12 Keys to Freedom: Unlocking Peace and Joy

If you’ve ever seen me in a worship context, some of the descriptions of me that might come to mind are: freedom… joy…

Well, I wasn’t always this way.

I remember a few years back attending a marriage conference, and we had time to reflect on areas we needed growth in. It was hard for me to realize that I was sorely lacking in peace and joy.

I spent a significant amount of time on psychotropics and in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, being imprisoned by my own fears.  I was bound in chains by my mind and emotions, and kept from living fully.

I was writing songs of love, and yet not fully experiencing it. My mental health suffered.

The medication and counseling helped some, but it wasn’t those approaches that set me free. It was actually through abundant grace in seasons of suffering that Jesus brought me to a place of PEACE, JOY, and FREEDOM! During the marriage conference, I had prayed for an increase in those, and God has been faithful to do so… although the journey was difficult and only something that only God could do.

Mental health, anxiety, depression, personality disorders… all these are things that people inside and outside of the Church struggle with. Counseling is almost always a good idea… no matter where you’re at in the journey.  If you feel you need medication to calm your body and brain connections while you walk toward freedom, there is no shame in that either! There is no shame with me, or with Jesus. Come as you are, so we can talk about it openly, and walk together toward victory and freedom. 

I had a couple of HARD years, yet God has given me more peace and true joy (not just happiness) than I’ve ever known before.

Everything inside of me is ROARING like a lion to set you free! BUT, my wisdom can’t do that. 

HOWEVER, “If the son sets free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:36)

Worship leading

Here are 12 keys* I’ve learned from Him in the journey to my freedom. I hope you will seek His guidance to freedom as well! Maybe take one key each day for the next two weeks to consider and pray about. 

1. Peace and joy are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Build your relationship with God, ask to be filled with the Spirit, and for wisdom to overcome fear and hopelessness.

2. Remember Scripture calls fear a spirit: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We who are in Christ have authority over spirits! You can command him away in Jesus’ name. Replace that spirit by asking the Holy Spirit to fill that void.

3. Forgive yourself, forgive others. Allow Christ to forgive you and others through you. Love them. Ongoing forgiveness leads to true freedom on so many levels! Think specific. (For example: “Forgive this filmmaker that made this disturbing scene that is opening up a gate in my mind for fear to come in.” “Forgive me for not remembering that I am a beloved daughter of the King and so allowing fear of people’s thoughts about me to bring shame into my life.” “Forgive my parent for not speaking hope into me as a child in this instance […].” “Forgive this leader in my life for not leading me from a place of security and joy.”)

4. Worship… not just on Sundays, but in every moment. Focus on how God loves you and has been good to you. Love others out of this love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a).

5. Don’t fear suffering. Remember God works all things for good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), grace is sufficient for weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and mercies are new every morning:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26 (NIV)

 

6. Remember how God faithfully led you in the past, and trust He will continue in the future. As you depend on God, He will give you enough strength for just what He’s calling you to do in each season. (Let the rest go.)

7. Fix your spiritual eyes on Christ. Meditate on Scripture. Ask God to keep showing you the good way to go.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)

8. Allow yourself to live… allow yourself to let go… allow yourself to have sabbath rest. Cast your cares on God. You can’t control it all, and you can’t solve all the world’s problems. 

9. Take authority in Christ. Claim victory in Jesus; don’t live as a victim in defeat. Remember that angels are fighting for us. 

This is the last thing I want to say: Be strong with the Lord’s strength. Put on the things God gives you to fight with. Then you will not fall into the traps of the devil. Our fight is not with people. It is against the leaders and the powers and the spirits of darkness in this world. It is against the demon world that works in the heavens. Because of this, put on all the things God gives you to fight with. Then you will be able to stand in that sinful day. When it is all over, you will still be standing. 

So stand up and do not be moved. Wear a belt of truth around your body. Wear a piece of iron over your chest which is being right with God. Wear shoes on your feet which are the Good News of peace. Most important of all, you need a covering of faith in front of you. This is to put out the fire-arrows of the devil. The covering for your head is that you have been saved from the punishment of sin. Take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

You must pray at all times as the Holy Spirit leads you to pray. Pray for the things that are needed. You must watch and keep on praying. Remember to pray for all Christians.

Ephesians 6:10-18 (NLV)

10. Live in the moment. Pay attention to things, big and small, that are beautiful to you. Thank God for them. “Gratitude breeds joy.”

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)

11. Surround yourself with life-giving people who are full of the Holy Spirit. Connection helps everything.

12. Remember the ultimate hope is the reign of God on earth and in heaven… someday ALL will be made new!  Ultimately we cannot work our way to freedom. Freedom is a gift… receive it as such!

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

*One important disclaimer: These are all keys… but NOT the door.

Jesus said:

 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

John 10:9-10 (NKJV)

Principles don’t save us; Jesus does.  All of these keys are simply relationship builders to help us trust the one who can give us an abundant life filled with peace and joy. So above all, we seek to know and love Him as a person, and we simply receive the mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom that He offers us.

But we don’t do this alone. I pray as you walk toward freedom, you take others along on the journey as well!

Much love.

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Learning to Co-Write Life

I try to hear what God is saying in each season, so I can continue learning and growing. Then I like to pass on those lessons to whomever will receive them.

Co-Writing Songs, Co-Writing Life

Recently, I’ve been growing in community. Here are three things I’ve learned through working with others as a songwriter and a family member. 

Prune and Pursue

Be willing to let some things go to pursue better things.

John 15:2b “[…] every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

“I could choose… but I choose you. You’re worth it all.” (I Choose)

songwriting teamIn January, my church’s songwriting team looked back on 2018 and found we had almost 40 songs available to develop or finalize. But in the whole year, only 1 was used, and about 5-7 songs were in the production process. Part of this was because excellent songwriting takes time, but we also had to figure out what was most worth pursuing. In our first 2019 meeting, we had to humble ourselves to sideline a lot of songs. As hard as it was to let go, this allowed us to focus on developing our strongest few songs (the ones right for our congregation now) into the best songs they could be. Personally, this helped me edit two songs in one week!

sandyAround this time, I had a choice to make: I could be concerned about getting Sandy, my cellist, in to record her final two songs before moving to Seattle, OR I could live my lyrics. After 4 years of preparing to record, I finally was able to start… but then my Grandpa began the dying process late-January, up in Rochester. As I was praying about what to do, the phrase “ministry of presence” came to mind. I knew God wanted me to go. My cellist affirmed it, reminding me that it’s good to live my lyrics. As hard as it was to let go of the recording goal, I was glad to obey… knowing I was in the center of God’s will for me gave me peace, and I had joy that I was able to show love to my Grandpa and my family by setting aside my everyday life in order to help in his care. This has been a fruitful time in so many ways. I’m trusting even more fruit will come from this time, and from the music because I allowed the pruning, and pursued the better.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Better things come from collaboration.

Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

“We’ve all got a lot to say… but who’s gonna listen?” (Heartbeat)

I brought in a song. With a few minor tweaks, we all thought it was basically done. But then, little by little, more tweaks came… until it became a very different song altogether. Bekah noticed something didn’t quite flow. Ryan noticed the concept could use some developing in consistency. Josh suggested simplifying the verses. Bekah suggested a couple melody shifts. Each of these critiques not only improved the song, but challenged me to dig deeper to figure out what God really wanted to say through the song. The concept went from simple declarations of trust, to exploring the purpose of God calling us out into hard places. I’ve learned a lot about this by experience, and, looking back at the process, I believe God wanted me to share these Scripture-based insights through this song, so people can know Him better. Had I not opened this song up to serious critique from my church family, and just left it at the initial feedback, I never would have written the very thing that I needed to share through this song.  

togetherMy first night in caring for my dying Grandpa was a bit rough. I had only been there a couple days and was just getting the hang of his needs. But I felt ready to do what I had come here to do. My Uncle slept in the chair next to Grandpa. I was on the other side, praying I’d be awake when Grandpa had a need. There were a few times when I tried to do something, but my Uncle either questioned my choice or told me after how I could’ve done it better. I could’ve gotten defensive and angry, allowing my pride at being grown and an experienced caregiver to dictate my response. Instead, realizing his heart for Grandpa to receive the best care possible, God helped me choose to listen and respect his correction for next time. Following that night, it got a lot smoother.

Beauty of the Body

We all play our part.

1 Corinthians 12:14 “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

“You’re not good enough, and I’m not good enough… but love can make a way.” (Love Can Make a Way)

chordEven though we all go to the same church, and we’re writing for the same church, our songs are as diverse as the people on the team. Cultural background, church history, theological understanding, music interest, and passions all play a part in bringing a unique song. Ryan’s songs sometimes have a bit of an Irish flavor, and he is incredible at writing modern hymns. In editing, he’s been my chord variation and lyric critique guy. Bekah’s songs have been great at portraying profound truth in simple phrasing. She’s my melody critique. My songs tend to be filled with story and imagery. I mostly help with lyric improvements and making songs more congregational-friendly. Other team members have written differently and added editing value in unique ways. Critiques are all done with love for each other and our city, and a commitment to excellence that reflects how incredible our God is. Once a song goes through our team, it might have a slightly different flavor than the writer brought, but it’s usually a much better version in the end. If any of our teammates are missing from the process, we feel it, and the song suffers. BUT when everyone comes together, it’s a beautiful thing, with powerful results! The variety of songs that are developing is a picture of the body of Christ at work; the diverse work will reach way more people that one person could alone!

Mom BumpaIn caring for my dying Grandpa, the beauty of a family (and community) coming together is unmistakable. We could all focus on saying our goodbyes to Grandpa, the family home, and generations of memories within, because of everyone doing their part. My sister took care of chores at Mom’s house, and I stayed at Grandpa’s to do “night shift” care. My mom came between bus runs, led medical care, and stayed some nights. My Aunt Sue came in from Florida to help, my Uncle Kerry took a leave of absence from work in order to spend nights (and days) with him, and my cousin Craig and his wife Emilee spent almost every day helping. Family members and friends came evenings and weekends. North Greece ambulance brought oxygen tanks when our power went out, and our community provided abundant meals to us throughout the process. Hospice care tried discouraging our family from taking on Grandpa’s care at home, but we have lived like the body of Christ, each doing our part to honor our Grandpa’s wishes and give him loving care at home in his final days this side of heaven.

Just like songwriting, life is done better together, isn’t it?

Reminders through a Music Binder

Recently I went through years of music stuff to reorganize and consolidate a bit. As I went through this worship leading binder, I couldn’t help but reflect on God’s faithfulness.

worship-song-notebook.jpg

This was a night God wanted me to see songs that I’ve led/sung through the years that have each brought my faith to the next level… at St Paul, Naz, Basileia, Cru, RWC, Honduras, Camp Cherith, Chili Pres, Dominican Republic, MSW fellowship, First Church in CT, Fellowship Church in TX, ARBC, Brookhaven, and now Awaken… the song styles have changed tremendously, but the spirit and truth has remained the same. This is why I keep these songs…

With each song, I see an unchanging God, faithful in every step. 

  • I remember connecting with God as a child when my Dad had us lead “Here I Am, Lord” in church.
  • When I see “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” I remember being taught what it was to truly be a worship leader at Basiliea.
  • I’m reminded of when my hubby first taught me a worship song (“Light the Fire”) as new friends at Cru, and how much I’ve loved ministering alongside him over the years.
  • “Your Love Never Fails” brings me back to my hubby, sis, and me first really connecting as worshippers, and how hubby and I got to lead this song at sis’s wedding.
  • I remember learning “Never Once” when we first moved to Texas, and how “never once did we ever walk alone;” God showed Himself so faithful in our Texas journey!
  • I’m reminded of stepping out in faith to move to Charleston after learning “Oceans,” and how God led us all the way (<my new song in the works!>).

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This is just a glimpse of my story of God’s faithfulness. 

I’ve come so far in my faith, worship, and worship leading. But sometimes I need these reminders of how far God has brought me. Today was one of those days. When I remember how the Lord led me all the way, hope builds in me again for the future. I do not have to prove myself to any person or push any timing. God made me to be a worship leader through the creative arts, and He is writing my story.

Are you allowing Him to write yours?