All Shook Up

022716 Like A River Flows

Like a river flows surely to the sea… and this stream in Maui does head out to the ocean.

Pulling into the parking lot for an appointment, a vintage tune drifted out of the speakers. The radio caught me by surprise. Initially eager to turn off the car, I paused and listened.

The old Elvis Presley love song, Can’t Help Falling in Love, (written by George David Weiss, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore), took on new meaning as I heard Haley Reinhart’s rendition. What was a familiar classic became more. It became worship.

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Shut Up and Dance With Me: Worship in Strange Places

Worship happens in the strangest of places.  This fall Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance happened to be free on iTunes.  On a whim, I downloaded it.  Since then, it’s been an unexpected source of profound connection with God.

God sometimes does this with me and various songs.  I’m about to apply an interpretation of the song that roughly ignores that author’s original intent.  He’s writing about a girl in a club and presumably falling in love (or at least strong like) with her as she draws him out to dance.  But, I’m not so sure that falling in love with God is so extremely different from falling in love with a person.  After all, we tend to relate to God the way we relate to people.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the song and I’ve somehow made you curious, the band has uploaded the music video to YouTube.

Life feels unsteady these days.  J and I have a lot of chips up in the air.  Between adoption and graduation peeking around the corner, my desire to control the universe and order it to my liking is kicking into high gear.

In the midst of this as I listen to this song, I’m reminded of Peter walking on the water towards Jesus (Matt. 14:22-32). After a windy night, with their boat tossed about by waves, Peter and his buddies look out in the pre-dawn darkness to see Jesus walking towards them upon the churning water.  His buddies fearfully shriek, “It’s a ghost.”

And Jesus responding to their fear tells them, “Take courage.  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”  Peter says to Jesus, “If it’s really you, then have me come out to you on the water.”

Receiving that invitation, Peter climbs out of the boat onto raging waters in the early morning darkness.  And he starts walking.  He moves towards Jesus.

But then, he looked around and saw the wind kicking up the waves around him. Fear kicked in.  Getting scared, his feet started dropping below the water, and soon he was on the verge of slipping under.  He cried out for Jesus to save him.  Immediately Jesus does.  Jesus reaches out.  Taking him by the hand, Jesus asks Peter, “You of little faith — why did you doubt.”  They head toward the boat together. As they get in, the wind dies down.

Like Peter, I find myself looking at the darkness, the wind and the waves — instead of looking toward Jesus.  I see the problems and the difficulties, and lose sight of hope.  I see worst case scenarios and planning for that.  But, living that way is quite overwhelming.  And not particularly joyful or fun.  I feel myself sinking as I forget that what drew me out of the boat was faith.  

What will sustain me as I move forward is the same: faith.

And this song reminds me that the journey can be fun too.  Years back when I wrote poetry, I wrote one once about dancing before God — a sense of being free to be myself before God and be lost in contentment with just being alive.  A sense that God delighted in and cared for me.  I tried to locate it, but can’t.  And I wasn’t a very good poet anyway, so my recollection probably makes it cooler than it actually was.

As I listen to the song, think about Peter and my past poem, I’ve been feeling God speak to me as well.  God’s inviting me to live.  To rest.  Even as I move into new things and uncertainty, God reminds me that there is life here.  Life now. There will be life later too.  And both are a full and beautiful thing that I need to stop fearing.

I tend to want clear-cut precision destinations.  To want a chart of how I’m getting from point A to point Z.  I want to know that I’m headed on a path that God wants me to go. I want drawn out explanations of how things will happen; I want to know I made the right decision — in part because I don’t want to fail.  Also because I’m afraid the wrong choice will lead to me somehow disappointing God or failing his plan for my life.  The more I ponder this thought process the more I think it misses the point of life.  This thought process, for me, is about earning God’s love, about maintaining my image.

It makes me think of God as a cosmic scorekeeper and micromanager who’s ready to ding me for my mistakes.  And when I think of God that way, it’s hard to keep my eyes on Jesus in the middle of the storm.  If all Jesus sees is my mistakes, then of course I’m going to be scared that he might not grab my hand when the waves crash over my head.  Or that Jesus is withholding something from me.

This song has been a game changer for me.  God reminded me that I am loved and welcomed.  God has grabbed me by the hand and dragged me onto His dance floor.  Like the song says, “I don’t know how it happened.”

Now I am reminded to keep my eyes on the one Whom I am dancing with and to rethink how I view God.  God’s inviting me to re-think my gut image of micromanager, and to rest in the wonder of Him.

So here’s the invitation I received as I listened:

“Don’t look back. Don’t look sidewise.  Ignore the waves and the wind, the naysayers and the self-doubt. Look right at me.  Stop over-thinking.  Quit picking at everything; you’re going to suck the joy out of the journey if you keep at it that way.  Trust that I’m with you and can provide for you.  Shut up and dance with Me.  Enjoy Me.  Savor the life in which you’re planted.”  

So, this fall I’ve been trying to rest in the knowledge that I am God’s beloved.  That somehow God actually likes me and enjoys me.  I don’t earn it.  I can’t make God love me more by performing perfectly or less by failing.  It feels good to type that out — not just think it in my head.

On the days I forget,  I find myself asking God to save me from myself.  God does.  Jesus gives me a hand; sometimes pulling me back in the boat for a time out.  Tomorrow is a new day to try again.  And this song has been helping me muster courage to keep stepping out of the boat on the new day and to keep looking toward life instead of mere survival.

Here’s a post from July of 2010 that I never had published.  For context, this was written before my dad underwent treatment for his cancer that summer and after I’d had a miscarriage that May.

I’ve been having more and more of an urge to write again these days. Tonight I was searching for a hymn to meditate upon. Had the hymn all typed out and pithy words of my own to go with it. And then realized it was all a show to make me feel important and so I hit the delete key.

I’ve been hiding out all evening with the intent of opening my Bible. I compromised a while ago and started looking through hymns. And then, God called me out. Which it turns out he is still speaking to me these days, even if I’m stiff-necked and angry and don’t always want to hear what he says.

I still haven’t opened my Bible. Frankly, I think I may actually be afraid of it. I don’t feel like being drawn into praise.

A Holy Rest: Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work– you, your son or your daughter, your males or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” Exodus 20:8-11

I live in a culture where resting is equated with laziness. In our high paced culture, we fill our days with activity after activity, and task after task. Much of which are good things, even necessary things. I work. I go to the gym two to four times a week. Lately I have numerous doctor’s appointments. We have social commitments. Somewhere amidst all this, we pay our bills, we (try to) clean our house, do our dishes, go to the grocery store, fix dinner, breakfast, lunch. The weekend starts to seem like the opportune time to catch up on all the tasks I couldn’t complete during the week. Missing in all the busyness is an entire Sabbath day. Church on Sunday morning sure. But a twenty-four hour window of rest every week–who has time for that? I don’t. At least, I don’t feel like I do.

I’m really working out what it means to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. By Sabbath I think the passage means taking a day of rest, rather than just going to church on Sunday morning. (Though going to church is a good thing.) The passage talks about resting, because God rested after creation. To keep something holy is to set it apart. To hold it as sacred, separate from other things. Keeping something holy means creating boundaries, making choices.

And I have other thoughts about this passage, but I’m losing track of what I’m thinking as it is late. My spring fever energy rush has finally plummetted.

Excerpt from my journal from August 3, 2008

Last night after eating late, I laid in our hotel bed with the lights out and the fire going. I’d left the windows open so I could hear the waves of Lake Superior crashing against the rocks outside our room. I tried to just be still and listen to the waves.

I learned that I am not much better than a puppy in terms of attention span. I’d take a calming breath and relax. I’d be so focused on the waves I could feel them washing over me, not just hear them. Then I’d start wondering what J was doing in the other room.

“No, listen to the waves,” I’d tell myself. Then, wiggle my arms. “Relax. Be still.” Breathe in, and release the air on a deep sigh. Then, scrunch my toes. Move my arm to the the side. And start over again. Think about the wedding we just came from in Bismarck. Start again. Wonder about what book I’m going to read next. Back to the beginning. Wiggle my toes under the blanket. Try to relax again.

Through all the stops and starts and losing focus, I found I could only hear the waves if they had my complete attention. Otherwise, they became just white noise in the background. The minute I moved or thought of something other than the waves, the sound of them disappeared. Hearing for me is the hardest sense to control; I’m too often busy thinking or absorbed in something to process sounds. They may as well not exist. I can’t decide if this absorption is a gift or curse.

I have no clue how to focus on just one thing. When I am absorbed, I usually have some sort of background noise, a book that I’m reading, and the creative force in me processing that book and turning it into something about me that I can use or learn, the sights outside of the books, and whatever else I may be worrying over. And I can never turn my thoughts completely off. I’m mystified by the idea of not thinking anything; I wish I knew how that could come about, short of dying. I tell myself that I thrive on this over-stimulation. But lately, I’m wondering if that’s a lie.

And I also found it is physically impossible for me to be still. J even laughs because my toes are always wriggling; particuarly when I’m reading or contemplating something. To try and keep from moving my toes is completely uncomfortable for me, bordering on painful even. Even now as I write my toes are wriggling and my ankles twirling. I can’t write apart from this movement.

Lately the phrase ,”Be still and know that I am God,” has popped up again and again like a mole in one of those whack-a-mole arcade games. And I’m hopeless to actually smack the mole, and just be still. Neither my attention span, nor my physicality permits me this opportunity. And that I find simultaneously humbling and sad….and exceedingly frustrating. As I think this verse might actually be key to having a healthy soul.