DeathAnnie died in my dreams last night.
I wasn't totally dreaming. I was sort of awake. Sort of asleep. And I knew it wasn't real- still- I couldn't seem to stop crying and playing out this horrific scene in my head.
It's not the first time I've had the dream. And Annie's not the first one to be a victim to my mind's imagination.
I can remember having the dream as far back as five-years-old. Somebody I love dying. Me being at their funeral. Near their body. Crying in my half-awake, half-asleep state wondering if this was normal or if my imagination were especially cruel?
I am not sure if I was simply born this way or what- but death has been at the forefront of my mind since I was a little girl. While my sisters played house and school in the woods, I found sticks and studied the dead critters I stumbled upon. And when news of a real death came in and others cried, I found myself wondering how they died and if they knew they were dying and if they were scared or if they were ok.
Perhaps the roots lie in my vivid imagination. And perhaps if my parents had been bankers or shoe-salesmen, it wouldn't have been so present. But, when I was little my dad was a police officer and was serving in the military and my mom was a minister. Between the two of them, I saw (or overheard) my fair share of people's stories of life and death. Drunk driving accidents while dad was working the night shift. Suicide of a church member. Babies that didn't make it and cancer that couldn't be beat. For some reason, these stories effected me more deeply than my sisters. I carried them- each one wounding my heart a little more- aching over the brokenness in the world.
No one likes to talk about death. (In fact- I will be surprised if anyone is still reading this crazy girl's ramblings.)
Death is often the ultimate reminder of the cruelty of this world and the one thing that we can't fix or beat. Like the cloud that hovers over Eeyore's head, Winnie the Pooh's infamously pessimistic friend, death hovers over each one of us. But most people have the ability to tune it out, as if the cloud were not real or it belonged to someone else or would never actually open up and rain on them. Some people simply don't think about it- and I envy that.
For a long time, I wished I was one of those people. The people who don't wake up everyday and taste death; who don't know that there is a cloud hanging over them.
But somewhere along the way I came to accept it as my fate. I live in the tension of the living and the dead.
I have since I was a little girl.
I see it everyday. Life and death. And thank God I saw it as a kid and have been working hard (keeping therapists and pastors around the country in business!)- to wrap my heart and soul around what to do with it-
because no one tells you that once you create art- it will work its way into someone's story- and you will be invited into that person's story- and you will see life and death closer than you ever have- and you will need to know what to do with that-
what to do with the thing that hovers.
I've been in more stories than I ever dreamed was possible.
After every show. Each day they come. Email. Facebook. Twitter. Even snail mail. Hope Now was played at this child's funeral or this momma's wake. This Little Light of Mine was a baby's only song heard in this world and gave a man the courage to keep going in his hospital bed. What Do I Know Holy was the song they listened to as they made their way to heaven. How this sister died on her way to college and this one died because she didn't realize how much alcohol she was really drinking and this one died on a school field trip.
Every. Single. Day. They are there.
Babies that miscarried and finally- the miracle child that came and stayed. Battles against deadly addictions won. Brain tumors beat. Marriages saved. Depression fought back. Suicide attempts reversed. Babies that live 2 months instead of 15 minutes- science and doctors defied- life brimming out of inevitable death. Flowers blooming out of sheer dirt.
In Between I am grateful that my sweet Savior knew that one day I would stand at a table and take the hands of the broken, embrace them in a hug and do the best of my ability to laugh, cry, cuss, grieve, smile, listen, listen and listen as they tell me about their journey through the heart wrenching valleys and mountains of this world.
I often say that I don't care if I ever stand on another stage again and sing. Singing is not why I got into this whole thing. In fact, in the early days I really struggled with being a "christian musician." Playing in swanky mega-churches was a far cry from where I thought I would end up- an inner city slum in Africa or Mexico. How could autographing a 6th graders arm really qualify as ministry?
Little did I know- one day that sixth grader comes home and finds life as they know it upside down- and in their utter grief they head to their closet- and they listen to music. And all of a sudden- I am a tiny part of their story.
So somewhere towards then end of my time with Addison Road, it all began to make sense to me. This is exactly what God made me for. Even as a little girl- God was preparing my heart and soul to see life, death and every beautiful thing in between.
To be sure- living in the tension of life and death has its negative effects on me. For instance- I cry in bed while dreaming a not-real-dream that my daughter has died. Or I ask my best friends, early on in our relationships, if they are going to murder me? And I've come to find that this sort of question wigs people out. Sorry, Aubrey. And Ryan. And Lauren. I cannot think of myself as an old lady- nor can I think of Annie as a grown adult with kids. Something in me won't let me dream that far down the road- I tend to err on the side of "I probably won't make it that long." And, of course, I'd much rather have dreams about grandbabies than my daughter's final moments. There are certainly dark moments when death is so close to your lips.
But those things aside- there is an upside to living in the tension of life and death because you come face to face with life and you have to choose: life or death. There is a way to be dead even when your body is alive. There is a way to be kind of alive even if your heart beats strong and steady. There is a way to have a body detached from a soul.
And then there is a way to live that God offers throughout the Bible-
"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life..." Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT.
Somewhere in the midst of all this thinking about death- grasping how real and how close it actually is- I have heard Jesus whisper time and time again to me, "Oh that you would choose life Jenny."
Oh, that we would choose life.
Life I care little about money. I care little about success. I care little about small inconveniences; the size of my house; the length of the line in front of me at Starbucks or the bank; or the plans that always seem to change.
I care much about my husband. My little girl. My parents. My sisters. My friends. And all other sorts of people. I over-indulge on snuggling with Annie at night, even though it's technically not the way you are supposed to teach a child to sleep. I throw "happy parties" and invite my girl friends to have cupcakes and wine and write cards to people they love but have forgotten to thank. I lay in the grass. I get my hands dirty. I mess up a LOT. I sing out loud and whistle and take millions of pictures and drink lots of wine and sit on my front porch and listen to birds and crickets and I worship. I worship Jesus a lot. I love Scripture. I give hugs- I love too much- and I love too hard- I ride roller coasters when I can- scream at refs during football games- read books to learn as much as I can- help people as often as possible and smile a lot. I like to be interrupted by people's stories, by strangers, by coffee that goes too long with a new friend, or by my husband's constant desire to show me how the iPhone has yet again changed his life.
I live like I am dying. Because even though I am not- it is there- Life and Death and Every Beautiful Thing In-Between. And while I have the privilege-
I choose life.
So you want to know the story behind my new song, Heaven Waits for Me? That is it.
When you live with death hovering over you- you have two choices about the way you will live life now...
you can choose to live with the fear of death, hovering over you, stealing your joy, robbing your happiness, defining how you carefully live and protect each day-
or you can just live life-
Abundantly. Fully. Whole-heartedly. The way Jesus did in the scriptures. Pouring himself out- and being filled up. Pouring out. Filling up. Never losing site of God the Father and the eternity He would spend in a place where death has no sting, but also embracing every moment of his life on earth. Loving. Healing. Caring. Praying. Resting. Time with friends. Time at weddings. Time at parties. Time with Lepers. Hookers. Thiefs. Religious people. Time with His own Father.
Jesus lived a full life- every single day, with every single breath- he chose to show us what it looks like to live in the tension of life and death...
and what it looks like to do both well.
And that's what Heaven Waits for Me is all about- living in the tension of life and death- and embracing every beautiful thing in between.