Finding a Voice: When God Changes the Plan

I sprinted behind my son, attempting to wrap his dripping hair in a towel. Wrestling him out of the bath had worn me out. Wrestling him into pajamas was even more difficult. Now he had broken free and was running down the hall. He squealed in delight as I huffed, “Boy, when I get a hold of you…”

We rounded the corner and I stopped short, blinking in surprise.

My husband stood in the living room, a big grin on his face. His hands gripped a beautiful violin and bow. The irritation with my wayward son melted away. violin

My breath caught as I walked in slow steps towards him, an amazed smile tugging my lips. “I don’t understand.”

“Happy Anniversary, honey.”

I studied the way the beautiful instrument caught glimmers of light. I ran my fingers across the gleaming wood.

“I’ve always wanted to learn to play one. Ever since I was little.”

My husband beamed as he laid it in my hands, much like transferring a fragile newborn. “I know. I remembered. And with our nineteenth anniversary next week, what better time to finally give you one?” He studied me, trying to gauge my reaction. “Do you like it?

I couldn’t speak for a moment. Words choked in my throat. It was more than his thoughtfulness. My husband is not the mushy, gushy romantic sort. When I told him I was going to write this piece, he groaned. “Come on, Tara. Don’t make me sound sweet. I have a rep to maintain!” He is a sweet guy, despite his valiant attempts to hide it. But no, it was more than that.

It was even more than the violin itself, even though I’ve adored violin music since I was a child. My instruments are voice and piano, but if you want to captivate me, play some David Garrett and I’m transfixed. david garrett No, it was something beyond that.

When he asked me if I liked my gift, I cried, stood on my tiptoes and gave him a kiss, a huge smile wobbling through my tears. “Yes! Oh, yes!” He gave me far more than he knew.

Some of you know what I’m about to share. Some of you may not. Others may only suspect.

Several years ago I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a disorder that keeps the stomach from pumping. It’s a vagus nerve problem which involves pain, nausea, esophagus spasms, reflux and a host of other issues. This nerve dysfunction has now progressed into my larynx. Have you ever had a back spasm? I now have those in my voice. Gastroparesis is a progressive disease. Unless God intervenes, it will get worse. In short, I am losing my ability to sing.

This might not be a big deal to some. For me, it’s been a hard blow. I mean, I wasn’t just a sing-in-the shower kind of girl. I was signed with a Christian record label. Ten years ago, I thought God had made it clear He wanted me to use my voice to help others find freedom in Him. When He began whispering hints of change, I was confused. The God-ordained plans that had seemed so certain to me suddenly shifted. And I was reminded of this important truth…the more you build your identity on something other than Christ, the greater the pain when that identity crumblesmicrophone

It’s been a time of grieving. Yet, it’s also been sweet to sit at His feet as He has tenderly prepared my heart, teaching me, loving me, guiding me onto a new path, a new adventure.

On the days when the grief felt like shards of glass embedded deep into my heart, God impressed this beautiful passage from His Word into my Spirit:

“I will compensate you for the years
That the swarming locust has eaten,
The creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locust—
My great army which I sent among you.

You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied
And praise the name of the Lord your God
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And My people shall never be put to shame.”  Joel 2:25,26 AMP

When I’m tempted to mourn over the ‘should be’ or ‘could have beens’, I take a deep breath and whisper, “He will restore what the locusts have eaten.”

God has show me a great creative beauty in writing. He has allowed me to sign with the remarkably talented literary agent Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. I’m currently working on my ninth fiction story and my third nonfiction work, as well as numerous blog posts and magazine articles. And as I’ve studied the craft of writing, I’ve learned something quite interesting. Do you know what professionals call an author’s unique way of writing? Their “voice”.

I love to express my thoughts through words. I play the piano. Thankfully, speaking is far less taxing on my voice than singing, so my speaking calendar is quite full. And now I’ve been given a beautiful violin. Do you know why I teared up so quickly when my husband presented me with my exquisite gift? I knew something he didn’t know. Do you know which musical instrument most resembles the tonal quality of the human voice? The violin.

He will restore what the locusts have eaten…

Sometimes we cling with white knuckles to our own plans so tightly, we fail to realize God is trying to give us something far better. But in order to receive it, we must relinquish our hold on the old before we can receive the new.

teddy bear Jesus

I don’t want to settle for good and miss out on God’s best. Through this whole process, God has taught me an amazing truth. Sometimes, to give you a voice, God must first break your instrument.

God may heal my singing voice. He may not. Either way, I’m content. I’m happy. God never takes away without giving something better in return. I have a voice, and I’ll use it for Him as long as He gives me breath.

Because you can have a voice and still not have a voice.

 

 

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The Heart Beat

The scream jerked me out of a dead sleep.

I groaned as my feet slapped against the cold floor. Not again.

I padded to Nathan’s room, grunting as my shin collided against the sharp edge of an unknown object in the dark house. More nightmares. The interruption of sleep was wearing thin.

I opened the door to my son’s room with a soft creak. My weariness melted away when he reached out his pudgy arms for me, sniffing and crying out in relief, “Mama.” nightmares

“Oh, baby. Did you have a bad dream?”

I scooped him up in my arms as he wiped his tears away with chubby fists. Kissing his forehead, I snuggled down with him in his bed and hummed a lullaby, alternating between wordless melodies and prayer. “Dear Jesus, please help Nate sleep without fear…”

He patted my face as we kept our vigil for a few minutes longer. His breath grew even and calm. I lifted up my head, thinking he was asleep. I was wrong. Nate sat up and frowned.

“No, Mama.”

I chuckled and laid back down beside him. But this time, instead of patting my face like he usually wants to do, Nate pressed my head to his chest. I heard every thrum of his little heart.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Each time that beat grew slow and easy, I gently raised my head up only to find a chubby fist push my head back down again.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. heart beat

As I lay there listening to his heart beat, I thanked God for my stubborn, wild little boy. He’s exhausting, but a joy nonetheless. Then my thoughts drifted to another little boy and a mother who might have had nights similar to this one. Oh, I know there are few similarities between Jesus and Nate. Jesus is the Savior and well, my son needs the Savior. But relationships bond people together the world over in experiences so we can feel another’s pain, sense another’s sorrow, see life through another’s eyes. jesus as little boy

What was Jesus like at the age of three? Was he ever awakened with nightmares? It’s an odd thought, I know. The King of creation, afraid? Still, Jesus was just as much little boy as much as he was God. Did He call out for His mother to soothe His fears? Did she run and gather Him in her arms? I wonder if He ever pressed her head to His chest in an effort to draw her close.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

I am no hero. I can’t breathe life out of nothing or fight dragons or calm storms. Yet, I have a Father who can do all of those things. Indeed, He has done them already and will to do them again.

“I will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:14

When the enemy hisses his lies in my ear, when giants loom over me causing my knees to buckle in fear, when I can’t breathe for the pain squeezing around my chest, I have a Father I can cry out to. Before I even finish His name, He is cradling me in His arms and pressing my head to His chest. god's heart beat

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Always strong. Always steady. Always the same.

Maybe the little boy Jesus was never scared. If He called out for his mother in the night, perhaps it was so he could calm her fears. And isn’t that a mind bender?

The heart beat of God is a powerful thing. It reminds us of His presence. Of His protection. Of His love. The same heart beat that thrums with a steady cadence calling the weary to find rest is the same pulse He poured out and emptied at the cross.

I pray Nate’s nightmares cease for his sake, but I don’t mind being awakened by them so much anymore. Every time I hear his heart thumping, it reminds of my heavenly Father’s. A Father Who never slumbers or sleeps.

And that makes for some very sweet dreams.

 

 

 

 

The Faith Run

Judging by the outcry, you would think we had banned our children from candy or something.

Last Wednesday evening, we pulled out of the church parking lot and headed home. While the kids were busy gabbing about life in teen/preteen-land, my husband looked over at me and mouthed, “Half-price shakes at Sonic”.sonic milkshakes I smiled and nodded. We didn’t say a word but I anticipated how excited the kids would be when we pulled up to their favorite shake place.

But when we passed the road that led to our house, the children began shouting in panicked frenzy.

“Dad! What are you doing?”

“You missed the turn!”

“What’s going on?”

“Are you getting so old you can’t remember how to get home?

“Where are we going?”

“Are we in trouble for something?”

I was taken back by their outburst. Had they become so routine oriented that they couldn’t function when there was a deviation from the norm? I caught my husband’s eye and grinned. We were tracking along the same lines…this night, at least.

I craned my neck and arched a brow. “We’re not going home yet. We have somewhere to go first.”

Bethany frowned. “But where? You didn’t say anything about running an errand earlier.”

Callie pursed her lips. “We never have to go to town this late.”

I shrugged and turned back around. “I guess you’ll have to see.”

They huffed. They complained. I couldn’t help it. I began giggling. “This is really driving you nuts, isn’t it?”

Bethany threw up her hands. “Of course it is! You won’t tell us where we’re going! You just keep saying to trust you. I want to know!” faith martin luther king

I snickered. “Kind of like Abraham. God told him to pack up everything and move. Didn’t even tell him where he’d be going. He started out on a journey with no destination. At least, it seemed that way from Abraham’s perspective. That’s what faith is. Trusting God even when you don’t see the destination…yet.”

Oh, but the complaining didn’t stop. If anything, it increased. Whining, begging, pleading. At one point, my husband clenched his teeth. “I promise you, where we are going is a good thing. But if you say one more word, I’m going to turn this car around, you’ll miss out on something awesome, and you’ll always wonder what it was. So cool it!”

His threat worked. They finally chilled while I waxed poetic about the intricacies of faith. I admit, my husband and I were both feeling spiritually superior with our little ‘faith run’. We thought we’d found a brilliant way to teach trust to our routine-rigid kiddos. And they did learn something important…but then again, so did we.

As we neared the turn, we announced we were going to Sonic for half-price shakes. As the children cheered, we turned the corner but stopped short with a gasp. The Sonic was dark, no florescent lights or happy car hops. Just a sign that read, “This location temporarily closed due to a boil order”. closed

Can you see the irony here? Todd and I thought we were pretty smug and in control, teaching our children about the importance of faith. But the journey took a detour we hadn’t expected. How very like God to remind us that, even as parents, we aren’t the guiding force in our family. He is. I think the parents needed the faith run even more than the stressed out kids did.

faith roadDon’t worry. Once we got over our groaning, we puttered down the road a few more miles to a different Sonic—one that wasn’t experiencing the duress of tainted water. As the children smacked their sticky lips, Bethany leaned forward and grinned, “I like this faith-run-to-Sonic thing. Maybe next time we should do a faith run to Chick-fil-A.”

Maybe so. But knowing the surprise at the end sometimes takes the fun out of the journey.

Unless a boil order is involved.

I would love to hear from you. Have you ever planned a spiritual lesson that taught you more than the intended recipient? How would you define faith? Have you ever gone on a faith run? What was the result?

When Mother’s Day is Painful

baby feetMother’s Day is a day I both cherish and dread. Cherish, because of the sweet bond my three living children and I share. We giggle and play, worship and love. Yet, I also dread this holiday too. Why? Because I have two babies in heaven.

I wouldn’t wish them back for anything. (I often tell my audiences that I have five children. Two are with Jesus and the other three are stuck with me.)  But Mother’s Day is a sharp reminder of their absence in my arms. It fuels my longing for little Taylor and Morgan and resurrects memories of the heart-rending moments when I felt I couldn’t breathe from the pain of loss.

I doubt I’m alone.

Anyone who has battled infertility, anyone who has lost their own precious mother or has suffered the death of a child, anyone who has a mother in prison or is estranged from their children, or anyone who had an outright abusive relationship with their mother might feel the same.

Do you know what makes this day doubly hard? The Mother’s Day themed services in church.

Please don’t get me wrong. I adore my fun-loving mother dearly, as well as my sweet mother-in-law. They deserve all the praise and love my heart can offer. But I think many church leaders forget something in all their planning. No, make that two things. One, not everyone had a loving, kind, June Cleaver type of mom. Two, we go to church to worship Jesus, not women.

Having every song resolve around our ‘dearly departed mother’, or ‘the faith of mom’ or the irreplaceable love of a mother can feel like a slap in the face to those whose loss is fresh, or worse yet, is desperately longing for a baby to fill their arms.

I once mentioned to my own mother that someone had asked me to sing a Mother’s Day song that went along the lines of, “I remember when Momma used to read to us from the Bible, but she died and now she’s sitting with Jesus…” Mom scowled. “I’m not dead yet! Sitting with Jesus would be wonderful but don’t kick me out of here before He says I’m ready!” I want to enjoy and celebrate the time we have together now…not wallow in the sadness I’ll feel when she’s gone.

HPIM1336.JPG

Along those same lines, focusing every song, every word, every moment on mothers doesn’t leave much room for Jesus. He’s the reason we come, after all. (Or should be.) When my focus is on Him, my own pain doesn’t seem so deep. Motherhood is wonderful but we ought not let it push Christ from the center of our worship. I’d much rather kneel at the feet of the One who made us than be put on a pedestal from which I’ll surely fall.

So what am I saying? Just this: be sensitive. Be aware. Mother’s Day is not a wholly delightful day for some. It’s a mixed bag. And sadly, there are others who find it to be pure emotional distress. (I’ve known a number of women who choose to stay home on Mother’s Day Sunday because they cannot deal with the distress it stirs up.) The last thing I want to do is inflict more hurt on those battling through the hard things.

Be thoughtful. Be sensitive. Honor your mother. Worship Jesus. If we can do that, it will be a blessed day indeed.

shepherd staffFor those of you in the middle of a difficult Mother’s Day, you are loved by God. He sees. He knows and He’s holding you in the palm of His hand. You are not alone.

What about you? Do you struggle on Mother’s Day? Are there things you wish churches would do differently on holidays? What is the best way you’ve found to honor your Mom? 

 

The Sidewalk

falling

I did it again.

After years of battling approval addiction, after years teaching others how to break free from the chains of people pleasing, I found myself right back at square one…I took on a task I wasn’t meant to take because I wanted to be the agreeable good girl. Someone asked something of me, but instead of requesting time to pray, I blurted out, “Sure! I’m happy to do it.” And now I’m resentful.

The same old pattern. The same old struggle. Have you been there?

struggle

Each of us battle with different things. Some of us find ourselves lured back into the arms of drugs or alcohol after living victoriously sober. Others think we’ve made great progress with our spouse until we found ourselves shouting and fighting over the same old argument that has plagued us from year one.

Pornography. Binge eating. Codependency. Toxic relationships. Shopping sprees and money management. Victim mentality. Approval addiction. Is there anything more discouraging then finding ourselves repeating the same deadly mistakes we so valiantly worked to break free from?

It’s like falling into a mud hole, knowing full well the pit of slime and muck was just around the corner, yet we find ourselves flailing in the trap again. Is there anything that feels more shameful?

So we cry out to God, “Why? Why am I here again? I thought You’d healed me completely. Why can’t I break free of the trap?”

Quite honestly, I believe we fall for the same old lies because we don’t know our own worth in Jesus’ eyes. Or we’ve never fully dug deep into recognizing and understanding our wounds—wounds that have festered for years. Or we’ve listened to Satan’s lies so long, we have trouble distinguishing his hiss from truth.

I recently ran across this analogy by Portia Nelson:

hole in sidewalk.jpg

“Chapter One. I walk down the street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place! But it isn’t my fault. And it still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit! My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter Four. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter Five. I walk down a different street.”

Godly living doesn’t come naturally. We have two opposing natures inside—the flesh and the Spirit. Do you know which one will emerge victorious in any given situation? It’s the one you feed the most.

two natures

Avoiding the mud hole in the sidewalk must be learned. The battle is for your mind.

For His divine power has bestowed on us [absolutely] everything necessary for [a dynamic spiritual] life and godliness, through true and personal knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” ~2 Peter 1:3 AMP

Did you catch that? He has already given us everything we need to live in victory, but we won’t accidentally fall into being like Jesus. It’s a conscious choice. The person we will be tomorrow is dependent on the choices we make today.

If you struggle with alcohol abuse, don’t keep it stocked in your frig. If you struggle with being negative, don’t hang out with bitter people.

I need to be mindful of what nature I’m feeding. The stronger the Spirit, the weaker the flesh. I’m pressing forward, imperfectly progressing towards being more and more like Jesus. The good news? I’m not alone. He is walking beside me, holding out His nail-scarred hands to veer me away from those old traps. But a helping hand is only beneficial if I grasp it.
walking

It’s hard to fall into the same hole when I use a different sidewalk.

 He gives us more and more grace [through the power of the Holy Spirit to defy sin and live an obedient life that reflects both our faith and our gratitude for our salvation].” ~James 4:6 AMP

Have you ever found yourself repeating the same behavior you thought you’d defeated? What do you think causes destructive cycles of behavior? What have you learned in the struggle?