“It will be over as soon as it starts” our electric guitarist said. “So enjoy it”.
All nine of us were rifling around in the green room about thirty minutes before we were about to go on stage at the Uptown theater in downtown Napa. Though one or two band members were lounging on the couch for a bit of rest during that long day, most of us were nervously pacing about the room.
It’s funny how everyone has their specific nervous habit. There was a lot of nail-biting, coffee drinking, and push-ups happening in that green room. The year prior I kept changing into different outfits. This year I kept changing my shoes.
I had just put on some high wedges, the tallest shoes I’ve ever worn, as we were waiting to go on stage. I kept adjusting the straps on the shoe, tighter then looser to see what was most comfortable. Because….I had never worn these shoes for longer than 5 minutes (perhaps not the best choice for singing in front of the largest audience to date) and because I was nervous. This was a big night.
Not only was I feeling the butterflies in my stomach, I was feeling exhausted. It had been such a long week, one of those weeks when every waking moment is planned out and you still don’t have enough time to get it all done.
While I was feeling the weight of my exhausting and adjusting my wedges for about the sixth time, the stage went black giving us the not-so-subtle clue that we were up. This was the first time I’ve ever walked out onto a stage in a completely dark room, and I must say that I don’t think I have every felt more disoriented in my life.
Exhausted, nervous, unstable from these new shoes, and now I couldn’t see a thing. I stood there paralyzed for a second because I didn’t know what was happening. The darkness unearthed some practical questions like, “How am I supposed to find my spot when I can’t see?”. But it also revealed some personal questions like, “Am I really ready for this moment? Can I do this? Do I have what it takes? Can I really overcome my fear and exhaustion?”.
Then, the first song started. It came and went along with the rest of our set just like our electric guitarist said. And I had the time of my life. The night I was dreading ended up being more fun than I could have imagined from the days and even minutes prior.
What I learned from this blackout moment, is often chaos precedes something extraordinary. That’s not to say that all chaos in life leads to good things. But I wonder how often we pull out too soon because we hit a wall. Chaos and opposition don’t always mean that we’re in the wrong place.
I like how David says it in Psalms: “With your (God’s) help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” Psalms 18:29
The blackout moments are going to happen to all of us in our lives. The things that paralyze us, fill us with fear, knock us off balance, and tell us that we shouldn’t go any further. But maybe, just maybe, it’s the time to steady yourself and lean in.
Something incredible might be on the other side of this chaos.
Something extraordinary might be on the other side of this wall.
I just want to say thank you…
Thank you to the ones who have said life giving words to me even though I wasn’t ready to receive them. Those often-unwelcomed words broke up the hard ground in my heart. They planted the seed that wouldn’t bloom in instant but would soon root me in to a new destiny.
The fruit in my future is because of the daring truths you spoke to my soul.
The sand was comforting that day. And the sun filled sky was such a contrast to my gloomy internal world. I was searching for sea shells and sea glass as I ventured up and down the coast, but I was having difficulty coming across any shells that weren’t chipped or broken.
It was quite a confusing time. I had just graduated college, quit my job and moved to a new city. I was jobless, aimless, and quite isolated in this empty season of life. Searching for sea shells was a simple practice for me in this season that usually ended in handfuls of shoreline treasures. However, on this particular day, I was coming up short on anything but scraps from the sea.
A bit disappointed, I picked up the biggest piece of a shell I could find and carried it with me to a nearby rock. As I sat on that rock, I starred intently at the shell. I held it up an arm’s length away with a beautiful crisp ocean view in the background. Then as my arms fell back to my side, I let it rest in the palm of my left hand as I continued to stare at that shell.
As I held that shell, thumbing over it's jagged edges, something resonated in my soul with that broken shell. I realized after moments of starring at a simple sea-shell that my life felt like that shell, broken and alone. I began to tear up as I whispered to the Lord, ”I’m so broken. Do you even see me? Do you even care?”.
The only thing I heard on the beach that day was the crashing of the waves and the swirling wind. I must admit, those sounds were comforting, but God was noticeably silent in my moment of brokenness and unrest.
The very next day, I dragged myself to church and found a seat a comfortable distance from the pulpit. I was downcast and shut down throughout the entire service, but I was just glad that I made it to church that day. As the communion elements were passed out, I grabbed the juice and cracker anticipating that the end of service was near.
As the pastor prayed over the elements, I starred at the broken cracker in my left hand for what felt like an eternity. There was nothing special about that cracker, just like there was nothing special about that shell the day prior. But it captivated me. Suddenly I felt the Lord whisper,“It’s okay, Jen. I understand. I was broken too.”
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…”
It was in this difficult season, the sort of time where it was a fight to get out of bed in the morning, when the Lord so sweetly made Himself known to me as a God who empathizes with my struggle.
As the years have gone on, I have found that this revelation of God was worth that season of struggle. It led me to know God in a relate-able way. He isn’t distant from my hurt; He doesn’t shame me from my brokenness. And though He doesn’t rush in to fix every heart ache or rescue me from every lonely hour, He is still there with me. I couldn’t possibly have understood the profound depths and reality of that last sentence unless I had walked through that season. And I couldn’t have understood even a glimmer of the brokenness He experienced on the road to the cross unless I had experienced my own brokenness.
As we approach Easter, I am so thankful for even the smallest bit of empathy for my Savior. This week, when I recount the gruesomeness of Good Friday, I remember a Savior who empathizes with me. I remember that His brokenness made room for mine.
“Let’s go around and have everyone share some personal success you’ve had this year.”
I was at a staff Christmas dinner last December when my boss uttered my worst nightmare. Sound a bit dramatic? Well that night, I was feeling dramatic. I was tired from a busy holiday season and feeling extremely insecure about myself. This little group activity was about to add to my insecurity, and I knew it.
For starters, I was one of three single people in the room surrounded by over a dozen couples. Naturally, most people shared about their wedding anniversaries or the success of their children. I have neither of those things. A few people shared about how they graduated college that year or experienced a big financial breakthrough. Those weren’t my story either.
As the fourth couple shared about their 16th wedding anniversary and their oldest getting accepted to college, I started feeling a little nervous.
“What in the world am I going to share about?” I started looking around the room for some inspiration or bit of hope, but none came. I closed my eyes and tried to will some bit of personal success into view. But my view was getting darker.
“Did I lose weight this year? Did I finish any major personal project?” I was scraping for something but still couldn’t find anything.
“Is there seriously nothing that I have to be proud of or thankful for this year?” I wrestled underneath the surface until it was suddenly MY turn.
“Well…” I said sheepishly. “I don’t feel like I had anything major. I just feel like there were a lot of new beginnings and ground-breaking moments as I’ve been starting to come into my own. And I’m looking forward to seeing how everything is going to unfold this year.”
It was vague, but it was true. I couldn’t point to a specific relational, financial, educational, or career marker because I didn’t have a finished product. Everyone else’s progress seemed like an extravagant $1000 bill and mine felt like a humble handful of pennies.
However, somewhere deep down I knew that there was significance to my year. As I sat there and thought more about all that had transpired in those 365 days, I came to appreciate that I had indeed pushed past previous boundaries in my personal life. I recounted each new start in my heart and all the small victories along the way.
As the rest of the staff shared their mountain top moments of 2018, the wrestling in me ceased as I chose to let my small victories finally matter to me.
I had to learn grace in this moment. I had to learn contentment, patience for the process, and how to silence the voice of comparison that was blaring in my spirit.
The whole experience reminds me of Zechariah 4:10 that says: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin”.
It’s not usually my practice to celebrate the beginning or middle of any event in my life. Like most people, I usually celebrate at the end. But according to this verse, the Lord rejoices at my small beginnings. So, shouldn’t I?
I couldn’t hear His voice over my own insecurity that night, but I think the Lord was asking me to celebrate with Him over all the new beginnings in my life. He was asking me to stop rushing ahead to the finish line and come over to where He was, celebrating at the starting line.
What grace He had for me that December night to lead me right to where He was so that I could be with him and recognize the things truly worth celebrating.
Since that night, I've been asking myself these questions, and now I would like to ask you...What does it look like for you to celebrate the small beginnings? What does it look like for you to celebrate with God over the work He’s doing in your life?
Visit my contact page and give me your thoughts!
Jen is a pastor, worship leader, writer, and songwriter living in Napa, California.