A Bittersweet Evening: Saying Farewell to Downhere

This week, the band downhere came to the end of their Living The Dream Farewell Tour, and I could not be more grateful to have been able to attend their second to last show of the tour in Williamsburg, VA on October 14th.  Since July, when the band announced their plans to finish touring and recording, I almost never even tried to wrap my mind around the reality that it was coming to an end.  I doubted I’d even be emotional at the Farewell show.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I was quite wrong about that!

It was such a delight to reunite with my dear downhomie friends, who have been present every time I’ve seen downhere live, and who I wouldn’t know nearly as much as I do if it wasn’t for downhere.  I met new friends as well; some who I’ve come to know online recently (again, because of downhere) and couldn’t wait to meet in person, and others who I’d only come to know for the first time that evening.  One of the many emotional aspects of the evening was looking back on how many special friendships of mine have been formed through mutual interests in downhere.  Friendships that have brought me so much joy, laughter, fun, encouragement, prayer, growth, and upbuilding fellowship.  I talked later with Jeremy Thiessen (drummer) about that special, instant community that comes with downhere fans; how it wasn’t the doing of the band, but God working through the band to create something huge, valuable, and lasting among people.

Performing live in Williamsburg on the Living The Dream Farewell tour

(Photos from the concert can be found here)

The show itself was completely incredible; everything we could have hoped for.  Everything sounded positively great.  The band gave it their all in every performance and played with maximum excellence, as always; I’ve never heard anything less from them live!  It was so exciting for us fans to hear them open with the classics “Starspin” and “Larger Than Life” (the latter being one of my personal favorites), and for me, to hear them play so many of the same songs they played the first time I saw them live two years ago.  Another thing that added to the emotion of the evening was simply watching and hearing the set;  being that this was my very last time seeing downhere in concert, I was compelled to ponder and take in each song that was played.  It would be the last time I would hear all these songs live, and I wanted these last times to be savored and thoroughly enjoyed.  This was where my denial of emotion came to an end.  The inclusion of “All At War” was the first thing to begin bringing me to tears (for which I was later teased by co-leadsinger Jason Germain), but I lost it when they played three songs back to back that have been of great, great comfort to me in trials and struggles; the tears came, doubled, and tripled when “Calmer of the Storm,” “Hope Is Rising,” and “Rest” were played.  I was moved again by the personal impact of the lyrics, and reminded of how God has used these songs in my life; reminded of his faithfulness in difficulties.  I could continue to go on and on about the excellence of the whole set, but I’ll wrap that part up by fast forwarding to my favorite part: the final song of the set was the beautiful and worshipful “Great Are You,” during which emotions definitely began to arise in the room.  The whole song and show were ended with the singing of the Latin words we’ve heard in “Reveal The Kingdom:”

“Exsiccatum est foenum, et cecidit flos; Verbum autem Domini nostri manet in aeternum.

(“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”)

I couldn’t help but come to tears at this point, pondering that verse.  These times of downhere and their wonderful shows have been absolutely incredible and adored, and will be remembered with so much fondness by us fans, and while we’re watching these things come to an end, what lasts is all God has done through it.  Apart from his own work, a song is only a song.  His word will stand forever.

I am beyond grateful to have been able to see downhere live these four times.  I have been immensely blessed during each experience on so many levels.  The sets, the stories shared, and the encouragement given.  Another blessing is having been able to meet and spent some time with Jason, Marc, Glenn, and Jeremy after the sets with my friends.  I’ve enjoyed the short but sweet conversations; the deep, mundane, and the humorous; from the color teal, to photography, to dealing with stress.  I’ve also been amazed by their exceptional memory; I never really expected them to remember me from show to show, but even with a good amount of time passed, they’ve remembered me and immediately greeted me with enthusiasm and kindness.  This is how they treat all their fans; they are always eager to show welcome and warmth to everyone at the shows, and make a true effort to connect.  I am just one of many who have been blessed by this!

“Bittersweet” has to be the defining word for that night, but it was more sweet than bitter.  Though much sadness was experienced among everyone at the show, including myself, over the ending of such a sweet era, it was both intertwined and overwhelmed by joy and gratitude.  I am endlessly grateful to God for how he has used the music and ministry of downhere in my life;  I have learned that I am not alone in the struggles I face.  I have learned that God’s forgiveness is final and that his grace is abundant and available.  I have learned, that even in my doubt, God’s love for me is greater than I can possibly imagine.  For these things, and more, I will forever be grateful.  Thank you, and farewell.

Setlist:

  • “Starspin”
  • “Larger Than Life”
  • “Cathedral Made Of People” (with “Protest To Praise” chorus)
  • “All At War”
  • “My Last Amen”
  • “A Better Way”
  • “Calmer Of The Storm”
  • “Hope Is Rising”
  • “Rest”
  • “Living The Dream”
  • “The More”
  • “Let Me Rediscover You”
  • “Here I Am”
  • “How Many Kings”
  • “Bleed For This Love”

(Encore)

  • “What It’s Like”
  • “Great Are You” (with Latin verse)

Looking unto Jesus

One of many beautiful chapters from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening. That book has been such a blessing to me…

It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus. All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that Christ is all in all. Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee-it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee-it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument-it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by looking unto Jesus. Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.

Thankful: Freedom from Fear

What are you thankful for?

I was asked this question at a caregroup meeting earlier this week.  I wasn’t pressuring myself to come up with some amazing answer, but I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t feeling terribly “inspired.”  Going over the list of usuals in my head, I remembered the opportunity to take college classes this Fall, and picked that off my list.  Now, believe me, I am genuinely grateful for God’s provision in that.  Extremely grateful.  But still, I was simply picking an answer for the sake of having an answer.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it may be a simple question, but it’s difficult to answer on the spot, so it’s absolutely normal for anyone’s answers to be “picked out”)  After having a simple discussion about what we were thankful for, we were given the opportunity to pray together – to pray with thanksgiving, or whatever God put on our hearts.  My caregroup leader and my dear friend with whom I gathered both thanked God for his kindness and provision in their lives.  I had forgotten how refreshing it is to the soul to take time to focus on giving thanks in prayer.  When it came time for me to pray, something unexpected happened, completely unlike picking things from the “Thankful” list.  Something dawned on me, and I don’t know why it hadn’t before, but when it did, I was filled with awe and thankfulness.  I couldn’t stop thanking God for setting me free from fear.

To give some background – for the past couple of years, I had a rather dominating, on-and-off (but mostly on) struggle with fear.  Partly fear of man – ridiculous fear and concern over others’ opinions of me, which commonly holds me back from fully enjoying and living simple, wonderful little parts of life.  Primarily, though, relentless fear and anxiety over my spiritual state – more specifically, fear of wandering away from God and into outlandish sin.  This specific form of fear began with my mistake of continually listening to and believing the lies and condemnation of the devil, forgetting to line things up with the truth of God’s word, and it wasn’t long before what seemed like a simple little mistake led to fear and anxiety dominating my life – first distracting me emotionally, mentally and spiritually, leaving me in a constant state of turmoil, and then, as of this past summer, affecting me physically – usually in more minor ways, like struggling with breathing deeply; always having some degree of heaviness in my chest, but the worst happened one night when I allowed myself to be so overcome by fear and stress that I eventually found myself in the middle of a panic attack.  Tears, sweating, a constantly racing heart, and nausea kept me awake nearly the whole night;  altogether, I only got a few broken hours of sleep.  When the morning came, I was horrified; not merely at the night I had, but at my every-day life that caused it.  I felt like I didn’t recognize myself  – like I had forgotten who I was.  I knew God had far greater plans for me than to live under a rock of imaginary shame.  I immediately went to talk to my amazing mom (for whom I am beyond thankful), who listened to me, preached the truth of the gospel and grace to me, prayed for me, and comforted me.  That morning began the slow walk away from a life dominated by fear.  Though the usual emotional and physical side effects still hung around, the extremity slowly lessened over time.

Back to the beginning – what dawned on me at that moment during the prayer time was the fact that God had mercifully freed me from the dominating horrors of fear.  I suppose, because the “healing” from where I was this summer was such a slow process, I never really noticed just how different my life looks now.  I never had more than a fleeting thought – “I guess the fear isn’t really there now.”  But when I prayed, giving thanks to God that moment at caregroup, that was what shocked me – THE FEAR ISN’T THERE.  It is still a very minor struggle and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come and go in stronger and weaker ways over the years, but when I prayed, I was completely blown away by the realization of what God had done over the past few months.  I’m sleeping again.  I’m breathing again.  I’m living again.  I couldn’t help but shed a few happy tears as I thanked God for his kindness and faithfulness in freeing me.

Through this time, I have learned so much of God’s kindness and grace.  I’ve also learned a lot about fear… as negative as that sounds, it’s been extremely helpful.  Fear is such a deceptive thing.  It’s so subtle and difficult to catch, and if I continually leave it unattended, it cleverly sneaks into my heart and slowly builds up its layers of domination, until I’m getting up from a painful, sleep-deprived night and wondering how in the world I got there.  One of my new favorite musicians, Jason Gray, recently released a brilliant song that says a LOT about the ways of fear.  “Fear will take the best of us, then come back for the rest of us, its rabid hunger never satisfied; It’s closer than a brother, and more jealous than a lover, who holds you while it swallows you alive; Let down your guard, and it will steal your heart… there’s no thief like fear.  That’s it.  Fear is a thief; tricking, blinding, stealing joy and life, and I’ve had enough of it.  You know why?

“…God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

That is absolutely wonderful news for a fearful person like me.  Fear is not my master.  Christ is.  He set me free, not so I could continue to live like a slave to fear, but so I could truly be FREE.

“I am free, I am free; Oh my God has rescued me; From these chains, I am released, for my God has set me free…”

A hero and a lot of his quotes

I love quotes.
I’m always on the lookout for great quotes – quotes to keep for myself, but especially to share with others. I love quotes with wisdom and wit, I love funny quotes, but most of all, I love quotes that point me back to Christ – quotes that point me to the Gospel and move me to rejoice and rest in God’s grace and faithfulness. I haven’t seen all the quotes in the world, but I think I may have found what are, to me, the best quotes on earth. Of course, the very best quotes come from God’s word. But otherwise, I seem to have a constantly growing list of favorite quotes, and they all come from one specific person in history. I continually go back to them – I never get tired of reading and pondering them. Who’s quotes are they?
They belong to the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon – often referred to “the prince of preachers.”
charles-spurgeon.jpg
Spurgeon is, without a doubt, one of my great heroes. Few have preached the Gospel with quite as much zeal, detail, and genuine passion as he did. He is one of my heroes, also because of awareness of his need for and dependence on the strength of Christ and his constant emphasis on grace. One of the significant ways he was made aware of those things was through his severe struggles with depression – but instead of keeping that awareness himself, he constantly preached it aloud, and I am very grateful for it. Now, I’m going to do what I originally planned for this post: share a lot of his best quotes with you…
• “I have no hope of going on well but by His power. I know that His almighty arm is all-sufficient.”
• “This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry. The cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy…the wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn.”
• “The greatest things with man are little things with God…compared with God, there is nothing great.”
• “I rejoice that the promises left on record are meant for me, as well as for every saint of His, and as such I desire to grasp them. Let the whole earth and even God’s professing people, cast out my name as evil; my Lord and Master, He will not.”
• “When Christ removes the curse, it is an irreversible removal.”
• “I love, at times, to go back to the hour when I hope I was forgiven through a Saviour’s blood. There is much comfort in it to remember that blessed hour when first we knew the Lord.”
• “When Christ pardoneth, he pardoneth all sin; the sins of twice ten thousand years he pardons in an hour. Thou mayest be old and gray-headed, and hitherto unpardoned; but though thy sins exceed in number the stars spread in the sky, one moment takes them all away. Mark that “all!” That sin of midnight; that black sin which, like a ghost, has haunted thee all thy life; that hideous crime; that unknown act of blackness which hath darkened thy character; that awful stain upon thy conscience–they shall be all taken away. And though thou hast a stain upon that hand–a stain which thou hast often sought to wash out by all the mixtures that Moses can give thee–thou shalt find, when thou art bathed in Jesus’ blood, that thou shalt be able to say, “All clean, my Lord, all clean; not a spot now; all is gone; I am completely washed from head to foot; the stains are all removed.” It is the glory of this removal of the curse that it is all taken away; there is not a single atom left. Hushed now is the law’s loud thunder; the sentence is entirely reversed, and there is no fear left.”
• “It does not matter how heavy troubles are if you can cast them on the Lord. The heavier they are so much the better, for the more you have got rid of, and the more there is laid upon the Rock. Never be afraid of troubles. However heavy they are, God’s eternal shoulders can bear them. He, whose omnipotence is testified by revolving planets, and systems of enormous worlds, can well sustain you. Is his arm shortened, that he cannot save, or is he weary, that he cannot hold you fast? Your troubles are nothing to God, for the very ‘clouds are the dust of his feet.'”
I’ll close with one of my number one favorite Spurgeon quotes from one of his most well-known sermons, ‘When a Preacher is Downcast.’ Don’t rush through this quote. Take time to carefully consider the words and ponder them…
“‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ said the Man of Sorrows, and let none account them otherwise when their tears are salted with grace.”

Let not your hearts be troubled…

Go back in time to two years ago, in 2009…

julysunset.jpg

I was going with my Papa to run an errand. We got in the car and drove away from the farm in the Shenandoah Valley, where the sun was setting beautifully in the middle of the Summer. His phone rang. “It’s your Mama,” he said casually. He answered the phone. He became quiet and calm; his words were very brief. He passed the phone to me and told me my mom wanted to talk to me, so I took it and answered it. I don’t know why her words seemed so unexpected to me. I had been told very clearly earlier in the day that it was going to happen, but I believe I was in very much denial, as I wasn’t sure how to respond to or feel about the events and, instead of dealing with whatever emotions were under the surface, I chose to ignore them and take them in stride, as I often, unfortunately, do. My mom’s voice was calm and caring, as she sweetly and gently greeted me. Then I heard it…“Grammy’s gone.”
I had been told already that she would most likely pass away that evening, but when I was told, it was almost as though I chose to forget about it and pretend as though it wouldn’t really happen. At first, when hearing my mom’s words, I was surprised; surprised that Grammy was actually gone, and especially surprised that I was feeling little emotion. If I remember correctly, I was mostly silent; my mom began to tell me that it was okay to cry, and that there would be comfort from my family members. My reaction was strangely defensive when I told her, “I’m not crying!”…famous last words. All the emotions I had chosen to ignore and push away for the past few weeks instantly set themselves free and came running up my throat and through my eyes. I can’t say I remember how our phone conversation ended, but it wrapped up very quickly. Though my visible crying was minimized to sniffs and small tears, the feelings were overwhelming. Papa rested his hand on my arm. My thoughts started to go back in motion when I remembered some questions I had wrestled with inwardly a few weeks prior: “How do we know that when we [Christians] die, we will really find ourselves in heaven? What if we find, instead, that God doesn’t exist and that everything we ever lived for wasn’t real?”
I haven’t been a Christian for a terribly long time, but I’m sure that every Christian, at some point or another, has had those thoughts run through their head. When I wondered those things a few weeks before the moment I was told of my Grammy’s passing, I just didn’t know how to answer myself. Trying to think of a satisfying answer drove me crazy, so, just like with my emotions, I chose to forget about it. But this time, I longed for an answer. Fear and doubt was starting to overwhelm me, and my faith was becoming incredibly weak only in a matter of seconds. I didn’t have the answer. I was scared. But just when I had reached the end of myself, when I reached the end of my non-existent ability to fix every problem, it seemed as though God whispered into my mind — it almost felt audible. When I had no special or powerful words of my own, I was reminded of the words of Jesus:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
In a moment when I was doubting the very existence of God, my faith was restored by His Word. When I was doubting His existence, He proved His existence to me in a way that He knew I needed by reminding me of His Word, when I seemed to have momentarily forgotten it all. I had read that passage plenty of times before, but it never “clicked” until that moment. I had never had a personal situation to apply it to until that moment. In a moment when my heart was greatly troubled and I was struggling with doubting God, I was commanded to not let my heart be troubled, to believe in God, to believe in Jesus. When I was afraid there was no heaven, I was reminded that, on the contrary, that Jesus had prepared a place for Grammy; for me; and that He would not have told us so if it wasn’t true.
I’m so thankful that the unreliable, ever-changing feelings of the human heart do not change who God is or the truth of what He says. If you ever stop and and think about, you’ll notice that your feelings change. A lot. Have you ever noticed how we often allow our feelings to influence the way we think, act, speak and live? It can be most easily seen in the littler, mundane things in life: “I feel like wearing this shirt. I feel like listening to this genre of music.” I feel like…something. Now, that’s a different circumstance. I’m not saying that if you feel like wearing a yellow shirt that you should wear a blue shirt, etc. However, when we take that mindset to a spiritual level, we can sometimes end up in distress, like how I was for that moment in the car, because we allow ourselves to forget that God and His Word remain true, regardless of how we feel. Pastor and author C.J. Mahaney once wrote,
“Let me ask you: Where do you consistently direct your faith? What does it rest on? Is it your emotional state…or the objective realities that the Word of God and the Spirit of God have revealed?”
It takes discipline to learn how to rest your faith on the truth of God’s Word. Sometimes, we’ll have moments of experiencing very obvious grace, and find that we had to make little effort to do so. Most of the time, though, we might find it a lot harder. One way I’d like to prepare for those moments by taking time to memorize helpful pieces of scripture to combat any confusing, untrue thoughts I think. In all times, though, even if I forget those verses, I want to trust God. He’s greater than my knowledge or lack of knowledge. He knows everything.
For your information – whoever you are reading this, I want you to know that I, by no means, want to impart any sort of doubt or fear to you with the story of my weak faith, but rather, to share with you how God encouraged and comforted me, in hopes that when you experience moments of fear, doubt and confusion, you might remember that you can’t trust your feelings, but God and his Word are always trustworthy.

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”
– Proverbs 30:5

(the picture at the top was taken on the evening that my Grammy passed away – my mom and I sat together listening to music ringing from the beautiful bell tower nearby…a moment where we experienced much grace.)

Has Christmas been disappointing?

When I became a Christian four years ago, I was very much looking forward to celebrating Christmas with a new perspective and appreciation for the Gospel. Even though I grew up being faithfully told by my family what significance Christmas truly held for us and why we celebrated it, I was so excited to experience it with my own personal understanding of it. I was often thinking and saying that it was going to be the best Christmas ever, because I was sure that on December 25th, I was going to have an amazing experience where God would make the Gospel seem more real and special to me than ever before.
So…finally…on December 25th…Christmas Day…I woke up…and nothing changed. I was wondering why I wasn’t overwhelmed with happiness, or why I didn’t hear a chorus of singing angels. I was becoming rather frustrated. Christmas was not shaping up to be what I thought it would be, because, in all honesty, what I expected was a religious mountain-top experience. I even struggled with guilt and was afraid that something was wrong with me because I wasn’t feeling as celebratory about the birth of Christ as I hoped I would be. Now, I did manage to enjoy the day, despite my disappointment, but my problem was still unresolved. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I went through the exact same thing during the next Christmas, but it wasn’t until the year after that, in 2009, when God helped me to see and understand the mistake I was making.
It actually happened that Thanksgiving. Though it was not as great a struggle as the one I had over Christmases past, I would sometimes have high hopes that Thanksgiving would be the one day of the year where I would be more thankful to God than any other day. It was that day, though, when God brought me to a simple realization that I desperately needed:
Thanksgiving isn’t the only day we can give thanks.
It might sound silly and painfully obvious, but it was exactly what I needed to understand. In my mind, I put this holiday on a pedestal, thinking I some how had to muster up more thankfulness than I’d ever felt before and experience it on Thanksgiving. It was in that moment that I realized that I had been looking at Christmas in a very similar way – I somehow got the false idea in my head that I was required to praise God for the birth of Christ more on Christmas Day than any other day of the year, and that if I didn’t do a good job of it, or if I didn’t feel a certain amount of emotion, then something was wrong with me and God would be disappointed in me. I am so glad that was not true! I realize now that my focus was not on the Gospel, or what Jesus had already done for me, but rather, my unreliable, ever-changing feelings. Though I did desire to be joyful about the gospel, my focus was on anything but that. I would not have admitted it or thought it to be true, what I was really focused on was having an emotional experience that made me feel spiritual, and I’ve learned far too many times that when I expect an incredible emotional experience, it almost always results in disappointment.
In the same way that Thanksgiving is not the only day for giving thanks to God, Christmas is not the only day for praising God for the birth of Christ. I would remind myself, and anyone else who possibly may have a similar struggle:
Praise God for the Gospel every day!
Meditate daily, at any given time, on the glorious truth that God reached out to us, sinners, his enemies, by sending his son, Jesus, to earth in human form, facing every temptation we do, yet without sin, and, though perfect and sinless, dying the death we deserve on the cross, and then rising from the dead, and overcoming the power of sin and death; remember that we can come to God with confidence and without fear, not by our attempts at good works, but by Christ’s blood shed on the cross alone. When I meditate on that truth, I can find joy in the fact that it is unchanging, absolute truth, no matter how much or how little emotion I experience.
Now, does this all mean that I’ve chosen stop celebrating Christmas, or that I’ve given up on enjoying it? Absolutely not! In fact, I enjoy it far more than I ever did before, because I now view Christmas not so much as one day to celebrate the birth of Christ, but rather, a great part of the on-going, never-ending celebration and meditation of the gospel and a reminder of its good news when it begins to sound old and familiar.
So, by all means, enjoy Christmas! Enjoy the simple traditions of Christmas lights, hot chocolate, candy canes, and singing Christmas carols. Those things are not our primary joy, but they add a small, sweet, and simple joy to the greatest and truest joy we already have: the joy of Jesus Christ.