The “Jah Jah” Song

We were eating breakfast this morning and, as usual, Miles was talking about a million words per minute.  The poor kid is so quiet in public that no one would ever guess how truly capable he is of talking your ear off.  I was about to start tuning him out when he said, “And, Mommy, who was it that wanted to sing the ‘Jah Jah’ Song again?”

I was stopped in my tracks.  It has been a week, to say the least.  Both my grandparents were hospitalized, our downstairs flooded Sunday night, and it seems like it’s been one thing after another proving that, quite literally, when it rains it pours.

But then my sweet 4-year-old asked me about the ‘Jah Jah’ Song.  

You see, the ‘Jah Jah’ song is a little family story that was told to me by my mom, and that I, in turn, have told to my son.  The story goes that, when my mom and her two younger brothers were children, they and their parents were on a road trip and were singing songs.  The youngest, Mark, said he wanted to sing the “Jah Jah Song”.  Guesses were thrown out, but nobody could figure out what song he was talking to.  Finally, Mark broke down in tears sobbing, “The ‘Jah Jah Song!”.  At last something clicked and somebody finally realized what he was talking about…”I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy”.

My heart was warmed that my son would remember such a story.  “It was Uncle Mark,” I told him. “When he was a little boy.”

“But now Uncle Mark is all grown up, right?” Miles queried.

A shadow passed over the memory, “Well, yes, he did grow up.  But Uncle Mark is in heaven now.  He died when I was a baby.”

Miles fell silent for a minute.  I knew he was thinking.  He’s been wrestling with this concept of dying and going to heaven.  He knows that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but, quite honestly, he doesn’t want to leave his home and his “cozy bed” and move anywhere.  Not even heaven.

At last he spoke, “But, Mommy, I will get to see Uncle Mark when I go to heaven.  Isn’t that so exciting?”

“Yes, Baby, it is.”

Lord, even in the midst of chaos and hardships, let me see the good.  Let me have the faith of a child.  Most of all, show me how to shepherd these two precious little hearts you’ve placed in my care.  Help me to point them to you.

 

Let No One Despise Your Youth

Read Timothy 4:12

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (ESV)

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (KJV)

“Let no one despise or think less of you because of your youth, but be an example (pattern) for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (AMP)

Any way you read it, this verse is for the younger members of the church.  My guess is that if you’re a Christian and you’re under a certain age (or were at some point), then you’ve experienced some sort of prejudice due to your age and that you can relate to this verse.  I know I have and I know that it can be frustrating.

The church my husband and I go to is old.  As in, it was started in the 1800s and we have many older people in the church who have been attending this same church their entire lives.  To say traditions run deep would be putting it lightly.  For a young woman in her twenties who’s only been here five years, trying to step up and serve can be…intimidating.

You don’t have to be in a historically old church, however, to relate.  I’ve been in church plants where the young and their ideas and thoughts were pretty much dismissed due to their age and inexperience.  So what’s a young person to do?

Paul told Timothy to combat this reverse ageism by being an example to other believers.  In the Amplified Bible (which is taken from the Greek), he was literally to be a pattern for other believers to follow.  I want to be clear about something: Timothy was young, but he was far from being an immature Christian.  He was able to be an example to others because he was personally growing in his faith, and not using his age as an excuse to be lazy or act foolishly.

Here are the six areas (depending on the version you use) that Paul exhorted Timothy to be an example in:

  1. In Word or Speech. In this modern age, speech goes beyond just what comes out of your mouth.  What are you saying (or even sharing) on social media?  Do you spread gossip or use foul words?  Does what you say, write, or share promote the Gospel or degrade it?
  2. In Conduct or Conversation (the Old English definition of “conversation” literally means “behavior” [Jamieson, 1877]) .  How do you treat others?  Do your actions show maturity or immaturity?  Do you get angry easily?  Are you living in sin?  Does the way you conduct your daily life exude peace, joy, and contentment?
  3. In Love. In the Greek this love is “agape” love, or selfless, self-sacrificial love.  Does Christ’s love overflow out of you?  What about to marginalized people?  Or to those who get under your skin?  Are you more concerned about your desires or “rights”, or about the wants and needs of others?   Is Christ’s love in you lived out in actions?
  4. In Spirit.  Matthew Henry narrowed this down to “in spiritual-mindedness, in spiritual worship,” (1761).  Are you living in the Spirit or in the flesh?
  5. In Faith. When trouble comes, what happens to your faith? Do you trust God in all things.  Do you obey the things He’s called you to even when they don’t make sense or are hard?
  6. In Purity. Purity is about so much more than saving sex for marriage.  It’s about being set apart, untainted by the world.  Are you allowing things into your life (entertainment, people, etc.) that aren’t in line with God’s Word?  Are you letting your desire to fit in with others cloud your judgement and convictions?  Are you crowding out the Holy Spirit?

My Challenge For You Today: Pick one of these things to work on and choose an action step to commit to.  Then pray fervently that God would help you in this area.  Journal about your progress.

Example: I want to work on not gossiping (speech).  When I am tempted to talk about someone behind their back, I will instead choose one true, good thing about this person and I will say it aloud (or write it in on social media).  I will pray that God would keep this in my mind and help me to change my speech.

References:

Henry, M. (1761). An exposition on the Old and New Testament In five volumes. … By Matthew Henry … (The 5th ed.). London: Printed for John Knapton, John Fuller, James Buckland, William Strahan, John Rivington [and 11 others].

Jamieson, R., & Fausset, A. (1877). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments,. Hartford: S.S. Scranton.Westcott,B., & Hort, F. (1881). Commentar Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible

Moulton, W., & Geden, A. (1963). A concordance to the Greek Testament, according to the texts of Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf and the English revisers, (4th ed.). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Finding Yourself in Motherhood

Four days after my son was born, I bawled like a baby as I heard the little cry start again.  It was 3 am, I was utterly exhausted, and this was the fourth time I had tried to lay my new son down and slip into bed.  Thirty minutes later, I fell asleep with him draped across my chest…something I vowed to never do…something the pediatrician who had checked him out in the hospital had told me to never, ever do.  As I slipped into sleep I cried again, feeling like a failure as a mom. 
I’d always wanted to be a mother.  I was pretty sure that, when the time came, I would know exactly what I was doing and that motherhood would come naturally to me.  I was so wrong.
Sure, I had those amazing feelings of love you always hear about.  Changing dirty diapers didn’t make me cringe a bit.  Once the struggle of the first tough month was over, I even enjoyed nursing.  What I wasn’t prepared for were the feelings of inadequacy and uselessness.  My filthy house, dirty dishes stacked high, and inability to get one decent meal on the table made me feel completely incapable as a house wife.  The fact that my son was not a “typical” newborn (as I thought he should be) made me feel out-of-control.  My exhausted frustration at my son when he would scream for hours every night from colic made me feel like a terrible mom.  Most of all, though, I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything all day.  I struggled with feeling a sense of purpose.
I knew that taking care of my son was my purpose for this season of life, but there was a disconnect between knowing that and feeling it in my heart.  I knew I was doing something very worthwhile and purposeful, but most days I felt like I was just treading water.  The problem was that, deep down, I wasn’t just a milk-producing, diaper changing, baby holding robot…there was a very real and individual person just dying to be let out!  The challenge in any change of seasons is finding the balance between who you are as a person and the tasks God has put before you for today. 
For me, finding this balance meant two things.  The first was that I had to change.  I had to let go of my need for control and desire to do things the “right” way and instead be flexible and learn to be the mom my son needed…not the mom I wanted to be.  Anytime God refines us, the process is far from easy and painless.  There were days that I despised the new mom posting on Facebook asking for ideas of things to do because her baby was so easy and she was bored.  Yet, I have come to realize that God gave me Miles with all of his out-of-the-boxness so that He could mold me and force me to let go of my controlling tendencies.  He gave me a very real little individual so that He could change my individual self.
Finding the balance for me also meant fusing who I was as a person with the role of mother.  Again, this isn’t an easy process.  I have come to believe that, in any season or role we find ourselves in, our personality should still shine and show through.  I don’t parent the same as any other mom because I am not any other mom.  I am a tea-drinking, outdoor-loving, greenthumb-wannabe who loves traveling and good food.  Consequently, my son spends a lot of time outdoors, is well acquainted with garden tools, has traveled more than most people will in a lifetime, and will eat just about anything…including spicy food or strong-flavored ethnic cuisine.  He is his own person, but his daily life is the way it is mostly because of who I am as a person.  God placed Miles in my care because He knew that the mama I am is the mama Miles needed.   
As I approach my two-year anniversary of being a mother, I’ve gotten into a better groove.  I have a system down for at least keeping the house manageably clean.  We do eat a home-cooked meal most nights, even if it was something I stuck in the freezer two weeks ago and just dumped in the crockpot that morning.  I already have long lists of freezer meals to assemble and preparations to make for whenever Baby Baker #2 decides to enter our home, knowing very keenly how needed those will be.  I feel very purposeful as I order our home, chase my toddler around, and reach out to other moms in our community. 
I am not the same person I was before my son was born.  And yet, I am more than just a mother.  I am Caitlin Baker, wife, mom, homemaker, and very real person…something that brings me very great joy.    

Dear Single Girl: Would You Follow Him?

Dear Single Girl Who’s Wondering if He’s “The One”:
When I was twenty years old I did something crazy: I got married and moved a thousand miles away to the hills of rural Arkansas.  My husband and I didn’t have much to our name and I was still in school.  To top it off, I had never lived away from home before. 
Four years later, I look back and am shocked by that bold step.  Yet, I’ve never once regretted that decision.  Our marriage has had its ups and downs, just as any marriage does, but we are very, very happy.  I do miss my family and the endless sunny days in Arizona, but I have never once cried from homesickness.  In all honesty, that move from Arizona to Arkansas was not terribly hard for me. 
I get asked almost daily why it wasn’t that hard.  I’ve come up with all sorts of answers.  My personality.  I was ready to have my own home.  I was raised to be independent.  Modern technology makes staying-in-touch easy.  All true reasons, but not enough in and of themselves.  The real truth is that it wasn’t all that hard because of Andy.
When I was a young teenager, I got it in my head that I wanted to marry a man that I could follow.  For a stubborn, bossy first-born such as myself, that was not an easy requirement.  Yet, in my heart I knew that that criteria would be the make-or-break factor for my marriage.  “Would You Go With Me?” by Josh Turner became my anthem.  I longed for a man who would ask me if I’d go with him “to the ends of the sea”, and with whom I knew that I would.
I thought I knew what such a man would look like.  He’d have to be loud and outgoing to balance out my quiet side.  He’d have to be a good speaker, but a poor writer, so that I could be his helpmeet and write for him.  Oh how wrong I was!
Thankfully, I would indeed follow my husband to the end of the sea.  Yet, this man of mine is not what I thought he would be.  He is quiet and reserved and gentle.  When describing him, his grandmother once told me that still water runs deep.  He has a tender heart, yet he can be sarcastic.  He’s a good speaker, but he doesn’t like to be the center of attention.  And he’s a wonderful writer.
When I married Andy, I knew I was marrying a man I could follow.  I have come to realize that it is for this reason primarily that moving away from everyone and everything I ever knew wasn’t so very difficult.  You see, when you marry a man that you can follow, actually following him isn’t all that bad.
You may never follow your man to the ends of the sea.  You may end up getting married and never living farther away than the house next door to your parents.  But I can promise that the time will come when you will have to follow him, and you will be asked to give up or move away from something or someone that you love.  The question is, will you be able to do it? 
And so, as you look for a man to marry, I encourage you to not settle for anything less than a man you can follow.  Don’t look for a man who is good looking, or well off, or charismatic, or seems to have to have it all together.  Don’t look for a man that you will always agree with or that will go along with anything you want.  Instead, look for a man you can follow
I know all too well how important that is.

Of Hymns, Drums, and True Worship

Music is something very near and dear to my heart.  As a musician, music worship is one of the single greatest ways I connect with God.  I love and crave the times when I get to sing songs of praise to the Great Lover of my soul, and I’ve experienced the whole gamut of music worship types.

Before getting married and moving to Arkansas, I attended a Conservative Southern Baptist church with my family.  We still sang mostly hymns, the choir still wore big, shoulder-padded choir robes, and quarterly business meeting/potluck were known to last for hours. 

I played my violin and sang in the choir almost every Sunday.  I even accompanied the choir on the piano for some of our bigger performances.  The music was traditional, beautiful, and very much like a performance. 
I’ve also been at churches where the music was all contemporary, loud, and emotion-driven.  I appreciate aspects of both.  I like both.

However, in the past few years, my view of what worship should be like has been shifting.  I’ve come to realize that, in truth, music worship is not about what we like or what makes us feel good or comfortable.  Music worship is about worshiping God.  Plain and simple.

Those that lead us in this area should be focused on worshiping God themselves and leading everyone else into true genuine worship.  It’s not about how great the choir is, or how well the musicians play.  All too easily, “good” music can turn into a show instead of a time of worship.  While it’s important that music be pleasant and sound good (otherwise it’s distracting in and of itself), that’s not the most important thing.  The real question should be, “Am I truly worshiping?” 

I’ve been in many “traditional” services where the hymn singing is rote and completely unemotional.  No one is truly worshiping…they are merely going through the motions and enjoying music the way it “should” be. 
Conversely, I’ve been in many “contemporary” services where the music worship is nothing more than an emotional high.  There is no true substance…no true, genuine worship.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Thankfully, I’ve also had the privilege of seeing this first hand.  I’ve watched a congregation of mostly senior adults, moved by the spirit while singing “How Great Thou Art”, stand to their feet, one older woman with her hands raised high.  You could just feel God there.  I’ve also watched as 40,000 college students worshiped honestly and genuinely to the tune of loud, beat-heavy music. 

I believe that we can worship anywhere, in any place.  We don’t have to have “contemporary” music or “traditional” hymns.  We don’t have to have a choir or select instruments.  We don’t even have to have the type of music we prefer.  All we have to have is a pure, open heart that is focused on worshiping our God, simply and fully.     

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you worship:

Where is my heart?  Is it on adoring and thanking my King, or is it on the girl wearing the mini skirt in front of me?  Am I having a moment with just God and me, or am I thinking about how off-key someone in the choir is?

Am I listening to the words and truly meaning them? When I’m singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”, am I thinking about every word and truly standing in awe of my God?  When I’m singing “with arms lifted high”, are my arms actually lifted high?  Am I just going through the motions, singing familiar songs?

Does this music make me say, “Wow, that was awesome!” or “Wow, God is awesome!”?  Is the music so showy or polished that it distracts me from the meaning?  Is this music a performance or a worship experience?

Does this music speak to my head, my emotions, or my heart?  Is this music a mere emotional experience?  Is this music pure rote memory and nothing more?  Am I actually worshiping from my heart?

While you can learn to worship anywhere, to any music, sometimes (okay, many times, sadly), you will find yourself in a church where the music is either all for show or all about tradition.  These factors may simply be too distracting to your worship experience.  I would encourage you to pray fervently about where God would have you.  While we need to follow God’s leading regardless of our personal preferences, I don’t believe that God would put you in a church where you can’t truly worship Him.  Sometimes distractions are a sign that God is leading you elsewhere.

Whatever the case, remember that the style, setting, and volume level of the music is not important.  What matters is that you can worship there.  Personally, I would rather be in a church where the music is boring, simple, and flawed with a worship leader whose goal is to lead us into worship, than in a church that’s missing the point of worship.  True music worship is not a performance…it’s a time of praising, adoring, and thanking God together with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Of Dreams

Dreams.  We all have them.

I use to have so many dreams.  Horses.  Love.  Marriage.  Children.  Travel.  Writing.  Security.  The list was never ending!

The past few years the idea of dreams has been almost constantly in my thoughts.  God’s been sifting my heart and my life, and as a result I’ve been questioning what place, if any, dreams should hold in my life.

If I say that I want all of me to die and all of Him to live in me, does that mean that my dreams have to die too?  Is it even okay to dream?  What does it mean to dream God’s dreams?  How do I know that my dreams are His too, and not just mine?
In the midst of all this, I’ve let many of my dreams slip away into the background.  I’ve busied myself with the things of the day, and in turn all but forgotten what those many dreams were.  And yet, I found that no matter what I did, there were burning passions and dreams deep in my heart-of-hearts that could not be stifled or quenched.  Like embers, they remained.  It was like they were waiting for the perfect time to once more burst into flame.  
You see, the thing about dreams is that they’re not all bad.  Yes, sometimes they can be selfish.  Sometimes they may be good things, but just not what God has for us at this time…or ever.  But sometimes–just sometimes–they’re things that God has placed in our heart and soul for a reason.  We may not understand how they fit into His plan ultimately, but make no mistake…they have a purpose.
Its okay to dream.  It really is!  Those things that stir our very core are there for a reason.  Yet, to fully experience them and see them blossom, we must first lay them at Christ’s feet.  We must let them die in Him.  We must trust that, in His perfect timing, the small seed that dies and falls to the ground will sprout and grow into something beyond our wildest imaginings.

And so, I’ve been digging into the treasure chest of my heart, once more.  I’ve been rediscovering those many dreams I dreamed.  Some big, some small.  All buried away for a time.

Some of the dreams I dreamed have faded away.  I can hardly remember why I dreamed them in the first place.  Others I’ve seen bountifully fulfilled.  Still others I’m still waiting on.  The strangest are those dreams that have changed.  They hold glimpses of the old dream, but they have been transformed into something far different…something far better.

You see, that’s what happens when we let God have our dreams.  He takes those burning coals, molds them and refines them, and makes them His.  He takes those passions He created in us and uses them for His plan and His glory.

Dream big, little passionate one.  Just don’t forget to place them on His shoulders.  He can be trusted.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~Jeremiah 29:11   

Not In Control

I’m one of those people that likes to make lists and schedules.  I like to feel like I have it all together.  In all honesty, I want others to think that as well.  I want them to think I’m great at juggling being a wife and mom.  I want them to believe that my house is always clean, and that I always have a delicious meal ready at supper time.  

You want to know the truth, though?  I have never felt so disorganized in my whole life as in these seven months since Miles was born.  There have days when my house has looked like a complete pig-sty and my only “accomplishment” for the day was getting my makeup on.  I can’t tell you how many nights Andy has come home from work to find dinner not even close to being ready, and me asking if we can just go out somewhere….again.  I’ve had to drop a lot of my outside commitments.  Hey, blogging, something that I truly love to do, has even fallen through the cracks.  The weird part, however, is that I’ve become surprisingly okay with all of that.

As I’ve written about before, Miles is no easy baby.  These days he’s mostly happy during the day, and I can breathe a little bit easier.  But he’s still not one to happily play in a bouncer seat or spend hours on his playmat.  Usually, me trying to tackle the pile of dishes in the sink consists of Miles sitting on the floor at my feet, with me giving him something new to play with every minute or so.  Even then, that might last 10 minutes and he’s bored.  He is thoroughly unpredictable.  I’m not even going to tell you how many times he was up last night.

Miles has challenged almost every pre-conceived notion I had about motherhood, babies, and parenting.  I found that a lot of my time and research during pregnancy went out the window within days of his birth (okay, hours).  And yet, through it all, I’ve felt that Still, Small, Voice consistently telling me to “let go, and let God”.  I have been learning to daily let go of my need for control, and instead surrend everything to the One Who is Able.  I’ve been laying down that image I have of what it means to be the “perfect” wife and mother, and instead letting Him mold me into the wife and mother He wants me to be.  Through it all, I have found the most amazing peace.  There is so much joy in not being in control…in not even thinking you need to be!

Recently, I heard another new mom described as “having it all together”.  Her baby was sleeping well at night and was on a good schedule.  She seemed to be effortlessly keeping up with all the demands of life.

For a minute, I felt a twinge of jealousy.  I wanted to be the mom that everyone described as “having it all together”.  I began plotting ways of “proving” how truly on top of things I was.  But then that Still, Small Voice tapped quietly on the door of my heart.  

“Remember,” It said, “that’s not who I’m calling you to be.  That’s not the kind of mom Miles needs, or the kind of wife Andy wants.  That’s not the woman I want you to be.”

I realized that in not being that mom,  I was taking the path that God was calling me, specifically, to.

We all have areas of our life that He is refining us in.  For me, it has been a slow, steady chipping away at my need for control.  I could never have dreamed that God would use one sweet baby boy to change me so much.  Yet, I know that every refining moment, no matter how difficult, is all a part of His plan.  It’s all a part of His process of shaping me into the woman of God He wants me to be.

Today my house is fairly tidy.  Dinner is cooking in the crock pot, and the floor doesn’t look like a muddy bear invaded.  But there are still dirty dishes in the sink.  There’s still laundry waiting to be folded, a checkbook that needs to be balanced, and a toilet that needs a good scrubbing.  I couldn’t imagine having free time to work outside of the home, or get busy on a sewing project.  I certainly don’t have everything together, and I’m far from in control of my daily life.  And that’s okay.