My Dove (Original Song)

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to kneel. I think it has struck me as a position that is appropriate for a Christian. Kneeling, to me, implied humility, a servant heart, a spirit of supplication, a vulnerability that trusts God to be my defender and vindication. In the little missionary-kid school I went to as a child, we would have a time of intercession on Tuesday mornings. I remember deliberately shifting to a kneeling position when the moment for prayer came. It felt right, and I was proud of the criss-cross pattern from the colourful woven straw mat that was imprinted on my knees when I got up.

It then logically followed to make my life-motto something that struck me as both poetic and appropriate: ‘Live life on your knees, loving God and serving people’.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I was on my knees at a worship meeting a few years ago, and a lady came up to me and said ‘I was praying, and felt like God wanted me to share this with you: there are two people, one standing at the front of a meeting, hands raised high, and the other at the back, kneeling. The first person is your husband, and the second is you. I feel like God is saying He wants you to stand up next to your husband.’ It was a good word, an encouraging word; why did I feel offended?

The Helper has been showing me, in his inimitably gentle way, that I liked kneeling for a few reasons that are not appropriate to a Christian: fear and shame. I liked kneeling because I wanted to hide – no one can see your face if it is buried in the floor. I liked kneeling because it meant I didn’t have to make a choice as to which way to go; how could I, when I couldn’t even feel my legs?! I liked kneeling because it mirrored how I felt inside – not just humble, but also ashamed. Not just self-sacrificially servant-hearted, but also self-harmingly other-centred. Not just maintaining a spirit of world-changing intercessory supplication but also ‘keeping a low profile’ and ‘not sticking my neck out’ in a way that was too scared to actually try to change the world through my actions.

I am learning to ask my soul ‘why exactly are you downcast? Is your ‘humility’ just sanitised shame? Are you allowing the attacks of the Enemy to wash over you without lifting a finger to defend yourself?’

I was reading Psalm 45 recently, and in the margin of my Bible came pouring out these thoughts in impossibly small, curly cursive: ‘At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. No longer is Mary of Bethany is crying. No longer is the woman caught in adultery naked and beaten. No longer is the woman with the issue of blood an impure and rejected outcast. No longer is Martha anxious and needy. Don’t live out only half the story. Have you met Jesus, the Lifter of your Head? Then stand up.’

Stand up, beloved!

We kneel in humility, yes, but not to submit to a heavy burden of the Enemy’s accusation or a heavy weight of negative emotion. The truth is, Jesus raises up the lowly to stand beside him, a pure and spotless Bride, head held high, washed in His blood, clothed in dignity and victory, unbeaten, unbowed.

She Won’t Be Moved (Original Song)

Every now and then, my toddler will pause from his ceaseless energetic activity, look up, bright-eyed, and declare with great excitement, ‘pain!’ Now, what he actually means is that there is a plane overhead. However, often I feel like nodding in wry agreement, ‘yes, pain’. My pelvic ligaments, recently overstretched from the arrival of Isaac, are again groaning and creaking and turning to rubber as my body shoots the Relaxin hormone at them in preparation for the birth of my little girl. Now, the physical discomfort in itself is really not so bad, but it turns out there’s nothing like pain to dredge up sea monsters from the ocean floor of your soul and muddy up all that calm, clear water. (It’s no coincidence that Job’s attitude, exemplary until that point, soured considerably after he broke out in boils.)

Ah, a stormy sea metaphor! All the good Sunday-school kids know where to turn: the story of Jesus calming the sea (Matthew 4:35-41). But a stormy sea with sea monsters in it? The same story, as it turns out, works very well. Note the very first verse of the next chapter, Matthew 5:1 – Jesus was crossing the sea for a single task, to cast a legion of demons out of a man! One might surmise that the powers of darkness were trying to stop him getting to the region of the Gerasenes; this storm was supernatural. If you look with the eyes of your imagination, you can just see those invisible sea monsters rearing their ugly heads.

In my own heart, the Kraken of a Complaining Spirit has been making its unwelcome presence felt. You see it clearly in the disciples’ hearts as well, as they shake Jesus awake with a bitter accusation: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ Now, this is the man that has spent himself to the point of exhaustion teaching, healing, casting out demons, ministering to the suffering and the lost day in and day out. The disciples have watched him do it. He is nothing if not a man who cares, and cares deeply. Yet the disciples’ attitude is ‘don’t you care…?’

I am reminded of Israel coming out of the land of Egypt, their faces frozen in a bitter scowl, their voices tuned to the whine of resentment.

And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” (Numbers 21:5)

This was the way they related to their old slave-driver, Pharaoh, and now they had a new Master and King; wouldn’t He be a cruel taskmaster too? The answer is a resounding ‘No!’

He’s been teaching me, in the gentlest way possible, to nip in the bud those complaining thoughts that begin ‘you always…’ and ‘why don’t you…’ and ‘can’t you see…?’ ‘Stop whining, beloved daughter, and just ask,’ He says gently. So, as the waters of life threaten to flood my metaphorical boat, I turn to Jesus, shake Him awake gently by calling His name, and ask, simply, ‘Would you help me?’ And He does. Begone with you, Kraken of complaining. Welcome, sweet spirit of supplication, humble heart that asks for help!

But here comes an even more formidable monster rising from the deeps: my many-tentacled arch-nemesis, Fear. Strangely, almost worse than the fear of physical pain is the fear of the guilt of my pain causing my loved ones pain. ‘Will I be unable to walk again (as I was for three months after Isaac’s birth)? Unable to walk for life? Is there something I should be doing to avert another ligament injury so that it won’t all be my fault? Perhaps some physiotherapy exercises? Quick, google medical advice – argh, unhelpful!’

Let’s be real, Jesus’ rebuke in the ‘Calming the Storm’ story makes us all squirm a little bit: ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (v. 40) The disciples were letting their imaginations run wild with ‘what if’s’ – they were so convinced they were about to die that they phrased it in the present tense: ‘…we are perishing!’

Disciples. Listen. You are not perishing, far from it! You are on a rescue mission from Heaven! The reason Jesus said ‘let us go to the other side’ is because He has heard, in the Spirit, the pleas of a demon-possessed man who has been ‘night and day…always crying out’. Open your eyes to see the storm of suffering or the sea monsters of your own negative emotions for what they are: ploys of the Enemy to stop you from getting to the other side and winning a great victory for the Kingdom.

O fearful one, so dearly loved and cared for, turn and look at Jesus. He turns ‘a great windstorm’ into ‘a great calm’ with his words. He deals a whole legion of demons a death blow, clothes a naked and tormented demoniac and restores him to his right mind, and then gets back in the boat – all in a day’s work. Look at Jesus and be ‘filled with great fear’ (v.41) of the best kind – stand in awe, don’t be afraid. Yes, as I am captivated by this most excellent of men, the slimy sea-monster of Fear withers and sinks back into the depths, vanquished, forgotten.

So. The sky is clear, the sea is calm, it’s just me and Him again on a boat bobbing gently in the sunlight. I am crossing this sea because I am on a mission from Heaven to bring a beautiful little girl into the world. And God-With-Us is with me – I will not complain, I will not fear.

(click song title below to download recorded version for free or whatever gift you want to give!)

She Won’t Be Moved

God is my strength and help, ever present in time of need
God is my strength and help, I will not be afraid
And though the mountains shake and be cast into ocean depths
God is my strength and help, I will not be afraid

There’s a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God
God is in the midst of her, she will never be moved
Yes, the Lord of Hosts will come, He will help her at breaking of day
God is in the midst of her, she will never be moved

Come and behold His works, for He shatters the bow and spear
Come and behold His works, and know He is God
He will be lifted high, and exalted in all the earth
Come and behold His works, and know He is God

Though the mountains shake, though the oceans roar
She won’t be moved

Nevertheless (Original Song)

I have a secret list in my mind of Things To Do To Cause A Stir in Prayer Meetings, and I added a new idea to it last night: pray “Jesus, I feel so sick… so terribly sick… [pause in which everyone nods sympathetically and expects request for healing] so lovesick for you!” I can imagine suppressed giggles, or, even more amusingly, murmurs of sincere agreement. You see, I have been quite sick, especially this past week: pelvic girdle pain from the weight of my baby bump, a painful throat infection, anaemia, one night of terrifying heart palpitations from the anaemia – and then the frustration of realising that my toddler can toddle faster than I can limp after him.

Everyone wants to be deeply understood. My husband is hardly ever sick, and, more pertinently, is male, and so it has been hard for him to understand what my physical struggles in this journey of pregnancy and motherhood have felt like.  I have a few friends who have been struggling with various chronic physical ailments – young, vibrant women, some of them mums, surely too young to be sick! I try and stand with them, and they with me, but have realised that it is near impossible for someone to say exactly the right thing, at the right moment, in the right tone of not-just-sympathy-but-empathy, with the right facial expression and the right mixture of ‘I feel your pain and am not jumping ahead’ and ‘you are healed in Jesus’ name’.

Surprisingly, encouragement has come from an unexpected source this week – a Beyoncé song! In the music video for ‘Runnin’’ by Beyoncé and Arrow Benjamin, a couple mysteriously finds themselves separated and underwater (yet thankfully able to breathe) and fights their way through the azure sea until they are again in each other’s arms. ‘Where else can I go?’ Beyoncé intones in a passionate vibrato, ‘Where else can I go/ chasing you?’ And I am reminded, movingly and melodiously, of this awesome truth: all my loneliness and feelings of being misunderstood, my weakness and sickness, chase me again to the One that I really need. He knows me better than I know myself. He doesn’t just sympathise but takes the curse upon Himself at the cross. He is the One whose beauty is the balm to my suffering. He is the Friend who will never let me down. He is the Lover who satisfies my soul. He is the Healer who knit my body together. He is the Companion who walks through the valley with me, not just shouting trite encouragement from one or the other end.

If I was in less discomfort, would I fritter away my life chasing other lesser saviours? God forbid! What a waste of time. And so I rejoice in the clarity that desperation brings, in the awareness of my need for Him that tension and discomfort brings. I thank Him for being jealous enough for my heart to allow the shepherd dog of suffering to be snapping at my heels, chasing me away from the cliffs, chasing me towards Him. And most wonderfully, I know it actually moves His heart that I would choose Him and reach for Him even when it feels like running underwater.

So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

[And I can imagine his heart beating faster as He asked this question – He’s grieving the loss of the ones who left, He’s hoping against hope the Twelve will stay.]

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68)

And so, here is a little song that I wrote from Psalm 73. Keep reaching, keep chasing – you will find Him, He wants to be found by you. Allow even your sickness to be transformed into lovesickness.

Nevertheless

Nevertheless I am continually with you, I am continually with you
You are holding my right hand
Nevertheless you will show me what to do, you will show me what to do, 
You are faithful till the end

Whom have I in heaven but you/ there is no one who compares/there is nothing I want more
God, you are the beating of my heart/my exceeding great reward/you’re the one I’m living for’

Nevertheless I am staying close to you, I am staying close to you
There’s no better place for me
Nevertheless I have found a home in you, I have found a home in you
This is where I want to be
Bridge: Oh, oh, oh, you’re the air in my lungs

Pierced (Original Song)

“Everyone is pierced.” What a strange statement! What do I mean? Well, in a nutshell:

You either love God or money. (Matthew 6:24)

Those who love money instead of God are ultimately betrayed by it, and ‘pierced with many pangs’. (1 Tim 6:10) Ultimately, they will see the One their hearts have always longed for (Rev 1:7), but He will be someone else’s Bridegroom and oh, they will suffer the pain of a broken heart for eternity!

Whereas those who love God suffer a different heartache. We watch Him be pierced on our behalf, (Isaiah 53:5) and as we gaze upon the most beautiful One, hanging on the cross, choosing to forever bear the scars of our ugliness (Rev 5:6) that we might be clothed in His beauty, our hearts are pierced by his sacrificial love. Like Simon Peter, barely able to believe he has been forgiven and restored, we say, “Oh Lord, you know I love you!” Thank you, Jesus! Thank you.

So then, an Easter Saturday song through the eyes of Mary, Judas, Simon Peter, myself, inspired by this blogpost from Desiring God.

Pierced
I am dressed in scarlet
everybody knows how I came by this jar of oil
every eye is on me
but there is only One who sees my deepest soul
I’m pierced

I am but a poor man
watching as the perfume falls
the waste of all my plans
take the one I kiss but
still he calls me friend
these coins can’t kiss me back
I’m pierced

There is one who was pierced for me
I see you now hanging on that thorny tree
you were lifted high like a lightning rod
taking all the wrath of a holy God
and your strength was yielded to His will
as the angels stood, amazed and still
as the Champion of Heaven died
You were beaten, naked, crucified
to the deepest pit of all my shame
You descended, breaking every chain
and the surface of the deep was still
for a day, a night, a day, until
with a mighty breath you breached the frozen waves
with the rising sun you live again

I was out at sea again
Till I heard you call my name just like you used to
you ask me if I love you
oh you know I do
you know I do, you know
I’m pierced

 

 

Green Olive Tree (Original Song)

greenolivetree

It was a lovely wintry morning and I was walking around the park with my son in his pram, you know, just minding my own business, when it hit me like a sledgehammer: ‘Dwelling in the secret place means being weaned off of the approval of people.’ Wow. Good morning to you, too, Holy Spirit!

Yes, it’s true: God wants me to be a Christian ninja. All those verses about ‘dwelling in the secret place’ (for example, Psalm 91:1) and the more cryptic reference to the ‘womb of the morning’ (Psalm 110:3) started to make sense in light of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount about giving, praying, fasting in secret. I especially like what he says about anointing your head when you’re fasting so it will not be obvious – not only do we not live our Christian life to be praised by people, we almost try to hide our holiness.

This hiddenness is revolutionary, for it cancels out the two great banes of the Christian existence: hypocrisy and judgement. ‘The Father who sees what is done in secret will reward openly’ (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). If I am practicing my holiness in secret, I am not trying to impress you into praising me or giving towards my ministry – the Father sees my secret heart, so I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. Also, if I am practicing my holiness in secret, I must believe that you are also practicing your holiness in secret. I am not trying to evaluate your holiness based on what I can see – I am free to believe the best of you, to practice a love that ‘believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, never fails’.

The problem is, I have been trained to perform for a grade, and oh, I was good at getting the grades. Now, all of a sudden, no one is giving me a gold star for doing the dishes, or an A for changing a nappy. ‘Well? Why is no one telling me how I’m doing? Could someone pay me, at least?’ (For money is the ‘grade’ the adult world gives you.) So I try to find a label I can stick on my forehead – something, anything people will see as valid and valuable. ‘Full-time mother’ doesn’t seem to impress sufficiently, so I try other labels: ‘volunteer for the biggest mission organisation in the world!’ or, more subtly, ‘most servant-hearted person around’ or ‘most passionate worshipper’. Yes, unfortunately, my inner Martha can even disguise herself as Mary, disguised as Martha, disguised as Mary. It’s like one of those Men in Black movies where they keep pulling off rubber masks.

I taught ‘Green Olive Tree’ to a friend of mine, Bethy, and we sang it together. Then she said ‘Wait a minute, what did I just sing? Do I want to be a green olive tree? What does that even mean?’ The answer is, I don’t completely know – maybe it’s a hidden mystery, maybe it’s a secret. Maybe that’s the point. ‘For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.’ (Colossians 3:3-4) I’m pretty sure that when the Desire of the Nations appears, and every eye is captivated by his beauty, all the certificates I can wave in the air will not turn even one head. The most impressive thing I could say in that moment is, “I’m with Him.”

Green Olive Tree
Preoccupied, distracted, these words I find describe me well
This working hard, this serving you, could it be that I’m serving myself?

If I could break it down to one thing, if I could break it down to one thing, Jesus,

I would like to be a green olive tree in the courts of my King
Spirit, blow my leaves wherever you would please, I will choose this one thing,
Abiding

So starry-eyed and radiant, o let these words be true of me
This loving you and being loved, what greater calling could there be?

Here I am, here I am,
in Your presence,
You can have me,
take it all, Lord

Leaning (Original Song)

Today is my son Isaac’s half-birthday! We were surrounded by friends singing ‘happy half-birthday to you’ as we blew out a candle planted in half a (fairtrade!) banana and fed Isaac his first morsels of real food. He consumed a mashed banana with the quality of voracious joy that makes adults laugh, not out of mockery, but simply because our heartstrings resonate with the unadulterated childlike delight we have almost forgotten how to feel, the kind that makes you want to grin incessantly and say ‘thank you!’ to everyone in the room.

It is two days after Thanksgiving, and, with the cinnamon-sweet smell of pumpkin pie made by my American friends still lingering in the air, I want to give thanks. I thank God for these past six months. I thank Him that I am alive and my son is alive, most gloriously so. I thank God for my husband, steadfast as a rock. I thank Him for my friends – I am unspeakably rich in love. I thank God for motherhood, and for all He has shown me of himself through the soaring highs and crushing lows of it. I thank Him most of all for how He’s been breaking me free of self-sufficiency, showing me how to lean on Him and those He has put around me, how to unapologetically invite people in to the haphazardly tidied rooms of my heart and let them see both the brokenness and the beauty there.

Here, then, are some poems I wrote, and above is a song. Blessed are the ones who lean.

Revolution

While war and hatred
have their day
and the foolish things
that celebrities say
absorb the attention
of the public eye,
is the real war over
a mother and child?
In some little house
on some nameless road,
is world change beginning
from seeds that she sows?
For Rome’s empire once
stood unaware while
a new Kingdom shone
in a little boy’s smile.

Motherhood Is About Embracing

Motherhood is about embracing,
so I embrace this cost,
these sleepless nights and whirlwind days,
this weight gain and hair loss.

Holy Fire, spread your wings
where you dared not before,
illuminate my heart’s house,
burn down all my locked doors.

For if you truly love me, God,
the way I love my child,
then I can be happy every time
I’m woken up tonight.

This Ship (Original Song by Haley Chafé)

What would you do if you met God in the wilderness? Would you wrestle or dance? Would you demand answers or whisper endearments? Would you pound on His chest and vent all your fury or let your pain drain away like warm teardrops as you sink into His embrace?

You might not think of me as a very angry person, but I have been secretly angry for many years. The nascent anger would suddenly rear its ugly head at unexpected moments, out of proportion to the provocation, like a boil being lanced by a tiny pinprick. My pastor once said that anger is a secondary emotion – it is often the result of feeling helpless or hurt, and I have definitely felt helpless and hurt.

It all came to a head in these last four months, when I found myself immobilised and racked with pain by complications in labour and breastfeeding that are actually very rare. I tried to put on a brave face, but sobbed brokenly in the nights when I thought no one could hear. It wasn’t just the physical pain, it wasn’t even the emotional trauma. It was the painful question ‘Why?’

“Why have you allowed this, God? Can’t I trust you to protect me?” I felt the fabric of God’s shirt was clenched in my fists, my face up close to His, but the only prayer I could muster was an inarticulate, hoarse, incessant wail.

I have been thinking about two people in the Bible who meet God in the wilderness. There’s Jacob, wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:22-32). I have been told that “God can handle your anger, he can take your pain, it’s okay to wrestle with Him.” This is true. But constantly being ‘raw’ and ‘honest’ with God was opening a door to anger that was slowly poisoning me from the inside. Surely there was a higher way.

Then I realised that there is another who meets God in the wilderness – the Beloved in Song of Songs. ‘Who is this, coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?’ (Song 8:5). The one is a fighter, the other is a lover. The one goes back to his old ways (Jacob lies to his brother immediately after his name is changed from ‘Deceiver’ to ‘Prince of God’), the other is unrecognisable in her radiance, so deeply in love.

And in the end, even the wrestler had to become a lover – even Jacob finally leaned on his staff and worshipped. (Hebrews 11:21) Oh, that I would get there before the end! I want to be a lover, not a fighter.

And so, this song is about letting go, about surrender. It is by my graceful and gorgeous sister Haley Chafé – she is a lover of Jesus, and it is an honour to sing with her and to know her.

Doorkeeper (Original Song)

The truth is, Peter and I had signed up for one too many all-nighters. I was drooping over the piano as Andy Wright strummed sleepily, and even Peter’s boundless energy had petered out, so to speak. Outside, Cambridge’s partygoers were just getting started, but inside the Round Church, we were winding down. The end of our shift ticked sluggishly towards us when, two minutes before we would have locked up and cycled homewards, an unforeseen event occurred.

One of the aforementioned partygoers, a young and decidedly inebriated man, wandered into the church! Making an unsteady beeline for one of the pews, he sat down and stared contemplatively at the ceiling. There was a moment of frozen surprise on our part, and then, with characteristic suddenness, the shekinah glory fell. As we got our second ‘wind’, which turned out to be the Biblical pneuma variety, I started to hammer enthusiastically at the piano while Andy was transformed into a flamenco guitarist. Peter began to sing the words of Psalm 84 at the top of his lungs. I guess the Holy Spirit, evangelist that He is, wanted this young man to see something of the joy of heaven!

The young man turned an unsteady gaze on us and came right out with it: “Why are you so… happy? There’s something different here, something different about you.”

An excellent question! Barely able to believe our good ‘luck’ at such an easy opening, we proceeded to share the good news of Jesus with him as simply as we could. “It’s the Holy Spirit that gives us joy!”

“Ah, yes… no. But what is it? There’s something… something different about you. Where am I?” He wasn’t lucid enough to grasp the Third Person of the Trinity, but then, how many of us are?

It has been a spiritually difficult season since the traumatic delivery of my little one. The almost constant pain and exhaustion have rendered me incapable of much profundity in my thoughts, prayers or Bible reading, and yet in my groaning, I believe the Spirit is offering up perfect and articulate prayers to the Father. In my emotional dazedness, He gives me windows of unadulterated joy, like the one in which this video was taken. The Holy Spirit was the Author of our song of joy that night, and He is the reason there is joy in our singing today.

Sparrow (Audrey Assad Cover)

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Sometimes when I sing this song to my son, I am declaring it triumphantly, feeling faith rise like an impenetrable shield against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – at other times I am wielding it like a battle axe against the allied armies of emotional discouragements and physical ailments that have besieged me (and still are!) these past six weeks.

As you can probably ascertain, I was in the former state of elation when this video was taken, grinning cheek-splittingly in my gratitude and joy. In a happily ironic twist, the trials of this season seem to be writing on my heart in permanent marker what was only inscribed in ball-point pen before: God is good and He loves me.

I could not explain to you the rational steps that led from the difficulties of our situation to the clarity of that realisation – then again, God doesn’t explain in Romans 8:28 how exactly He works all things together for good. He doesn’t explain to Job the battle that was won in the heavenlies. I guess some things are gloriously inexplicable.

May the knowledge of His love be inscribed in indelible ink on your heart today.

Refuge (Original Song)

I recorded this video, pink rose tucked jauntily behind my ear, a few days before my due date. I was blissfully unaware of the fact that my life was about to be turned upside down. When I watch it, it feels like a glimpse into a past life, a past ‘time’, and yet the God to whom I sing is the same, just as worthy of being rejoiced in.

Trust in Him at ALL times
All you broken people
Pour your hearts out before Him
He is our refuge

Physical pain has been my constant companion these past few weeks. Apart from the rubbery ligaments in my pelvis (ironically, I’ve been told all my life that I had ‘childbearing hips!’), my beautiful son Isaac has jaws which meet at an angle, making feeding him a bit like being attacked with a pair of lopsided tweezers.

All the doctors in Cambridgeshire seem fascinated by the medical mystery that Isaac’s jaw and my leaden legs present – as someone commented, our life is a little bit like an episode of House – but there are no quick-fixes, and so I set my face like flint and press on. I am confident in God alone, for He is mighty, and I pour out my heart before Him, for He loves me.

Hallelujah!