It Runs In the Family

When I was a little boy, I was fairly optimistic and positive in my demeanor. I didn’t experience a whole lot of anxiety or worry, but I had an active mind and an active imagination. I also didn’t always have the easiest time sleeping, something that has only worsened as I’ve gotten older. If my mind would get to wandering (which it would do quite frequently) and I couldn’t sleep, I could easily find myself trying to understand things that were far beyond my reach, like eternity.

As I’ve gotten older, I don’t know that I’ve experienced an increased amount of anxiety, but I think that the anxieties have felt bigger. When you’re younger, the problems don’t seem to be quite as insurmountable (although they may look that way) as they are as you get older, at least that’s what we might tell ourselves to justify our own anxieties. But I must have experienced some anxieties because somewhere in my teens, my mom shared her journey through the Psalms with me.

The Book of Psalms, written by David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah, and other early worship leaders is comprised of 150 chapters. The great reformer, John Calvin, in speaking of the Psalms wrote, “there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror…the Holy Spirit has drawn to the life all the griefs and sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”

It seems that somewhere along the way, my mom had discovered the importance of the Psalms in her own struggle with anxiety and depression. Being the wife of a pastor was not always the easiest thing and she found solace and comfort in the Psalms, discovering a monthly reading plan which would take the reader through the entire book in a month.

My mom told me that you could base the reading plan on the day of the month and just add thirty until there were no Psalms left. So, if it was the 3rd of the month, you would read Psalm 3, 33, 63, 93, and 123. If it was the 24th of the month, you would read Psalm 24, 54, 84, 114, and 144. It was a fairly simple approach that I remember to this day.

Pastor and author John Macarthur once quipped to his congregation that any Christian paralyzed by anxiety should be sequestered to a simply furnished room, given food through a slot in the door, and not let out until he or she had read the book of Psalms. He called it “psalm therapy,” claiming that, “anxiety cannot survive in an environment of praise to God.”

It’s interesting, it wasn’t until this week that I began to put it all together, the fact that the Psalms have been to me since my youth, the same solace and place of comfort that they were for my mom for so many years. They have become the default place for me when I find myself restless in the rest of Scripture.

In fact, as I’ve been reading through my Bible plan for the year, I find myself losing some of the things that I experience most when I am in the Psalms. Instead of letting the words breathe life into me, I have had a tendency to speed through them, racing to the finish line for the day so that I can say that I have successfully accomplished my plan for the day.

Reading through the Psalms does not usually give me that option. Within the Psalms, I am struck by the words, the imagery, the artistry, and the honesty. I am struck at the boldness with which the writers approach God with their questions and complaints, with their desires and fears. I find myself reading them through and feeling empowered to be just as bold and just as honest as they have been. After all, God can take our honesty, can’t he?

As I’ve felt myself pushing towards the finish line of my yearly Bible plan, the one that gets you through the entire book in a year, my growing unease is leading me back to the place where I have found such comfort in the past, the Psalms. Not just comfort for me, comfort that has been passed on, comfort that has been shared to me through my mom.

After my journey through the Bible in a year, I’ll find my way back to what’s become familiar, not for the sake of familiarity, but because what all it brings with it. Not going to rush to get to January 1st, but at least when I get there, I’ll know what’s waiting for me…and I’ll embrace it.

Ending the Drought

flower in the desertIsaiah 43:18-19

 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Sometimes we find ourselves in the desert. Sometimes we’re seeking a place of rest, a place of comfort, a place of nourishment and restoration, but instead, we’re given desolation.

The Israelites had to walk through the desert for forty years before they could finally find their home in the land that flowed with milk and honey, the Promised Land. Even when they got there, the news wasn’t what they expected. Some of the spies who had gone into the land only saw the inhabitants that were in the land rather than trusting God to provide what he had said he would provide.

My deserts seem to always fall during the months of Autumn. At least since college, I have had a love/hate relationship with the months of September, October, and November. They stand as an annual reminder to me that all things come to an end, that all things must die, that there is life and death in a cycle that turns.

But even in the midst of the desert, there is life. It might be found in a small plant, maybe a cactus, an animal, a small stream or brook. Sometimes we have to search far and wide to find it, but it’s there. Sometimes, we just simply need to be still and wait.

There is a way in the wilderness, there are streams in the wasteland, but they might not always look like how we thought they should look. But they’re still there and we can again find life in the midst of a bleak landscape.

The Road to Becoming – A Book Review

the road to becomingWhat do you do when all of your dreams, everything that you have envisioned for your life is stripped away? How do you respond when all that you are left with is a pile of ashes on the floor while you attempt to pick them up and find hope to go on? What do you do when the plans that you had made for your life seem so elusive that every time you get a taste or sniff of them they you feel that they are yanked out from right there in front of you?

From dreams under the leaves of her grandparents’ mighty Mississippi magnolia tree to the office of a music executive in Music City, Jenny Simmons followed her dream from thought to fruition. After years of doing concerts and productions that she put on with her sisters for whoever would listen, years of feeling the calling deep within her soul to follow this dream of making music because of the connection that it had to her soul, she had finally arrived…or so she thought.

Jenny Simmons saw the example that her parents had set for her and her sisters, the example that said to follow your heart, follow your dreams, follow your call, even when it takes you to impractical, hard, and unsafe places. After all, living by faith rarely comes without a price, and it rarely looks as safe as we would like it to look. So, while she learned to follow her calling, she also learned that following doesn’t come without a cost. “Turns out, following God-sized epiphanies doesn’t guarantee instant happiness, and it might even cost your own children some pain,” she writes.

Fronting the band Addison Road who was on the brink of touring with Sanctus Real in the spring of 2010, she and her band lost all their equipment and merchandise when their van and trailer were stolen to fall apart and my plans began to unravel.” Two weeks later, her daughter was born, but that birth was simply the silver lining of a very dark cloud that hovered over her for more than a year. In “The Road to Becoming,” Jenny Simmons chronicles her experience of having achieved her lifelong dream of being a successful recording artist and singer and then seeing it all wash away.

Through the loss of their own personal vehicles, the literal blowing up of a rented RV (complete with band equipment and merchandise), and the additional loss of the band’s equipment and merchandise, for a third time within a year, Simmons found herself in a place of extreme loss and suffering. “The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened,” she wrote.

But through the loss, she began to realize that the process of loss involves so much more than just simply losing something. There is a necessary death, an embrace of grief, burial, and rebirth that needs to take place after something to painful and deep. Through the loss and through the pain, she had to remember that God still speaks, even though his voice sounds more, “like a whisper and not the roar of a hurricane.”

In the midst of loss and the desert in which she found herself, she realized that things still grow in the desert. Despite the climate in which you would expect nothing to thrive, there is beauty, there are streams in the desert along which there is life and growth. But in order for that new growth, for something new to become, it, “requires the burying of one’s selfishness.”

Simmons seems to be as much of an artist with words and images as she does with music, painting with words much the way that she paints with notes and lyrics. She is honest and raw, vulnerable and transparent, not seeking to offer answers but rather a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold through the deserts and storms. She never feigns a full understanding of the process but is open and willing to share of her own triumphs and her failures.

“The Road to Becoming” is a helpful resource for anyone who finds themselves in the desert, searching for life and meaning and wondering whether God has abandoned them. It’s a reminder that, “The end of the story isn’t dependent on the state of the dream.” Simmons doesn’t candycoat the struggles that she went through but shares in hopes that her own experience might be an encouragement to others who might have to endure the same experiences.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bakes Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)