when my heart is burden free? My faith has been challenged to the core just by watching this family and the way they have been honest about their pain but never once doubted the arms that were holding them. I am reminded that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our lives on this earth are but a breath, short and fragile, and we were made for a much better place. One day we will be completely whole, finally in His presence. Until then may we as followers of Jesus remain faithful to the God whose name is Faithful even in the midst of our darkest night or worst nightmare, knowing that He is good in all things. He is our Sustainer. He is the Father who loves us. He is the one holding Maria even now.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sonia: Courageous Love

I first noticed Sonia because of the green chiffon shawl she had draped across her left shoulder, covering her left arm. She was a beautiful Latina with her dark auburn-tinted hair pulled to one side in a loose pony tail and except for her shawl, she was dressed in all white. Though there was a hint of fine lines around her weary eyes, they revealed a beauty and solace that can only come from living a life spent loving. Sonia has a heroic story to say the least, and just by watching her it made me want to really do something with my life. 

Sonia lived in the United States during the 80's but felt that her heart was being drawn back to her homeland of the Dominican Republic to start a home for abandoned children. She obeyed the voice of the Lord and stepped out in faith in hopes of rescuing orphans. She knew that the children would not show up at her door step all at once, so she dedicated her days to going out and looking for abandoned kids. She started looking close to the Haiti border and one day found a little 9-month-old girl crawling around the trash dump, searching for food with the dogs. Sarita was one of the first children that Sonia brought back to the orphanage, and she is now a healthy and happy teenager. Early on in Sonia's rescue mission, she had found a few girls who had been sold into trafficking and was bringing them back to the orphanage. While en route to La Romana, a cow ran out in front of their car and they were in a very bad accident. All the children were fine, but Sonia lost her left arm, in her mind, a sacrifice well worth the lives of the girls she so valiantly brought out of the sex trade. She now wears a shawl over where her left arm used to be, a reminder to all of us that we must bravely love no matter what the cost. There are now about 120 girls living in Sonia's home for children, girls that now have a future because of one woman's courageous love.

Jennifer



video
Although subdued for the camera, Jennifer is a fiery and fun 3-year-old who has been at the orphanage for about a month. I refrained from packing her in my suitcase, but boy did I want to take her home.

Live Love

Jacob and I just returned from a life changing week in the Dominican Republic. We were able to link up with 150 youth and volunteers from The Rock at McLean Bible Church just outside of DC and spend 7 amazing days sharing the Gospel on village streets, partnering with local area churches, washing little feet and putting new shoes on those same feet, singing Spanish songs about Jesus, and spending the week with the sweetest kids in an orphanage in La Romana. We were all deeply impacted by the precious people of that country, and our eyes were opened to the great physical and spiritual need there that we as the Church are responsible to meet. 

I will not soon forget the faces and stories I witnessed, and this blog will serve as a reminder that I cannot merely stand by and close my eyes to what I have seen, nor can I use a week long mission trip to appease my conscience and tell me the lie that I did my part when there are still so many laying their heads on a cardboard bed at night hungry, resorting to violence and trafficking due to extreme poverty (not just physical poverty), and inevitably dying without heart-knowledge of the God who unceasingly loves them. I wish to, in the coming blogs, share a few accounts of our trip in hopes of stirring your heart for the least of these and reminding myself this new found knowledge is just the beginning. Now comes the test: what will I do to help? Now having seen what I saw, how will I act upon that knowledge? The challenge is to daily step outside of our comfortable little lives to recognize the needs all around us and act accordingly. After all, James was dead on when he said, "Faith without works is dead," as well as Paul: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Let's put our faith in action and live love.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One Hope

While in Tulsa this past week I had the opportunity of meeting some amazing people from a ministry called One Hope, an outreach to inner city kids in the Tulsa area. I sat down at Starbucks with Joe Blankenship and his daughter Miriam along with Curtis and Rachel Branch for not even an hour, but after our time together and hearing about the children they are investing in daily, my heart was deeply stirred. You see, just the day before I had finished reading a book called "When Invisible Children Sing" about street kids in Bolivia and their struggle to survive from day to day amidst the violence and poverty and everything that goes hand in hand with calling the streets 'home'. Little did I know how closely the lives of children in America could mirror those I had just read about from a third world country. Both worlds live in extreme poverty and as a result, children are left to fend for themselves, adopting violence at an early age as a means of survival. Abuse, drugs, rape, hunger and illiteracy are everyday factors considered normal by these children who have never known anything different, and falling into the same patterns as the ones who go before them is the only way they feel even remotely accepted.

In talking with Joe and Miriam and hearing how sincerely they desire to reach each child with the Gospel of Jesus, who is their "One Hope," grabbed my heart. They recognize the deep need for these kids to be loved and accepted without condition, the need for a safe environment where children can play and learn and just be kids, and their greatest need for a Savior who cares about each one more than they'll ever know. One Hope is dedicated to training interns in the ways of the Lord and equipping them to reach out to hurting children with the hope of Jesus Christ. One Hope is committed to building lasting relationships with their kids and being a family to these children who may feel abandoned by their own families. The ministry of One Hope is affecting the Tulsa community with the love of Jesus, but they need our help. Thus far, One Hope has been dependent on the generosity of churches and city officials for their meeting location, but the goal is to raise enough money to build their own facility for the children. I encourage you to visit their website at onehopeministry.org and see how you can get connected and extend the love of Jesus to waiting kids in Tulsa.

Check out the article about One Hope in Tulsa World this week: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?articleID=20080719_29_B7_hCampi292912.

Riverwalks and Bathroom Lights

KXOJ of Tulsa had me come out for their summer concert series on the Riverwalk just yesterday, and little did I know as brief as the visit was, how my heart would be stirred and broken and encouraged. I was able to talk with so many precious people before and after the concert and was deeply touched by their stories. During our time of worship, it was nothing short of awe-inspiring to look out at my new friends and see them pouring out their hearts to God in song, some even with tears. I ended up staying at the Riverwalk till almost midnight getting to know a few who stayed late, and what a blessing it was to hear so many similar heart cries to that of my own. We share the strongest bond of Christ alive in each of us, a bond that unites strangers over many, many miles.

Once back in my hotel room, I sat down over a hu-massive plate of spaghetti and meatballs to rest and process all the conversations from just minutes before, but I'm pretty sure I got lost in my plate of spaghetti somewhere along the way. (It was good stuff!) Nonetheless, my heart was still so full (and now so was my belly), and I couldn't help but reflect on the goodness of the Lord just in that one Tulsa night.

I had no trouble falling right to sleep, and was deeply dreaming when circa 3:30 am the light in the bathroom turned itself on. All by itself. Now you have to know, I am a light sleeper and wake up at the slightest noise or change in the room, so when the light came on, I sat straight up. It took me a moment to remember where I was, and even longer to figure out how in the world the light decided to suddenly shine on its own, so I just crawled out of bed and groggily hit the light switch. Enter 4:30 am. The light is awake again! I tell ya, this thing has a mind of its own. I get out of bed to turn it off and hit it with more authority this time. Despite my valiant efforts to turn the light off and keep it that way, the bathroom lit itself every hour on the thirty mark. If I had been thinking clearly whatsoever, I would have just shut the door, but instead made the short trek from the bed to the bathroom and back to the bed about 6 times in all. Then, to confirm my hunch that the room was haunted or something, come 7:30 my TV came on all by itself! Now the Hampton in Bixby has a nice colorful screen saver-looking-background with nice music playing, but it was NOT time for my wake up call. I switched off the television only to see the bathroom light on again. Let's just say I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight with no living electronics. ;)

Monday, July 14, 2008

You're Not Alone

I have received countless e-mails and messages from people who have been touched by “You’re Not Alone,” and in reading these testimonies, I have been completely humbled and have cried through many of your stories. When I wrote this song during Thanksgiving of 2006, sitting at my parents’ baby grand in North Carolina, I had no inclination of how the Lord would use it to deeply minister to the hearts of broken, lonely people. All I knew at the time was that He was singing His promise over me, reminding me that He had been by my side all along, and ministering to my broken, lonely heart. Now having heard many others’ accounts of how God’s promise through “You’re Not Alone” has so encouraged and strengthened them, I want to share a few of them with you. These are real people with real hurts, trusting in a loving God who has said, “Never will I leave you.” Here is what they had to say:

"’You're Not Alone’ is really a testimony of my life. I have never heard a song that really lays out my life so closely. I appreciate it so much. You have a beautiful voice and I'm very glad you're using it to glorify God. It gives me hope for the world.”

“I absolutely love the song ‘Your Not Alone.’ I am going though a tough time in my life and have been praying alot about it. I had been feeling distant from God, and then I listened to your song and it just made me realize He has never left me. It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

“Last fall I moved to a new state to teach in a little Christian school and at times it was very lonely. Towards the end of the year I listened to ‘You're Not Alone’ ALOT. It really seemed to express my feelings, and became kind of like a prayer with me.”

"’You're Not Alone’ has been a blessing to me and someone close to me after I played it for him. He is in the Marine Corps and is set for a seven month deployment sometime in July for Iraq. He has gone through alot lately, and with no one close to him on base he gets pretty lonely sometimes. I played "You're Not Alone" for him yesterday and he just broke down in tears. I reminded him that God is there for him when he's going through tough times and when the lonely times are too much to handle.”

“Last night was another lonely night. A pretty "dark night". Hearing your songs today on your myspace have really made me feel a lot better. Still pretty lonely but now more comforted. The words were spot on, just what I needed to hear.”

“My daughter and I saw you in concert in with Brandon and Aaron. She is 17 and for the last 8 months has been struggling with severe depression. When I bought the tickets to the concert it was just something we had talked about and I thought would be fun for her to do. When you sang ‘Your Not Alone,’ my daughter just started to cry. It was as if you had been living right here beside us all this time and wrote that song just for her.”

“’You’re Not Alone’ has spoken to me in my time of need from the Lord, to know He is here for me. So thank you, Meredith for your faithfulness to the Lord with His songs.”

“Hi... I just wanted to let you know how much your music truly touches people. I just had an ectopic pregnancy and had major abdominal surgery on May 10th. I came home very tearful after being in the hospital as it is not the first baby I have lost, and do not have any living children. I almost died and could not understand why God allowed this to happen to me. I was ready to give up on life, literally, but then my iTunes playlist hit four of your songs and I felt so much better. I was able to let God be there to hold me versus blame Him and pull away. Your songs literally saved my life. I was told I needed to give my baby a name to help with closure. Her name is Meredith Lynn. Lynn was my adopted mothers middle name who also passed away shortly after my adoption. You can guess where Meredith came from. Thanks Meredith for your hard word and unfailing faith in God to do His work and spread the joy and healing.”

“’You're Not Alone’ ministered to my heart sooooooooooo much. By God's grace I grew up in a Christian home yet there have been many times in my life when i've felt alone and abandoned. In my mind I knew God was with me, but in my heart I couldn't seem to accept it. You're Not Alone has become one my most favorite songs! It's really blessed my life and I just want to thank you for allowing God to use you in your ministry.”

“Your song, ‘You're Not Alone’ came on the radio and I think that was totally God because it was exactly what I needed to hear. That's really where I'm at in my life right now; feeling all alone and I really needing to be reminded that I’m not- that I need to stop worrying and stressing out about everything that God is completely in control of.”

“’You’re Not Alone’ makes me think of how wonderful our heavenly Father is to us, loves us, brings us in from our deepest despair. Like others I have had numerous significant losses in my life, including my fiance and two sisters, but God can reach us. I have been in the process of adopting from China since Jan. 2006, and the wait has continued to get longer and longer. It has been an emotional roller coaster ride at times, but your song really ministered to me like God is singing to her, and me singing to her that God would wipe away her tears and bring her home, and that He has loved her all her life, before she was even conceived.”

“I have been living for God all my life, even thru my parents divorcing, me getting married at the young age of 17 and my husband leaving me and marrying another woman... I've been thru too much to mention but all of the glory goes to God for me making it thru. There have been so many times I have felt all alone. Only one that has faced that kind of hurt can truly understand just how alone one might feel. Well, I heard the song ‘You're Not Alone’ the other day on the local Christian radio station and I believe that God gave it to me! It means so much to me, the lyrics, the music.
Then today I received an email from a friend of mine and she began to tell me about her situation and how much she was feeling alone and disconnected and that she wants to hold on and believe that God is going to see her thru. She had even thought of ending her own life but God spoke to her. Immediately I thought of your song and sent her the video from the internet. She wrote me back and said "That is awesome! It's exactly what I needed!"

“Your song has touched the deepest part of my heart and put all I have been feeling into words I could never articulate. I felt as if God was singing right to me just to remind me that he is here. I just wanted to say thank you for blessing me at such a hard and lonely time in my life.”

I pray that these have touched your heart like they have mine. Thank you to each one who has let me know how much God has used "You're Not Alone" in your life. Let me also encourage you, Friend…this promise is for YOU. No matter what your circumstance, no matter how far you’ve fled from Jesus, His arms are open wide, waiting for you to turn and run back home. Read these verses and know that God’s promises are loving and true: Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8; Joshua 1:5; Psalm 23:4; Psalm 46:7.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Saddleback and Big Ticket

So I'm sitting here in our hotel room in beautiful Mission Viejo, California, thinking about our time of worship tonight at Saddleback as Jacob works on tracks and clicks for the band. I can't tell you how honored and humbled I am to be a part of the worship conference here this week, surrounded by tons of worshippers and leaders from all over the country, gathering here like sponges waiting to soak up every ounce of wisdom and insight and refreshment that the Lord would offer through our times of worship in music as well as teaching from humble men and women of God. I, of course, am among them...hungry for the presence of the Lord and yearning to hear Him speak into my own life, all while asking that He would somehow use my meager offerings to bless His heart and refresh His faithful ministers, however weary or eager each might be. It's going to be a full week, and I am coming expectant.

On another note, I just have to give a shout out to my new friends in Gaylord, Michigan. Jacob and I played at the Big Ticket Festival on Friday around noon in the worship tent and had such a sweet time with the ones that gathered. Unfortunately, because of our crazy lives and the fact that I had to rush Jacob to the Detroit airport (3 and a half ours away) to catch a flight to Atlanta so he could make his show with Jeremy Camp, we were unable to stay and get to know some of the people who worshiped with us. So to all of you who sat under the worship tent as the nice Northern Michigan breeze kept us cool, thank you for blessing us. I distinctly remember faces and watching you worship the Lord in your own way, whether you knew my songs or not, but I pray that He would seal His truth in your hearts and continue to draw you closer to Himself as you run after Jesus. Hope to see y'all back at Big Ticket next year. And then maybe we'll actually get a chance to hang out for a bit. ;) 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What a Day


As some of you may know, I recently got married. Much of the reason I have been MIA from the world of blogging is because I have been in the land of wedding, a world of flowers and DJs and guestlists and countdowns...plans and details like I have never known before. All for one Day. One Day that, 8 months before seems like it would  never get here and 1 week until seems like it all just flies by like a speeding train. As the Day quickly approached, there were times I felt as if I was being run over by that speeding train, but alas, we survived. And though I now understand why people elope, I will never forget Our Day, May 23, 2008.

Jacob and I were married on a gorgeous, historic plantation called Rose Hill in Nashville, North Carolina. It was the absolute perfect day, the weather being about 74 degrees with not an ounce of wind or humidity, a far cry from the week-before forecast that had predicted 87 and isolated thunderstorms. Now you have to understand, I am definitely one of those girls who has dreamed about her wedding day since she was a kid, not exactly what color the flowers would be or what the bridesmaids would wear, but more of the actual commitment and celebration of Love. Yeah, that's about as hopeless romantic as it gets. I say all that as a preface to my next statement: my dad and I arrived to the ceremony cite in the pecan grove in a horse-drawn carriage. Ok, now you're getting the picture. But before the beautiful black and white mare ever took a step, my dad and I were sitting in the carriage in front of the historic mansion (built in 1762), reflecting on past, present, and future. It seemed to hit me all in that instant, the magnitude of what was about to transpire as well as the utter beauty and grace of the Day and days leading up to it. With tears brimming, I looked up at the sky as if to catch a glimpse of the One who was obviously smiling on us as my dad commented on that very fact. Just then, the music changed, and I knew it was time. My stomach did a sort of somersault as the carriage moved forward and I tried to 'dry it up.' I couldn't very well cry coming around the road to the pecan grove. But no matter how hard I tried not to, the more I did. I couldn't help it. This was the day I had always dreamed of, and here I was, riding in a carriage with my dad, seeing faces of precious people who had invested in my life in every season, and on my way to commit my love to my best friend before God and these witnesses. So as pathetic as it may be, I cried the whole way down the aisle. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, humbled that the Lord would grace us with His presence, honored that so many friends and loved ones would join us on our special Day, and completely ready to be Jacob's wife. What a wave of emotions. I never want to forget that moment.

Many people describe our wedding as something out of a Disney movie or "Gone With the Wind," and I just smile. It was absolutely more that I could have ever dreamed, but not necessarily because of how beautiful the plantation was or how perfect the ceremony flowed, but because in those brief sacred moments, God revealed His unflawed beauty, His unfailing love, His incomparable grace, and it washed over us. And will continue to cover us. Jacob and I will be the first to admit that we are human in the worst ways, but we both have tasted of the goodness of the Lord and experienced His sweet mercies in our lives on a daily basis. As we begin our journey together we are clinging to the cross and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us what it really means to love, with no reservation or judgment, asking nothing in return. We would appreciate your prayer, and I ask God for this in you as well, that we would love like Jesus loves, whether it be husbands and wives and children or neighbors, friends, and even enemies. After all, true Love never fails. 


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Becoming Like Mary

Here are some late night ponderings from my heart back in February:


Where is Jesus in all this clutter? How can I hear Him amidst the constant noise? Even as I have been desperately trying to steady my gaze on Jesus, I still felt so scatter-brained when all I want to do is focus all my attention on God and what He wants to say to me. It becomes very easy to replace our actual relationship with our Father with the ins and outs of ministry...relying on what we know and how we're gifted to get us through each day instead of drawing from the deep well of the presence of the Lord offered to us with every new day, hand in hand with brand new mercies. Often times I feel like my heart is buried under so much clutter with task lists and deadlines coming out of my ears, all in the name of Jesus. But every day I neglect to quiet my heart and listen for His voice in the stillness, I have robbed myself of the greatest opportunity...far beyond what I could ever accomplish through e-mails or phone calls...the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus and be completely honest, completely understood, completely loved. I am learning and will continue to learn throughout my life that my tank empties quickly and after a few days of running around on auto-pilot, all I have left are fumes. Who needs fumes? Not me. Not the person next to me. I want to know what it means to walk by the Spirit at all times, and the only way I can operate in the Spirit and not my flesh is to find out what pleases Him, to find myself drawing from His presence every day. Lord, help me. To really know Him, not just know about Him. To have a sense of what He is doing all around me now, not relying on past experiences or encounters to get me by. They are now stale. Worthless. Smelly. What is most important? What is the thing that lasts, that cannot be taken from us? Mary knew. She sat at the feet of Jesus and hung on His every word. How she loved Him. Not because of what He could do for her or the miracles He could work in her life. No, she loved Him because He was life to her. Just being where He was was enough. Is that so for us? Am I content to sit quietly before the Lord for however long, asking nothing of Him but that He would make Himself known and come a little closer? Or is He just a means to an end for my ministry or my career or my relationships or my...insert your own end here. God forbid. He is everything. And in a world that seems to often be spinning out of control with busyness and expectations and daily struggles, He is still here, calling and waiting, extending an invitation for us to come, and simply be where He is. In the presence of Almighty God. 


In the presence of Jehovah

God Almighty, Prince of Peace

Troubles vanish, hearts are mended

In the presence of the King



Luke 10:38-42

Psalm 27:4

Hebrews 12:1-3


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I am currently on the road right now with Aaron Shust and Brandon Heath as part of the Whispered and Shouted tour, and can't wait to share some stories and pictures! They are coming soon, so keep checking back. And thank you for your patience!


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ready, Set, LIVE.

Today is my 25th birthday. A quarter of a century. Officially an adult. Exactly a year ago today, I distinctly remember waking up in a Houston hotel room, and no sooner had I opened my eyes I sensed the Lord saying something to me. Yes, Lord? "This is the Year." That was all I got. Was my mind playing tricks on me? No, it was too early in the morning for my brain to conjure up a complete sentence, much less one that had to do with the days ahead. The Spirit was speaking, ever so gently. And with His whisper, my mind began to wander to the endless possibilities of all that statement could entail. When I inquired to know more, it was like I just knew that God was about to reveal the answers to so many questions I had asked for most of my young adult life and to shed light on a path that I never could have found the strength to walk down on my own. And all this occurred before I had even gotten out of bed. 

And what a year it was. A year of opportunity. A year of decisions. A year of relationships, old and new. This morning as I awoke, I was immediately brought back to January 19, 2007, that fateful morning when God dropped something into my spirit that would bare fruit in the coming days and cause me to live my life in a constant state of expectation and wonder over all that the Lord was so sovereignly accomplishing in my life. But I must say, as I sat on the edge of my bed and turned over all the events of my 24-year-old life, I was at a loss. Maybe it's the constant reminder I see on television and magazine ads and storefront windows that youth is something to be coveted but, in reality, can never be held on to for very long. It is fleeting. Our very lives are slipping through our fingers. Or maybe I'm at a turning point, the question looming overhead, "where do we go from here?" After a year of such blessing and change, now what? I haven't a clue. Truth be told, I wanted to be awakened ever so sweetly by the same prompting, a promise I could cling to for the coming year, something...ANYTHING. 

But I know my God and I will trust Him even when He is silent. I know the way He cares for His children, the way He cares for me. I know His faithfulness and the ways that He has proven it over and over in my life. I know His mercies, how they wash over me with each new day. I know that what He says is truest of true, and I can stake my very life on the foundation of His Word. Thank You, Jesus. Each new day is full of the richest promises. Promises that cannot be broken. Promises spoken from the Father's heart to ours. Hallelujah. 

So bring it on, 25. I am not afraid to be surrounded by uncertainty anymore. It only increases my faith. I am not afraid to be another year older. Each day is a gift. I aspire to walk by the Spirit at all times, loving and living and giving and serving with every fiber of my being, every minute, every single day, knowing that each day is only moving me closer to the Day of all days, when I will finally see His face. But there's no time to waste, our time here is limited. Ready, set, LIVE.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Visual Update

Like I mentioned in my previous post, much has been going on lately. We did the photoshoot for the album on November 30 at a sweet house just south of Nashville. Jacob and I were honored to be a part of our good friends' wedding mid-December. We were at Liberty for Winterfest on the 30 and McLean Bible Church for New Year's Eve. Deborah Evans Price wrote a column on me for the January 5 edition of Billboard Magazine. And we shot my very first music video January 11 in Nashville. I had to walk down the sidewalk singing the song which had been sped up 200x, trying not to trip over my feet or forget the words coming at warp speed. This kind of treatment allows the director to slow the video down to regular tempo so it appears that I'm singing with the track but everything else around me is slow motion. Fun times. Here's the proof:


Oceanway Studio in Nashville.

Virginia showing us how it's done.

Shooting the music video for "You're Not Alone."

The ever talented director, Ash Greyson.

With Shellie and Virginia who were also in the video.

My favorite columnist, Deborah Evans Price.

New Year's Aid at McLean Bible Church.

Ringing in the New Year Paramore style.

My sweet friends, Becky and Kristi.

Jacob and me...first Christmas.

The night before Becky and Josh got hitched.

Busy, Anyone?

Much has happened since Thanksgiving, and things don't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The next few months could actually prove to be the craziest of my life. Planning a wedding and leading at Harvest January and February. Touring with Aaron Shust and Brandon Heath March and April. The Invitation CD releasing April 29. Jacob and I getting married May 23. Then we've only just begun. But you know, with all these big events and crazy days in between, I am reminded of Proverbs 16:9 that says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Yes, He does. In the midst of our planning and preparing, working and striving, God is the one ultimately directing. He is sovereign. He is all wise in the way that He leads us, Hallelujah. So we don't have to be anxious that everything will come together the way it should, when it should. Now I'm not saying we can sit on the couch all day and wait for things to unfold before our sleepy eyes. But we learn, day in and day out, to trust Him. Isn't that what our daily lives are about anyway? Relinquishing our control to the God who holds us firmly and confidently in His hands? Trusting Him more as we get to know His heart. Resting. Breathing. Getting still long enough to hear His whisper in the midst of our noise. Taking one day at a time, counting it as the blessing it really is. Opening our eyes to more than just our agendas and to do lists. Finding Jesus in all things. So I encourage you, Friend. Continue to be a good steward of what the Lord has entrusted to you, but remember that in order for our work to be effective and to supersede the here and now, it must be done out of the overflow of a dependent relationship with our Lord. (And I am SO talking to myself here, too.) Let's purpose in our hearts to work as unto the Lord and not for mere men, for we were created and redeemed for the high calling of pointing those around us to a God who loves them relentlessly. The same God who also calls you by name, wanting you to sit down at His feet for a little while and simply be His.

Psalm 25 has penetrated my heart these last couple days, so I leave you with a few verses and encourage you to read the whole chapter for yourself:
"Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare." Psalm 25:8-15