Disclaimer: This is a story of a journey; not a jaunt. It will take some time to read as it took quite a while to write. I encourage you to read it in parts over several different periods of time.
It began 38 days ago.
My church was doing a series on being generous livers. Not the organ. Living in a generous way with our time, money, and talents. We ended the first Sunday with the song, "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary." My first reaction to this song was ridicule. People still sing this song? As an artist, the pride of your own musical tastes can sometimes get the better of you in worship. As such, I was determined not to sing this song. But that line. That haunting line...
with Thanksgiving, I'll be a living, sanctuary for you
God's spirit began whispering to me, "Jenny, you are called to be a living sanctuary. Tried and true. A temple. A place where I dwell. This will require sacrifice. You will be a living sanctuary."
The words made my stomach churn; the chorus droned on and on.
Living sanctuary? No thank you. I'm a mom now, a wife, a daughter, sister, friend, a lover, thinker, reader, runner, oh, and I have this little band that runs me ragged all over the country ministering to people... my plate is full. I'm not terribly interested in being a living sacrifice. I've sacrificed enough. I'm ready for things to be easy.
It's quite hard to say, as an affluent American, that I have sacrificed much at all. Compared to the rest of the world... those who sacrifice their safety in order to worship the Lord, those who bear burdens of poverty, injustice, terror, disease without medicine, and living in a constant state of fear. These burdens and sacrifices, chosen or not, make my burdens seem very small and insignificant.
Still, they are my burdens. Small or not, for me, they are real.
And our burden is money. For eight years we have made music, led people in worship, and used our platform to spend as much time with people in a ministry capacity as possible. What happens offstage is far more important than what happens on stage; this is our ministry, our calling. We have lived this divinely inspired journey for eight years. And for eight years it has been hard to pay the bills, for eight years we have worried about money.
It was to be expected in the beginning. Out of college with massive school loans and all the other monthly bills required to live. We were only doing small shows, for small crowds, in small towns; not exactly rolling in the dough. But now we are on the radio, playing arenas, and well past our college years. Yet, financially, nothing has changed.
There is still the dread upon receiving every monthly bill. The drop in the stomach when I know we need more trash bags, toilet paper, or gasoline. And don't get me started on baby hospital bills; let's just say for the price of that room I should've been laying in gold sheets with a beautiful harem of men fanning me while feeding me grapes and wild figs and painting my toenails. There is the lustful longing to buy a house, or a car that doesn't bear the title, "Jenny's high school car that vibrates and is entirely unsafe for a baby." And back to those monthly bills... TXU energy you are my 100 degree summer arch nemesis!
Mainly, it is the physical and emotional energy it takes out of Ryan and I. It's not a matter of budgeting, it's a matter of the money just not being there... and the constant angst of trusting that God will provide; or that we might win the lottery; or that we will stumble upon someone rich who writes us into their... all of these are so very tiring.
So choosing to do music, lead worship, pour into people's lives who e-mail or wait around after shows to talk and ask for prayer, traveling night after night because we know that God uses our music to make His name known and to bring hope and joy to the weary; investing weeks every summer into students and churches at camp; even writing so transparently in this blog; choosing to follow where God has so clearly called Ryan and I... it is not glamorous. It is a sacrifice.
And while I love what we do and the rich connections we are able to make with people on their journeys, I am quite simply tired of worrying about money. It's exhausting. And I'm exhausted.
I'm Over it.
So for the first time ever Ryan and I began having the "what-if" conversations.
What if we get real jobs? What if we quit? What if we didn't have to worry about money? What if we collectively made $25,000 a year??? How awesome would that be?!?
What if we move on? Take care of ourselves. Get real jobs. Finally start saving money. Start a 401 K. Go on a vacation. Be real adults with real careers that make real money. This idea, while terrifying because of its foreign and outlandish probability, still consumed much of my brain during the month of June.
God... thanks but no thanks. We've made a nice little run of it but we are tired. We are tired of relying on other people to support us in our ministry and help pay our bills. We are tired of the stress. The battle. The consumed energy. You know.
And he does. He gets it. He knows. He knows we are tired. He knows the struggle.
You know Lord, we're just sort of over it. Find someone else please. Let us just be normal. And free.
And freedom, oddly enough, is what he set out to give us.
Only, not on our own terms.
So I literally fought the Lord all month. Pointed fingers. Begged. Pity partied. And schemed my way into a new career path.
And on July 3rd, like God showing up to address his accuser at the end of the book of Job, He showed up at our pastor's house.
We accidentally came a night early for the 4th of July party, yeah, don't ask me how we got that confused. But there we were, ash white baby whose over-protective mother had triple lathered her up in sunscreen; red, white and blue cake; cooler; swimsuits on; and, of course, right on time with big dorky grins on our face; they answered the door laughing. The house was empty.
We went and got Thai food instead and spent the rest of the evening at the house talking and laughing.
I told Jackie, our women's pastor, that I was tired of money problems. A lament she and her husband have often heard from Ryan and I. A journey they have helped us walk through.
This time though, compassion was not her strong suit.
Jenny, have you ever considered the fact that this might be the burden you will always bare? That perhaps this is the thorn in your side? The sacrifice you and Ryan and your family will make for being in the ministry? That you will never have money? That you will always have to rely on God's faithfulness and his provision alone to pay the bills? That you will follow in the footsteps of your parents and Ryan's parents who always sacrificed money for ministry? What if this never goes away? Then what?
Is it wrong to have a desire to hit your pastor?
NO. Actually. That thought had never crossed my mind! Not once. Dear God. There is no way this is God's plan for our future. Please, please, please. It can't be.
Instantly, I was in fight mode. The words of that song, living sanctuary, began to play themselves over and over again in my mind. A haunting image of an elderly version of myself on a fixed income calling my dead parents in heaven to ask them to send money so I could get the oil changed and buy a new pair of dentures popped into my head. Surely not, Lord. Surely not.
We drove home in a weird silence. It had never occurred to us that this burden might not ever be lifted. That this might be our sacrifice, the cross we pick up and carry in order to serve the Lord. No, lack of finances is a temporary setback; depending on our church body and friends from across the country and the Lord's faithfulness to help us make ends meet each month will be fleeting... not forever. This is no way to live. It can't be.
Four days later we found ourselves in Ridgecrest, North Carolina for a week of FUGE camp. Every morning after worship we make our way into a local coffee shop for breakfast and conversation. It's a band tradition. We talk about funny stuff and eventually get down to matters of the heart. Except, on this day, it was all funny. The guys were ready to leave but I felt the urge to stay... no, we have to talk about something deep or serious! Someone come up with a problem! A prayer request! An issue. But all was quiet. So I spoke up hoping to incite the spiritual conversation that would really touch someone else's heart that morning.
Pray for me and Ryan. We're tired of being tired over money. I keep thinking I should just quit and get a real job to provide for Annie better. Etc. Etc. Etc. No mention of what our pastors had said. Not one word.
And then, in a moment I will never forget, Travis beaus up, I mean physically, you see something come over him (it sort of reminded me of Aslan roaring onto the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia) and he opened his mouth to speak words that were not his.
Jenny, do you have any idea how stupid you just sounded to God? How silly it is for you to say that you are going to quit your calling so you can get a job and make money so that you can provide for Anniston... God's daughter? Don't you know he provides for her long before you do? Don't you know how silly it sounds to the creator of the universe that little you is going to go out into the world and take care of yourself? Who are you to say what God will do or will not do as he provides for your family? It's like you don't even believe the words to your own song on the radio... what do you know of Holy, Jenny? How can you decide that you will provide for yourself and abandon what God has called you to do? Who gave you the privilege?
And then, word for word, I kid you not...
Has it ever occurred to you that you might not ever have money? That you might not ever be able to pay your bills? That this might be the thing in your life that you sacrifice in order to serve the Lord? That you might always have to depend on God alone to provide for your family?
And word for word he said verbatim what my pastor said. Word for stinking word.
The four of us were silent as we listened to Travis' thirty minute Holy Spirit rant. Travis was not speaking, that was clear to everyone... but if only they knew what Ryan and I did... that Travis was speaking the same exact words that we had unwillingly heard just days before.
We only thought the first car ride home was weirdly silent. This was bizarre. Ryan finally spoke.
Did you tell him?
NO. Did you?
Well, crap, how did he know to say that?
Of course, we knew the answer. And it's moments like that that you must believe in the realness of God and the Holy Spirit. Giving someone the good news that yes, they will always be poor, is not really popular conversation between friends. It's not commonly spoken of. And it takes guts to say that to a friend, "Hey Buddy, get over it, you're always going to be broke, it's your sacrifice... sucks for you!" Guts or the Holy Spirit or both. It was not a coincidence that they spoke the same exact words because it was not them speaking. God's spirit literally spoke his words to us through them. Sounds crazy, huh? But there really is no other explanation.
Ryan said he felt free. Without delving into all of his personal stuff, let's just say, he needed freedom.
It was that simple for him. If this it, this is our sacrifice, our burden, if I really can't fix this no matter how hard I try and if we are really just supposed to trust that the Lord will give us exactly what we need, well, then, that makes me free. Now I can let God deal with it.
And he, the man who so tightly grips things in his own hands, literally just opened them up. You could see it on his face. You could even feel it in the car. It swept over him. Freedom.
No Thank You
Not me. I was happy for his freedom, deeply grateful actually, but God, don't think you can just pull one over on me like that. That's tacky. Real tacky.
I'm not giving up on my financial dreams that easily. No way. I fully intend to take care of myself, however I must do that.
I felt like Jacob, the guy in the Old Testament who literally gets in a fist fight with God. He fights and fights all through the night and leaves the battlefield with a broken leg in the morning.
That's me. If you're bringing me somewhere new, asking me to sacrifice, asking me to trust, you are going to do so with me kicking and screaming.
And it's really quite classy of God to be so gracious. He ought to just give up on me or slap me silly for my attitude problem or leave me to my own devices... but he doesn't. He lovingly pursues me, the one lost, stupid little sheep. He allows me to fight with Him, puts up with my kicking and screaming, pushes back, and patiently waits it out with me.
It's like Annie fighting to not fall asleep. While I am rocking she will cry, kick, squirm, head butt me, doze off, then snap back awake and do it all over again. Still, I hold her firmly and lovingly in my arms. Eventually, she exhausts herself and passes out. Still, I am there holding her. And when she wakes up in the morning with her squirrely arms flailing, matted down hair, little eye buggers, and that look that says, "we were not friends last night... " I am there smiling, waiting for her first big grin of the day.
We all fight.
Ye of Little Faith
I believe God has a special reserve of energy for people like me. The, Ye of Little Faith, people.
He does not have to prove himself, but he does. He does not have to communicate in ten million different ways to get our attention, but he does. He certainly doesn't owe me anything, but sometimes he treats me as if He is willing to give me all the love he has and then some.
Back at camp, day two, the pastor asks us to come out on stage at the end of his message. This is normal. Asking us, in front of 1700 people, to not play music but rather to come and kneel at the front of the stage... that is not normal.
And what do you know, he said, "I don't think you guys know what a sacrifice it is for these five people on the stage to do what it is that the Lord has called them to do."
There's that word again. I shouldn't have been shocked, but I was.
"They don't make a lot of money, they often struggle to pay the bills, they go from city to city, hotel to hotel, and now they do that with a little baby and as most moms will tell you, there is always a fair amount of guilt involved when you bring your baby into your craziness."
He continued explaining, word for word, why what we did was a sacrifice. He names every single thing I had lamented to the Lord, my pastors, my parents, and my husband over the past month. And he finished with saying, "Today I feel compelled to encourage them. To remind them to keep going. To remind them that the Lord has placed a calling on their lives and that He is using them to make his name known."
Then 1700 people prayed with him that we would continue to trust God and follow him where he leads. That we would be renewed and taken care of. That we would be reminded that we were not working in vein.
That was enough. I was convinced.
But God wasn't done.
Three more examples.
Very quickly, I must add, that the Lord spoke the same thing to me three more times. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to. God's love is never lacking. He lavishes it on us abundantly. He didn't give me just enough of his love, he gave me every ounce of it. More than I needed. This was no longer about money, this was his love story for me. He cared enough to let me fight with him, to let me kick and scream, and to hold me all the way through until, exhausted, I collapsed into his arms. And when I awoke, he gently whispered, I'm not through holding you yet. Let me show you more love. And more. And more. And more. And more.
This was his love story for me.
*In a radio interview later that morning one of the DJ's said she wanted to read a passage of scripture over me that the Lord laid on her heart.
Of course He did.
And for the life of me I can't remember what part of Psalms she pulled it from, but it basically said your sacrifice is not in vein, your work for the Lord makes his name known to the nations, so be renewed in your spirit, etc, etc, etc. Need I go on?
*A man came up to me and said he brought a purse to camp because he knew God was going to lay it on his heart to give it to someone. It was made by a ministry overseas in India and he wanted to support the ministry but didn't have a daughter to give the purse to. My purse has holes in it. I've been putting off buying one for months now. God laid it on his heart to give me this brand new quilted clutch. What's more... it looks exactly like me. I couldn't have designed it better myself. A purse. Really? My most specific, petty of needs was provided for?
Of course it was.
*The next day the pastor changed his message right before the service, because, he was prompted by God to do so.
Of course he was.
I try and read the passage that a speaker will be using during their message, so without thinking I picked up my Bible in between songs and read the new chapter. Psalms 23. So basic that I stopped reading that one in about the seventh grade, I guess it had been years since I had uttered these words out loud.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
My stomach dropped. I thought I would cry right there on the spot. I wasn't even sure I could finish reading because that one line, there it was, my hearts deepest prayer quietly breaking free from the part of me that was desperately clinging on to the last threads of myself.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. I shall not want. Jenny, you shall not want.
I said it again on stage. And again. And with tears streaming down my face, this tired little girl finally opened up her hands and, exhausted, fell into the arms of God.
and he was there.
Do I relish sacrifice? No. Not yet. But I do rejoice in a God who is so very real that he would speak the same exact message to me not once, twice, or three times, but six times in one week. I rejoice in a God who loves me that much, who knows me that intimately, and who fights for me and with me so that ultimately, I will be refined, more beautiful, and grown up in Him.
So bring it on.
Because I am ready to trust now that God and God alone will provide for us.
Ours will be a testimony of God's abundant faithfulness.
And I, his dearly loved daughter, will give him all the glory, honor, and praise.