A Man and a Map

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Photo: Sylwia Bartyzel,  unsplash.com.

“They say everything is at a standstill for miles.”

My dad leaned toward the open car door where I perched shotgun in a rental car my sister and I were using. I struggled to drag up Google maps on my phone.

“Can you see pictures of a map on that?” he asked.

“Yes, just one moment.” I tapped out our location into the “from” line and my parents’ address into the “to” line, but my cell coverage was spotty and the website was taking too long to load. Finally, I showed him the picture.

He shook his head. “I’m going to find a map.”

Traffic crept along the highway and spilled onto the exits and local routes. We had pulled off the highway and stopped at a McDonald’s to consider our possibilities. We had heard that there was an accident, and the few miles of construction just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, had brought every vehicle to a tiny crawl.

My dad is an expert when it comes to finding a different route to take. If the current lane he’s driving in becomes clogged, if construction or an accident keeps him from moving, he always finds a way to work around the problem. Today was no different.

His solution? Find a map.

We waited while he bought a map and chose an alternate route. But despite our best intentions, it seemed that everyone had the same idea. . .find an alternate route. We inched forward a few miles, then finally turned around and headed back into the McDonald’s parking lot. . .the same spot we had just left.

While we bought food and commiserated with another family sitting nearby, my Dad once again spread the map across the table and carefully studied the details. As our new-found friend related his experiences trying to get to Pennsylvania, Dad re-studied his options to get to West Virginia. He wanted everything clearly laid out before him–not squeezed into a picture on a phone.

After eating our lunch, we eventually pulled back onto the highway. And in a few short miles, the traffic sped up and once again flowed easily. But we had lost four hours of precious time. Four hours. My dad declared he had never seen the traffic this bad on the route home.

As a kid, I remember the countless times that I watched my dad study the map as we traveled across the country. He would sit in the driver’s seat of the bus, hunched over the map he had spread out on the steering wheel, while the rest of us laughed and talked and ate lunch at some rest area. If we were traveling in Texas or Arizona or Utah, it was especially crucial to gauge how many miles it was until the next gas station so that our caravan would not be stranded in the desert.

No MapQuest. No Rand McNally. Just a man and a map.

When I began driving, I, too, had to learn to read a map. We did not have cell phones with access to MapQuest and Google maps back then. (I sound ancient.) There was a large, thick Rand McNally map, and we used it frequently.

The familiar sight of Dad hunched over the map as we sat in McDonald’s stirred memories. Instinctively, I knew. I knew that no matter what happened, we would make it to our location, even if it took us all day. And it was a knowing that resulted in security.

Even now, I long for security. Whenever I face a new path–one filled with questions and doubts and unknowns–I instinctively yearn for those long-ago days filled with the certainty of knowing that someone was holding the map. Someone was planning my course.

But thinking of Dad expertly reading the map reminded me.

Someone is holding the map, Someone is planning my course. Even when everything is at a standstill, even when my way seems blocked, Someone knows and is preparing an alternate route. And somehow, someday–at just the right moment–the way will suddenly open before me, free of obstacles and delays.

Accomplishment

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Monica and I after she received her B.S. in Biology Education on May 10, 2017.

I remember the day my younger sister Monica pulled me into the bathroom in my dorm room and broke the news.

“Jess, I can’t keep going like this. I need to go home.” 

I guess I had known that she could not continue meeting the demands of her schedule at college while fighting health issues. I knew something had to give, but did not think it would come to this. After all, she was in the fall semester of her senior year and was getting ready to start her internship. Who can afford to stop school and just leave it all behind this close to the finish line?

Only three years before, Monica had gone to Pensacola Christian College to study Music Education. She worked hard in her classes and excelled in academics as well as in her social life. Going to college in her late 20s was not easy, but she made it work.

Then came her senior year and the decline of her health.

I remember the days she struggled to make it to class. The nights when I worried that she was losing ground physically. When she told me she had leave that evening, I knew that the situation had to be serious if she was thinking of foregoing the accomplishment of her dream.

I watched her leave the fall of 2013. But she did not return that next semester, nor the next. Not until my last semester did she make it back to school. In the meantime, she recovered and then decided to change her major.

Which meant two and a half more years of college.

But learning was in her soul and nothing could dissuade her. She kept fighting and pursuing and this past week, I watched her reach her goal.

Sitting in the balcony of the Crowne Centre at Pensacola Christian College last Wednesday morning, I eagerly waited for her to climb the steps to the stage. When her name was called, I could hardly contain myself. And when the audience cheered for each graduate, I stood. After all, such hard work and determination deserved recognition.

The Commencement ceremony reminded me of a day two years ago when I, too, walked across that stage and received a diploma. Although my path lay along different lines, I knew the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and joy Monica was feeling. She had faced many more battles than me, but she had persevered.

Often in the midst of a struggle we find ourselves enveloped in something too high for us, too elusive, too frightening. We take a few steps and stop. We reconsider and regroup. And then a day comes when we simply must face the battle and fight.

That dream that lies deep inside must be realized, but not only with ease and grace. Sometimes that dream also requires us to sweat, to weep, to struggle. Sometimes God takes us down a different path than the one we planned, like He did with my sister Monica. When the dream is fulfilled, we know a sense of true accomplishment. And that is worth every price we paid.

If you are facing a struggle, do not give up. Accomplishment is just around the corner.

 

P.S. If you would like to see more pictures of Monica’s special day, visit my Facebook page. And forgive this late post. I was busy celebrating.

To Be A Mentor

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This week, a dear friend of mine is getting married.

She has been a tremendous help to me since my move to Oklahoma, sharing practical advice on the single life, career, relationships, finances, housing. She is farther down the path than me, in more ways than one. And this week I have the privilege of watching her marry a wonderful man and begin a new adventure. I am filled with happiness for her.

As her wedding date approaches, I am reminded of how much her friendship means to me, of how much I appreciate that she has mentored me.

We all need a mentor at some point in our lives. We find ourselves facing a new path, and we need a guide to help us navigate the path ahead. Of course, we know our ultimate source of guidance and light is found in God’s Word. But sometimes we need someone with flesh and bones on them. Someone who can see the path ahead with all of its pitfalls, and who will tell us the truth about the path and ourselves.

I have had other mentors in my life. My sister Joanna. My cousin Amy (now married). The two of them showed me–and continue to show me–the definition of bravery and facing life with passion and determination. I have watched other singles struggle with the same issues I have faced. And I have seen them persevere through many tough situations, situations they were not initially prepared to face. But they conquered.

In my teens and 20s, I remember the girls who seemed to “spiritualize” their singleness.

“Let’s be joyful!” they would exclaim in their letters to me.

“Serve Jesus!”

“Keep your eyes on Him!”

“He is your Husband.”

While all of these sentiments are true, they did nothing to offer comfort. I was hurting! I needed someone with flesh and bones on him, someone real who could give me a hug or kiss now and then. I needed someone who understood me, who cared to listen to what I had to say. I guess I was just not spiritual. (Often these were the girls who married early.)

If there’s one thing I have learned through watching other singles, it is this: the path can be lonely and long. The struggle is private, but real. I am reminded of a stanza from one of Emily Dickinson’s poems:

To fight aloud, is very brave –
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Wo –

 

Sometimes it can seem like an entire “cavalry of woe” is within me as I navigate through seasons of life. But in the midst of the journey, I have learned a few things from my mentors.

  1. Keep believing. I can never stop trusting that God has a plan. Through eyes of faith, I know that He is good and He is working behind the scenes of my life, no matter how my story will end. My sister Joanna has often quoted Psalm 84:11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
  2. Keep loving. Shielding my heart from loving is a common response when I am hurting. I must love others even if I do not have the kind of love I seek. I must love my family. Care for my friends. Seek out the lost and lonely, and befriend them.
  3. Keep serving. No matter what is happening in life, or what position I am in, I will always have an opportunity to serve the Lord and others in my church. Focusing on others has been a solace to me, and I always feel happier when I have served them.

These truths are still sinking deep into my heart, along with something else.

It’s my turn to be a mentor.

How to Teach Your Child to Love Music (Tip #9)

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Photo: Davide Ragusa, www.unsplash.com.

When I was a little girl, I heard my parents say one thing over and over.

“We’re singing unto the Lord.”

When Mom said this phrase, her New York accent would take over, and it sounded more like, “We’re singing unto the Lor-ed.” (I have no idea how to make that sound like a New York accent. They don’t pronounce the “r”. ) Either way, the message came across clearly.

We were not performing for the praise of men, but rather, we were singing for God’s glory while ministering to people’s hearts. This was the foundation for everything we did. But for some of us (like me), singing on stage produced a lot of stage fright. I had to be constantly reminded of the simple fact that I was singing for Him.

If you want to help prepare your child for ministering on stage, begin at the beginning.

Teach your child that singing on stage is not about them; singing on stage is about worshiping the Lord.

Some children love the limelight. Others (like me) prefer to hide in the shadows. Maybe you have a child who is uninhibited, while another child barely speaks. You want them to use their talents, but they are either too cocky or too shy about being on stage.

One thing must be clear in their minds: ministering in music is a great privilege and singing for the Lord is one of the greatest blessings to be found. If they can understand this important principle, they will be less focused on themselves and more focused on the message of the song. They will grasp the deeper purpose of why they are singing–to bring praise and honor to Jesus.

King Jehoshaphat understood the importance of singing unto the Lord. In 2 Chronicles 20:21-22, we find these words:

And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth for ever.

And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.

The singers praised the beauty of holiness, and as they continued singing, the Lord fought Israel’s battle for them.

Your child may not understand all of the implications of their singing, but you can teach them that music is a vital part of any service. Who knows? Someone in the congregation may be facing a battle and may need to learn to thank God in advance for the victory. Someone may need to comprehend the beauty of holiness, or may need strength for the lonely path they are walking, or may need peace for their soul. As your child sings to the Lord, they are ministering, as well. Their music can touch a hard heart or bring joy to a weary heart.

But ultimately, teach them that singing on stage is all about Him.

The Roaring Quiet

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Photo: Ben White, unsplash.com.

I am not very good at being alone.

I do not mean alone in this world without family or friends. For goodness’ sake, I have such a large family, I’ll never get to the end of them. (Of course, I love every single one of them, in case they are reading this.) And I typically make friends easily.

I mean alone, as in physically alone.

When you grow up with seven sisters and two brothers, you rarely experience being alone. There’s no end to the amount of activity going on. My siblings and I spent many hours sitting and waiting in vehicles, and one thing we learned to do well was talk. And talk. And talk. I believe we could have solved all of the world’s problems–and we probably did, or at least, thought we did.

When I moved away from my family the summer of 2010, I had to learn to adjust to eating meals alone, to shopping alone, to going to events alone. Now I find myself many times in a quiet house with no one around. Although sometimes I enjoy the quiet, I find that I still have to adjust.

To be alone with my own thoughts scares me. I constantly want to have music playing or call a sister or have some kind of noise going that will keep me distracted from the absolute silence. When I sense the noise falling away, my ears ring. I fight the roaring quiet.

Recently, I read a blog post written by a good friend and former classmate, Sharon Rhyne. Her article, “Why I Want My Children to Learn to Be Alone,” spoke volumes to me. She writes about being physically alone, and how this is good for a person. It makes us focus on ourselves and God, and our standing before Him.

“It is so easy in the midst of people to be good and believe that you are good,” she writes. “It is so easy to not focus on the inner workings of your heart when life is noisy. You just do what everyone else is doing, and then they like you. And you like you. But believing in the goodness of oneself is a dangerous belief to hold because in the pride of self-righteousness we fail to experience the joy of the gospel.”

I have grown up in church. I know all of the right phrases to use, how to smile, how to nod and sing and pretend to be spiritual. And sometimes, sadly, I know I am pretending.

But it’s in the quiet moments alone when I finally see myself for who I truly am. Sharon points this out clearly.

“As obvious as it sounds, it is when we are alone that we do the things we only do when we are alone,” she says. “And those are the things that define who we really are. . .When you are alone you have to face yourself. And no one can take an honest look at himself and not shudder. No one.”

Maybe being alone scares me because I would shudder if I saw myself for who I truly am. Not only am I alone with my thoughts (and Sharon talks about the discipline in the thought life), but also I am alone with my emotions, my pride, my fear, my unbelief, my laziness. And that’s not pretty.

If I truly want to see myself as God sees me, I need to be alone. It may not always be pleasant, but the more I am alone, the more I can sense my need for Him, as Sharon reminds me here:

It is invaluable to me to see my need of Him, and then to remember that I have Him because of the gospel, and then to spend time alone with Him.

The roaring quiet can make me realize my need of Him. And I desperately need to see my need of Him.

 

P.S. Sharon’s post was excellent. You really should go read it here. In fact, just ignore this post and read hers.

Sixty Minutes

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Photo: Aaron Burden, www.unsplash.com.

This week our church celebrated the Lord’s Supper.

We usually meet once a year to celebrate. The service is a very sobering, worshipful time. We file in silently and leave silently, all of our focus on the Cross and what Christ has done for us.

That evening, somehow I found myself on the end of a small second-row pew on the piano side, sandwiched in with four other members. Since I was sitting practically at the altar,  I felt open and exposed to the world. Trying to focus, I fidgeted and stirred, then worried that I was bothering those around me. I wondered if anyone else was having the same struggle concentrating.

Probably not. I was pretty sure that others were more godly, more devoted, more dedicated than me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Bibles open and wondered if I should get mine out to keep myself from fidgeting so much.

At the beginning of the service, Pastor admonished us to try to reign in our thoughts for sixty minutes, no matter how many times we had to do so. He added that the Lord deserved at least sixty minutes out of our schedules this week.

I thought about that. Surely I could reign in my wild thoughts for that long.

I soon learned that this was no small task.

As Pastor prepared to read the account of Christ’s death and resurrection from Mark 14-15, he encouraged us to imagine ourselves in the story.

I tried. I tried to imagine the disciples going into the city to prepare for the Passover and meeting the man with the fully furnished upper room and finding everything as Jesus had said it would be.

And then my mind drifted again.

If only I could picture tasting the bread and the wine for the first time, and Jesus saying His body would be broken and His blood shed for mankind. I am sure that the disciples were a little perplexed about what He was telling them, but pretended they knew what He was talking about.

I wished I could picture being woken from a deep sleep by Jesus, asking me if I could not “watch one hour.” Standing in the shadows as Judas came and kissed Jesus’s face and the confusion that followed as Peter drew his sword and then all of us fled the garden. Observing as Peter denied Jesus three times and the cock crowing.

I wished I could be a bystander as Jesus stood before the accusers and “answered nothing.” I have always been amazed that the Creator of the universe, who could have called down angels from Heaven in a split second to destroy them all, stood calmly, saying nothing. I longed to follow His example.

I wanted to be there while the Jews demanded Jesus’s crucifixion and Pilate responded, “Why, what evil hath he done?” I know I would hardly be able to watch the beating and the spitting and the beard ripping from his face and the crown of thorns piercing His brow. Then the walk to Golgotha, the nails, the thirst, and the unspeakable pain. And the blood. So much blood.

Why was it so difficult for me to focus? I wanted this special time of observing the Lord’s Supper to mean something to me. I was certain it meant something to others in attendance, but I wanted, yes needed, to remember the importance of what I was doing myself.

I was saddened to think that at a time when Christ deserved everything from me, I was only giving Him such a small amount of time, and even that was clouded with me and my thoughts and my ways.

As we quietly sang “Lead Me to Calvary”, a line from one of the stanzas caught my attention.

 

Let me like Mary, through the gloom,
Come with a gift to Thee;

 

My eyes watered. I wondered what could be my gift. What could I give to Christ, here, now? I had no spices or anointing oil, but surely I could give Him my time–at least sixty minutes of it. I could not be there in that moment with Mary at the Cross or walk with her when she brought her gift to the garden tomb. I could not sit with John at the table in the upper room, nor could I sing a hymn with the other disciples.

But I was here, and I could remember. I could worship. I could offer myself to Him. This moment could be special, could connect me to the disciples of old–to Mary Magdalene and Peter and John and James.

I could crown Him in this moment, lest I forget Calvary.

King of my life, I crown Thee now,
Thine shall the glory be;
Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow,
Lead me to Calvary.

The Influence of Jean, Jane, and Shirley

This past Sunday, our church hosted “Heartland Sunday.”

For years, Bible Baptist Church has dedicated one Sunday as “Heartland Sunday,” and the singing groups from Heartland Baptist Bible College in Oklahoma City come to sing for us. Typically, a total of three groups come: one ladies trio, one men’s quartet, and one mixed group. Our church supports the college, financially and in other ways, and this Sunday offers a glimpse into what our investment means for us.

Sunday morning I sat in my usual spot, enjoying the music. As I listened to Hannah, Katie, and Marielle from the group “Assurance” sing and give their testimonies, I was reminded of my own musical heritage. And not because I grew up traveling or because I knew how they felt on the stage. Their singing reminded me of another tie to my musical roots.

***

It was May 2009, and my dad and I were attending the 50th reunion celebration of his graduating class from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.

Mom had not felt like coming due to our busy schedule, so this trip was turning out to be a special dad and daughter time. We spent a lot of time driving (no surprise there). After some difficulty, we found old Route 66. I watched miles and miles of open fields flying by, the tall grasses swaying in the breeze, the rocky hills jutting up to the sky.  I loved hearing Dad’s memories about a time in his life before his marriage to Mom, before any of my siblings and I existed. Pre-traveling days. Pre-CDs. Pre-any of that.

As I sat at a special banquet honoring the Class of 1959, I listened carefully to the testimonies from Dad’s classmates.

One lady caught my attention. Her name was Shirley and she had been a member of a ladies trio that used to sing when Dad was attending Baptist Bible College in the late 1950s. Their names were Jean Thompson, Jane Smith, and Shirley Jayne.

Often, Dad would talk about this trio of girls, how their clear voices and tight harmony impressed him. Later, he trained my three oldest sisters to sing in much the same way.

I remember a friend of my dad telling my siblings and me that Dad once mentioned a desire to have a family that would play and sing. And now I was meeting Shirley, a lady who had had a big influence on the way my dad trained us. I was catching a glimpse of the past and how it had shaped our family’s musical heritage.

***

The ladies trio from Heartland Baptist Bible College shared many of the same characteristics with the 1950s trio from Baptist Bible College. Clear voices. Tight harmony. Sweet spirits that shone through the message of the songs.

HBBC Assurance with Jess

Left to right: Katie Smith (tenor), Marielle Serrano (alto), me (fan), Shalyse Hughes (pianist), and Hannah McKenzie (soprano). Photo credit: Rigo Mendez.

I thought of all the ways my dad had been influenced by music during his youth, and even into his twenties–from his uncles who played the banjo and accordion to a ladies trio at a Bible college. I marveled at the way God had allowed his dream to come to pass, the dream of having a singing family.

I shared this story with the “Assurance” trio. I tried to explain the influence that Jean, Jane, and Shirley had had on my family, but I am afraid I did not do it justice.

***

In May, two of my sisters and I will have the opportunity to minister in song at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. I am sure we–Joanna, Monica, and I–will require much practice after so much time apart, but I feel blessed to have the chance to sing together once again.

The “Assurance” trio may not realize the influence they had on me or the influence they will have on church members across the United States, but the sound of three voices blending in harmony can touch hearts and lives.

They may not know, but I know. My family’s ministry is the evidence of the influence of Jean, Jane, and Shirley.