Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Year of You and Me, Part 3 by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Hopefully Romantic

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional. Just please don’t tell my landlord this may be a work of fiction. He told me the Landlady and he want to turn my apartment into a rec room for Landbaby when he turns 16 in 13 years, so I must get married by then, or my landlord will shoot me. Tennesseans subscribe to a very distinct brand of tough love.

Dear BKR,

I read your letter. Then read it again. Then a third time. Then I put it under my pillow so I could absorb it by osmosis while I slept. (Just kidding. You and I both know I don’t sleep…much).

In all seriousness, there is something I have to tell you. I know we’ve gone a year apart, and we’ve been obedient to what God told us, but I must do something before I can see you again. I will be gone for a few weeks, and then, I promise, I will come back to you.

There is something in my life I have not surrendered to God. I have made excuses, tried to rationalize it, but I have learned the hard way that when it comes to following God, He does not allow for backup plans or escape routes. As you have said to me so many times before, obedience must be full and immediate to even deserve the word.

I have not been obedient in this regard. I have wanted to go to the Promised Land while still keeping a foot in Egypt, just in case. At its core, it is a fundamental fear and distrust in His goodness, in His heart towards me, that I must have contingencies in place should His love for me waiver, His will for my life be thwarted, or His arm somehow get shortened.

Fear is an effective, yet death-dealing long-term motivator. I am sorry to report that I have let fear, in its various modes and manifestations, be more of a guiding force in my life than God Who, by His Perfect Love, one of the ways in which He defines Himself, has promised to cast out all fear.

Over the summer, as I tried very hard to process all that had passed between us, I began to see a new counselor. I shared with her many of my insecurities about being a godly woman. She asked me a very pointed question: what did I think the Bible said being a godly woman looked like? What popped into my head was not what I had expected. I told her, “Being at rest.” I recalled much of what the writer of Proverbs 31 and the Apostle Peter said about godly wives. She smiles at the future. Her heart rests in her husband. She is a true daughter of Sarah if she does what is right and doesn’t give way to fear.

I have not known how to rest. I have not been able to quiet my mind. The Word says I am to take my thoughts captive, but instead, I have let my thoughts take me captive. I have suffered the “paralysis of analysis,” which stems directly from fear.

Several weeks ago, I went through one of the worst bouts of insomnia I can remember. I went 72 hours without being able to sleep. As I asked God what was happening, and why none of the things I was doing to be able to sleep worked, it dawned on me that the sleeplessness in my body was a reflection of the restlessness in my spirit.

I have to make the steps necessary to see these fears broken. If my heart cannot rest in God, it cannot rest in you, either. My ancestors were never able to enter the rest of the Promised Land because, in their hearts and minds, their fears had them still bound in Egypt. The agony and exhaustion of staying enslaved has finally overcome the fear of the unknown. What I know now, though, is that it only unknown to me, not to God. And I know that God’s plans for me, whatever they may be, are always for my good and for His glory, so I needn’t worry about the particulars of how it’ll come to pass. I want to love and serve you from a heart full of faith and trust in the Husband of Whom you are a reflection.

Pray for me, as I get myself ready. God has promised me rest. God has proclaimed that Canaan is mine. However, I must still cross the Jordan. I must still make the effort to posses the land. His calling is so worth the obstacles I must overcome. You are so worth it.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Mystic Rythms by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Rush(ed)

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from any irate Rush fans. If Neil Peart, the band’s lyricist, is kind enough to leave his songs open to the listener’s interpretation, then so should all of you.

I began 2011 in a most joyful and unexpected manner: a kiss shared with a handsome gentleman (and I don’t mean my dog, Bruno, either). The last time I had a New Year’s kiss was New Year’s of 2000, and I think that was only because we were all so grateful the over-hyped Y2K apocalypse had failed to materialize. Needless to say, I had envisioned this year going much differently than it has, not just in the aforementioned kissing department, but also with a number of other things. Allow me to explain.

In December, as I prayed about what God wanted me to do in the coming year, I felt that getting in shape was to be a top priority. I enlisted some help from a trainer, who advised me, among other things, to use an elliptical machine. Since part of God’s provision was a free health club membership, I knew this was something I must do. However, I had not done well with going to the gym in the past, mostly because my health had not been up to it, nor did I like the repetition of the routines, which bored me to tears. I felt very strongly, though, as the New Year approached, that God really wanted me to press through with the new fitness regimen, and I thought this time around, it would be different, which it was. However, it wasn’t in the way I expected.

The New Year, along with the new exercise routine, brought some unexpected opportunities and challenges. I had a relapse with an ongoing health problem. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had stopped responding to the medication I had been taking for the last 18 months, and tests from my doctor would later prove to be inaccurate. I felt horribly weak and “foggy” in my thinking all the time. Several dear friends began to experience life-altering circumstances, which God asked me to help them walk through. A new business venture I felt called to embark on got off to a very rocky start. God brought some seekers into my life into whom I have poured a lot of myself. And in keeping with tradition, I lost an aunt I loved greatly and a dear friend within two weeks of one another. Life was once again full of triumphs and tragedies, with the tragedies, as usual, hitting all at once. As happy as I was to serve my friends and be Jesus to those who do not know Him, in many ways, I felt as if I was ministering from an empty vessel. Feeling emotionally and physically drained, the last thing I wanted to do was go to the gym and get on the elliptical machine every day. But because I felt so strongly that I needed to follow through with what I felt was God’s leading me to do, I went anyway. Turns out I got more than I bargained for on that one.

My first time on the elliptical machine, I spent 30 minutes, and when I got off, I collapsed. My legs became the consistency of whipped cream, except not as firm. I resolved, however, I would remain undaunted, and even if I didn’t accomplish anything else in the day, I would get on the elliptical.

About two weeks into it, my workouts took on a different tone, mostly because I got a new cell phone that had an mp3 player built in, allowing me to listen to music and sermons as I exercised. As I would crank the praise tunes, the workout room turned into the Throne Room, and as I pushed myself more and more physically to the tune of the goodness of God, the term “sacrifice of praise” took on new meaning. What I noticed most, though, was how I was paying more attention to the beats and cadences of everything around me. It began with the “whoosh, whoosh” of the elliptical pedals as they rise and fall on the wheel. What had begun as annoying pulse turned into an enchanting lilt.

Pressing into the New Year, and putting my hands to so many different ploughs, my time on the elliptical proved to be a prayerful, praise-ful refuge, and the meter of the machine’s movements continued to provide me with an unusual and mysterious reminder of God’s presence.

The year after I graduated high school, a friend of mine introduced me to the band Rush. As a band, Rush is loved and respected the world over for its lyrics and musicianship. Their drummer, Neil Peart, is certainly no exception. Many of their songs will go through multiple complex time signature changes, which, in the hands of lesser musicians, would sound like a desperate cacophony. However, they have pulled off these intricate rhythmic arrangements time and again in the duration of their almost four decades together as a band, and the beauty of the cohesiveness of such mind-blowingly diverse rhythms presented in the course of a single song never ceases to amaze me.

One night in recent days, I broke out a Rush CD. It had been a whirlwind of a day: the completion of my fireplace project, a minor car accident, news of my friend’s death, and an intense evening of ministry with a dear friend who needed to be talked down from the proverbial ledge. I listened to one of my favorite Rush songs, entitled “Mystic Rhythms.” When I heard the song, I felt that pull and that presence that, over the last few months, had become so familiar and soothing to me. Some of the percussion in the song reminded me of the rhythms of the elliptical machine. I thought back to the advent of 2011, and the sweet kiss that had filled me with hope. Then my mind regressed even further to my last boyfriend. One of my favorite memories of him was when we would stay up late to talk, and in those late night hours, when at times I felt frustrated, sad, or simply restless, he would pull me close to him, put my head to his chest, and I would listen to the smooth, steady beat of his heart. The sweet memory of a heart that at one time beat for me. The haunting, intrusive-yet-inviting syncopations of Neil Peart’s words and percussion. The almost tangible sensation and sounds of the elliptical circling under my feet. I was overwhelmed.

At that moment, I realized why something like the sound of an exercise machine, a noise which, a year ago, would’ve driven me crazy, had become for me a life line: the steady up and down pulse was an echo of the heartbeat of God. That heart which beats surely and steadily. That heart which beats in every season of my life, and no matter how complex, erratic, and out of control the rhythms of my life seem, that heart is ever vigilant to drive those syncopations into harmony with His, making my life a sweet, joyful song that shows the beautiful music is His doing and not mine.

Change is on the horizon for me. New ministry opportunities, both informal and organized, are opening. God is asking me to do something without telling me the purpose or the outcome. As I stand at the precipice, make preparations, and set my face to the wind, I hear that lovely rhythm in my spirit, reminding me that in the symphony of my life, the Lover of my soul is the Conductor, keeping perfect time, and resolving every downbeat.



Thursday, May 12, 2011

Getting in the Way by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Sober

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from the Department of Transportation or any kind of Motorist Safety Groups. Just to be on the safe side, however, I will state now: please do not attempt any vehicle stunts such as described in this blog unless you are a professional (or from New Jersey).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009, 9:25 PM. I was sitting at a red light at the end of an exit ramp off the interstate waiting to turn on to the road on which my job was located. As was my ritual when heading to work, I stared at the clock on my radio, hoping that if I focused all my mental energy on the clock, I could turn back time. As I once again engaged in this always-fruitless endeavor, I heard a crash. I looked up and saw a black pickup truck flying to the right of me, a large wheel coming straight towards me, and a Jeep Wrangler, spinning and flying, heading for the front driver’s side of my car. Even though the collision did not cause my air bag to deploy, I was convinced my car would not be drivable. A three-ring circus of law enforcement, emergency medical crews, wreckers, frantic phone calls, and emotional statements ensued. After about 30 minutes, my neck and back began to stiffen up, and I knew a trip to the emergency room was inevitable.

I waited patiently as the police and EMTs attended to one of the passengers in the Jeep who was very seriously injured. My eyes kept getting drawn to the small ditch on the right of the exit ramp, where the force of the Jeep hitting me could’ve easily sent me. The wrecker crew had to detach the Jeep from my car before they could assess the damage to mine; they were finding it difficult. One of the wrecker drivers asked me to try to start my car and see if I could back up. To my surprise, I could do both, and doing so allowed them to extricate the Jeep and get it hooked up to the wrecker. I then pulled my car to the side, got out, and walked to the front to examine what I was sure was going to be a giant eyesore. Instead, all I found was a cracked headlight and a dent in the front driver’s side quarter panel.

“I don’t understand,” I said to the wrecker driver and police officer who had walked up next to me. “Shouldn’t there be more damage?”

“A lot more,” the wrecker driver replied.

“You’re blessed, ma’am,” the cop chimed into the discussion.

“I guess I am,” I responded.

I drove myself to the hospital. The diagnosis was nothing serious: some whiplash. I missed a week of work and had to go to physical therapy for five weeks.

It’s been two years since the accident, and nothing has been settled. Although the police and all insurance companies involved agree that the accident was not my fault, they are bickering over who was at fault. Both the Jeep driver and the pickup truck driver claim they had the right of way at the intersection. In the meantime, I have still not seen anything for my lost wages, damage to my car, or medical expenses I paid out of my pocket. I was summoned to be deposed last week in order to go on record with my version of what happened. I set out that morning with a chip on my shoulder and a bad attitude, hoping the day would end with resolution and possible compensation. What I got instead was badly needed perspective.

First of all, my GPS went fakakta, so I had trouble finding my way downtown to the attorney’s office where the deposition was being held. Upon arriving, I made my way into the building’s adjoining parking garage. I won’t elaborate too much on why it took me almost 30 minutes to park my car and make it out of the garage, except to say I hope the crack smoked by the engineers who designed the parking garage was worth it. When I got to the attorney’s office, I found out that not only was I scheduled to be deposed, but the driver of the pickup truck, the driver of the Jeep, and one of her passengers were also supposed to be in attendance. The pickup truck driver never showed, which was bad, because everyone more or less believes he is the one at fault. This, of course, means that if his insurance company can’t get him to cooperate, I might have to wait to get compensation until Jesus comes back…or longer. Another problem is the driver of the Jeep and her passenger couldn’t even agree on whether they were trying to enter the interstate or if they had just exited the interstate when the collision occurred. As I sat and listened to the Jeep people give their statements and the three attorneys do their attorneying, I felt my blood pressure begin to spike, until one of the lawyers said, “The force of the pickup truck hitting the Jeep took off its wheel and sent it into Miss Lurie’s car. In fact, if her car had not been there to stop the Jeep, it would’ve rolled, and everyone in the Jeep could’ve been killed.”

The revelation gnawed at me for the next few days, sending me into loud, obnoxious crying fits. I pray all the time for God to use me, to make a difference in people’s lives, and to do things that will matter for eternity. I see now that my vision of being God’s instrument was very narrow. I was the only thing between that Jeep and a roll down into a ditch, which might’ve meant death. The driver of the Jeep was only 17 at the time, and her passenger is a wife and mother of four. I suffered a little pain and a little inconvenience. In return, a girl gets to become a woman and a young family is spared the pain of having its heart ripped out.

With the season of Passover and Easter upon us, I thought of how I was the flying, spinning, rolling out of control Jeep, and the Cross was the barricade between me and the pit of Hell that enabled me to pass over from death to eternal life. On that March evening two years ago, I got in the way, so total strangers could have another two years. On an August evening 24 years ago, Jesus got in my way so I could have life without end. I pray I will keep His Example before me daily, and get in the way of those who don’t know Him more often.



The Quake by Sharon Lurie

© 2010 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Historic

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I better not hear any complaints from any country musicians. I’m not making fun of you. I’m just trying to help my readers have good taste in music.

I despise country music. It’s not so much a style thing as it is a matter of principle. The way I see it, country music encourages inbreeding and illiteracy, and when I hear it, I can’t help but envision people marrying their siblings and drinking whiskey with cupped hands out of big wooden barrels. Just kidding, of course. Well, maybe not totally kidding.

My first encounter with country music was at the age of 18. I had moved from New Jersey to Indiana to go to college. A co-worker at my part-time job, a very sullen and melancholy girl, invited me to her house after work. I had wondered why she was depressed all the time, and after 20 minutes in her living room, I knew why. The music she played on her stereo the twangiest, most joy-zapping music I had ever had the displeasure of hearing. I finally looked at her and said, “This is why you’re bummed out all the time! Stop listening to this stuff! I’ve only been here 20 minutes and I want to jump in front of a semi! Put on some pop or Gospel! Heck, I’d even be happy if you turned on some gangster rap so you could get a little fight in you!”

My experiences with country music have only gotten worse since then. I might even go so far as to say that it is not God’s will for me to like country. I have many friends who tell me I just heard some bad stuff, that most of it is quite moral and upbeat, etc., but every time I say I will give it a chance and then turn on the radio, the country song I hear is either woefully depressing and downbeat or it’s describing some sort of activity punishable by stoning under ancient Jewish law. For example, after a recent lecture from a close friend about the virtues of country music, I decided once again to give it a chance. So, while at the gym, I turned on the country music video channel, and the name of the first song I saw was “White Trash with Money.” Like I said, I don’t think it’s God’s will for me to like country. So, when my friend Charlotte came to visit and asked if we could check out The Ryman Auditorium, nicknamed “The Mother Church of Country Music,” being the good hostess I am, I obliged and braced myself to have my ears assailed. I was cut to the heart instead.

Charlotte wanted pictures inside and outside the building. As I took a few pictures of the side facing Fifth Avenue North, I noticed a white inscription towards the top: Union Gospel Tabernacle 1892. I was intrigued, because I’d not before heard the building referred to as such. I was anxious to get inside and investigate the matter further.

After we paid our admission for the tour, we sat down to a short informational video about the history of the Ryman. Sure enough, the building had started out with the name “Union Gospel Tabernacle.” Thomas Ryman, a riverboat captain and saloon owner in Nashville, was upset because evangelist Samuel Porter Jones was in town, preaching repentance and the evils of strong drink. On May 10, 1885, Ryman went to one of Jones’s revival meetings in order to heckle the preacher. Instead, he came to faith in Jesus Christ and decided to build a revival hall for Jones, which would, according to the video, “make the sinners quake.” Indeed, the architectural design of the tabernacle is just as impressive as its spiritual and musical history. Ryman wanted the tabernacle to have the best acoustics possible so that Jones could preach to the greatest number of people without worrying about not being heard. The acoustics at the tabernacle are better than those of Carnegie Hall and are second only to those in the Mormon Tabernacle.

The tabernacle opened its doors officially in 1892, hosting some of the greatest evangelists of the day and seeing multitudes get saved. Following Ryman’s death in 1904, the building was renamed the Ryman Auditorium, and soon became the showcase of bluegrass, the forerunner to modern country music. Over the years, the building has hosted all sorts of musical talent and programs, including the famous Grand Ole Opry. The Ryman still serves as a musical and performance venue, but during the day, it serves as a museum that chronicles the history of country, bluegrass, and musical comedy. Even though I’m not a fan of country, I found all the history fascinating.

One little display on the bottom floor in the back of the pews caught my eye. In it were souvenirs and tokens from the various evangelists who had preached at the Ryman, as well as a chronology of the spiritual beginnings of the building. My mind began to race, and I wondered how the building went from being an evangelistic hall to a musical venue. I wondered if this was what Thomas Ryman and Samuel Porter Jones envisioned when the doors first opened. Captain Ryman wanted a place for people to come to feel the overwhelming presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the quake, if you will. What started as a vision for a gateway to Heaven is now just a museum that tells the story of great things that used to happen in the past but are now since forgotten.

My thoughts drifted to my arrival in Nashville ten years earlier. God had told me to move, that He wanted to use me to reach the lost through music, writing, film, etc., and I was all gung-ho. I was ripe for the challenge, empowered for the journey, and anxious to be an instrument through which He would work. Fast forward a decade, and in my place I saw a woman who was cynical, critical, bereft of all imagination about how God works, and too tired to try any more.

So many people come to Nashville with aspirations of becoming the next big thing in Christian (or country) music. We get all pumped up, excited to do music ministry and ready to endure persecution for the sake of the Gospel. In my tenure here, however, I have met too many who have abandoned all music ministry aspirations, and even more who have abandoned their relationship with God altogether. The circumstances that cause us to veer off course vary, but the heart issues are usually the same: disappointment with God and/or disappointment with people.

Over the years, I’ve swapped stories with others who find themselves not doing what they originally thought they were supposed to in Music City, and discussed the reasons why we gave up on our dreams, callings, or whatever name we assign them. For some, it was simply impatience with waiting for doors to open up. For others, it was the inability to support themselves on musical ventures. One co-worker told me the story of a song she wrote, and of the musical collaborator who took that song, sold it, and didn’t give her any credit for it, and my co-worker hasn’t done anything of a musical nature since. Another friend spoke of the hurt she felt while doing background vocals for a Christian artist, only to have the checks for her work bounce, and the artist never made good on them. Still, for others, it was the criticism received not from unbelievers, but fellow Christians who tell them their music or writing lacks any redemptive quality, or that they need to just “get a real job.” For me, it was seeing those who were talented but completely lacking in spiritual maturity placed in the spotlight, even though the way they lived their lives was a stumbling block to those they were meant to reach. It was the discouragement that I wanted to play anywhere, including jails and homeless shelters, but often couldn’t get any of my fellow Christian musicians to go to those places with me because they too often seemed only concerned to play somewhere they would be “noticed.”

Most people, myself included, had no idea the Ryman had any kind of spiritual beginnings or was anything other than a music hall. I’ve been here ten years now, and most everyone I know has no idea that I sing or write songs. How do we get so off course, not just from our musical dreams, but from what we once believed so strongly was our calling from God? My visit to the Ryman brought up an even more important question, however. For some people, it’s not just that they have abandoned what they once thought their ministry calling was, but they have abandoned their relationship with God altogether and now live a life devoid of joy and meaning. It is bad enough to forsake one’s vision, but even worse to forsake the One who gave us that vision, and called us first and foremost not to be His minister, but to be His Bride and His worshipper. For too many people, we have not only left our first calling, we have, as the Church at Ephesus, left our first love. It is a scary thing to find myself years down the road telling myself, “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.” It is far scarier when I hear myself say “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

I thought about my own journey, what I believed God said to me when I first moved here, and what He was saying to me now. How I was willing to endure persecution for the sake of the Gospel, but got blindsided because I didn’t expect the persecution to come in such clandestine fashion, from places I did not expect, people and places that should have been friendly to the Gospel. How I confused fickle, unstable man for changeless, immutable God. How Jesus said that no servant is greater than his master, and if I was to follow Him, I would at some point encounter the same trials and hardships He did. How God never called me to make a name for myself in Christian music, but called me to endeavor to make His Name a praise on Earth. These visions and ministries may start with what God places inside of us, but they’re never supposed to end there. Oh, how far had I strayed. Oh, how unrecognizable as a truly devoted disciple I had become.

Everyone who buys a tour of the Ryman is allowed to sing on the stage. Of course, Charlotte wanted to do it and make a recording to show her family. I thought, “Well, I may not get this opportunity again either, so I’ll make a recording of my own.”

With my phone’s video camera running, I took the stage and, because it seemed appropriate, sang “Revive Us, Again.” As I sang the song, all of a sudden, there it was. The quake. There were lots of sinners at the Ryman that day, and I couldn’t say with any certainty whether they felt it, but I certainly did. It wasn’t because I was impressed with delusions of my musical and vocal prowess. It was because of the Audience of One to Whom I sang, and the enormity and solemnity of the request I made to Him. “God, please revive me again! Bring me back to the purpose for which You brought me to Nashville, and which You saved me from my sin. It’s not about me. It’s about You. I have to decrease and You must be the One to increase. You are most glorified when my will and my flesh are crucified. I have lost my joy, my passion to serve, and my burning to see souls saved. Please revive me. Remind who I am and from whence I came.”

God gives us visions and calls us to different things, but it’s up to Him how and when those visions and callings are fulfilled. Just because He gives us a vision, doesn’t mean we can hold on to it and manipulate it to make it work out the way we want. Taking the reigns in such fashion is where we begin to lose the vision, our fellowship with God, and certainty of whom we really are. Most people in the Bible didn’t see the results of their labor in the LORD in their lifetime, but their legacies of devotion and faithfulness still inspire and transform people today. We often even pray, “God, such and such will be worth it if only one person gets saved.” However, not even that should be our motivation. Obedience and devotion to God are worth it simply because the One Who asks the obedience and devotion from us is worthy to receive them, and our willingness to give those things immediately and fully bring Him joy. In the end, it is God doing most of the work, doing the writing of the story of our lives, and speaking through us. At the most, we can say we let ourselves be His mouthpiece, and that is the way it should be.