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Music Review: Light for the Lost Boy by Andrew Peterson

29 Aug

Sometimes it’s a couple of days or even weeks before I dig through the pre-releases in my “to be reviewed” pile to find the right mood music.  However, in the case of Andrew Peterson’s latest, Light for the Lost Boy, I gave a giddy shout and popped the album in my vehicle’s CD player as soon as I ran out the door minutes after checking my mail.  As the strings of the first song on the album flirted with my ears, I let out a gentle sigh and tried to relax.  But Andrew Peterson is one of the few artists whose musical proficiency and stunning use of lyric touch me on a level too deep to explain.  It’s hard to relax when my soul is so thirsty for the refreshing touch that Peterson’s music can provide it.

Counting Stars, Peterson’s previous album, was my introduction to this artist’s body of work, which not only includes an impressive line of music, but books and a website called The Rabbit Room as well.  Truly a visionary, Peterson is one of those creative I’d love to sit down with for a chai latte to talk music, literature, writing, and theology.  I’m sure the conversation would be nothing short of fascinating.

Therefore, my expectations for Light for the Lost Boy were very high, and I feared I would be let down.  Lost Boy certainly rises to the occasion with 10 beautiful tracks, each one as delectable as the next, though I have my favorites.  I purposely didn’t read the press release accompanying the pre-release, any early reviews, or even Peterson’s thoughts on the album because I wanted to present pure and personal thoughts on this my review of Lost Boy.

To me, Light for the Lost Boy, is a double entendre.  The light is not only for the lost “boy,” who is Peterson himself (or perhaps his children), but it is also light for a lost world.  The album repeats the message, “Yes, this word is cursed and it hurts, but God is with you.  Hope is ever near you, beside you.  And there is a reality that is so much stronger than all that you see and think you know.”  The album continually echoes the thought of one of my most beloved Bible verses found in Revelation 21:5, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'”

So I wasn’t too far off…

My early favorite on this album was “Rest Easy,” which Andrew Peterson promoted through a contest, in which fans were invited to make a music video for this song (see winner). Spoken from the voice of Jesus (like a music version of the devotional Jesus Calling), the song starts out with the lyrics, “You are not alone/I will always be with you.” I was immediately drawn in.  All humanity feels alone, and this song speaks from God’s heart directly to that persistent aloneness, that ever-present separation from God that won’t be eradicated until see finally see Him face to face.

Yesterday, I listened to this song over and over again, letting the words soak into my trembling, sweaty body, for I needed the lyrics to speak to my heart, “You don’t have to prove yourself/You’re already mine/ You don’t have to have to hide your heart/I hold it in Mine/You can rest easy.”  How I long to rest easy!  I appreciate the ability of a song to help me settle down so I can open myself to God’s peace that surpasses all understanding.

Energy flows through another one of my early and consistent favorites, “Day By Day.”  From the first beat, the listener is propelled into an adventure of searching with child-like faith and a reminder that we are truly “children of eternity” who are fighting the curse of death. (Lyric: “Children of eternity, on the run from entropy.” Ahh!  Peterson’s use of language gives me chills!)  This song gives a nod to fleeting youth, but reminds listeners of the promise of eternity.  Referencing 2 Corinthians 4:16, Peterson sings, “Don’t lose heart, though your body’s wasting away/ Your soul is not, it’s being remade/Day by day by day.”  It’s so hard to explain how much this soul touches me.  It gives me hope as I watch a dear friend’s earthly body revolt against her, yet her faith is strong and her soul is ageless.  This song is for her, for all of us.

“Shine Your Light On Me” seems to be a biographical song about how God’s light shown into Peterson’s life when he was devastated, sick, and in the sloe of despair.  He talks about how he “drove into darkness” and “could hear the flapping wings of every devil” he has known.  This is a place I’ve been many times, and the same light that invaded Peterson’s car, floods me as well.  Again, this is another song which I have difficulty describing, yet I know the place from which Peterson writes.  It’s dark, scary, lonely, and almost hopeless.  The light of God’s grace shines into that darkness time and again, each time more beautiful than the last.  It’s these little glimpses of eternity that keep us going in our struggles.

A Facebook friend mentioned that “Cornerstone” was one of her favorite songs on Lost Boy.  The first few times I heard this song I liked the message pulled from John 6.  I found the music “hard”—more electric guitar and less easy acoustic.  That’s why albums must have multiple listens because this song has drawn me in.  With lyrics like, “You look me in the eyes and fix me with a permanent stare,” how can this song not be amazing?  This is one of the most profoundly Scriptural songs on the album, like it was ripped directly from the Gospels.

Wow!  Andrew explains these songs so beautifully.  Maybe I should’ve watched these earlier.

Then there’s “Carry the Fire,” which offers promises of what is to come in a place “where joy writes the songs and the innocent sing them” as well as the first track on the album, “Come Back Soon.”  To be perfectly honest, this song is an enigma to me, though the mystery becomes clearer with every listen.  I will most certainly read Peterson’s thoughts on the song, though it seems like a good summation of the album echoing, “We groan in this great darkness for deliverance/Deliver us, O Lord.”

This is the longest album review I’ve ever written in my 16 years of “music journalism” (hey, I could those clumsy days as a teenager with a ‘zine!)  Peterson’s music evokes one of my early faves, Rich Mullins, whose honest lyrics shaped my faith as a teenager (and in many ways, still do shape my faith).  Peterson, a great admirer of Mullins’ work, carries on his legacy.  Yet Andrew Peterson is very much his own artist, achieving a depth rarely seen but sorely needed.  While there are many catch lines I could insert telling you that you should buy Light for the Lost Boy, I won’t bow to cliché endings.  Andrew Peterson certainly wouldn’t. Give this album one listen, and you’ll see what I mean.  But, of course, you’ll want to buy it first because one listen simply won’t suffice.

Let’s chat!  Leave a comment below! What do you think of Andrew Peterson’s new album? What’s your fave song and why?  If you haven’t heard it, did I convince you that you NEED to listen to it?  Do you like how Andrew explains his songs?  Is this the longest music review you’ve ever read?

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Choosing what’s better for me, you, and Backseat Writer

6 Jan

The first week of January is the most depressing week of the year.  For me.  I’m sure there are some people who are thrilled to jump into a new year.  I’m not one of those people, which is probably why I always (and only) have a drink on New Year’s Eve (this year it was Seagram’s Berry Wine Cooler). 

But I usually have a pretty good idea where I’m going, at least with my writing. 

Not this year.

Not at all.

Seriously, people, I am wide open to suggestions from you, the readers.  I feel like 2011 opened me up, ripped everything out of me, and I’m like, uh, I have a blog?  What’s a keyboard?  Fortunately, I do know what a pen, journal, and a Bible are…

Admittedly, I became fairly delinquent in promised book and music reviews (as the piles around my desk would suggest.)  Sometimes I just don’t want to read anything but my Bible or devotional books (Jesus Calling is a favorite) or listen to anything but Bebo Norman (and the other artists I hold close).  Naturally, this makes it difficult to review the latest and greatest when I’m stuck in a nostalgic past.  As I’ve mentioned before, I was reviewing books and albums and whatever else just to get free stuff, and it amounted to nothingness.  I mean, some of the products were excellent, others subpar, but I didn’t do it for the love of the craft.  Lack of passion will really suck the life out of anything.

Now it’s 2012.  I’m listening to Jesus Calling: Songs Inspired By (right this very moment.)  I just started to read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, but I might read something else.  I’m not really committed to anything at present. 

I am passionate about writing and reading and taking pictures…but I am more interested in being still, listening to God, and pursuing things that will make me well (physically, emotionally, spiritually).  Sometimes choosing what is better is choosing not to blog and not to write. Yes, it’s crazy talk for a writer!  My identity as a Child of God trumps writer every time.

Recently, in Jesus Calling, I read that others may not understand times when God’s children draw close to Him—to listen, to love, and to find rest.  It may seem that we’re simply lazy because blogs aren’t updated, Twitter accounts are silent, and emails are returned in a few days instead of a few hours.  But I’m CHOOSING what is better for me.

And in choosing what’s best for me, I want to nurture my readers as well.  Tell me, what do you like to read?  What do you want to see more of?  Less of?  Clearly, Friday Faves is a keeper, and you do seem to like my photography and personal posts.  Music reviews or book reviews? Do you generally like them or do you only want me to talk about books I choose to read? (Even if that means buying them myself?)

Please leave me some helpful commentary.  Or, if you’re shy, shoot me an email.  Friday Faves will return next week. Probably.

Let my ruins become the ground You build upon

18 Oct

“Let my ruins become the ground you build upon
Let my ruins become the start
Let my ruins become the ground you build it on
From what’s left of my broken heart”

“Ruins” by Bebo Norman from Bebo Norman

I used to think the Apostle Paul was a madman when he asked fellow believers to “rejoice” in their suffering (Romans 5:3-4, AMP).  Are you freakin’ kidding me, Paul?  Throw a party for mental illness?  Get jazzed over medical issues?  Maybe a pity party; that’s all.

That’s how I used to think.  Admittedly, I’m still working on “rejoicing”; however, I am learning to be content suffering.  My current struggles have forced me to find true dependence in God.  I am starting to believe that suffering is a “gift” and I do not fully, nor will I ever, understand its spiritual implications on my life.  Where I see only pain, God sees hope and promise…and beauty.

The brilliant red, orange, and yellow leaves beginning to dot the landscape of southeastern Pennsylvania illustrate beauty in death.  And isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do—to die to self and to find true live in Him?  And now just once or twice, but daily?  Besides the promise of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, God’s love, and much more, Jesus promised that in this life, we would all experience trials and suffering.  Yet He urges us to “take heart” for he has overcome the world.

For the past seven or so years (maybe more), I’ve bitterly resented suffering—my dad’s affair, my parents’ divorce, my life altering (and chronic) illnesses, my inability to find a job in ministry (which I now realize was a good thing), my mom’s remarriage and subsequent divorce from a horrible man who inflicted a lot of pain and abuse on our little family, and of course, debilitating mental illness.

At first, I sought after God and He is and always was present.  As I watched my life shatter around me, I screamed at Him, “How could You let this happen?  How could You do this to me?  You are supposed to love me.  You are supposed to do something with my life.  If You could do this to me, if You could let this happen, what else will You do?  What else will You ask?”  I simply ignored God and His still small voice that beckoned me home.  I prayed, read my Bible, and gave Him lip service only when it suited me.

I would not—I could not—relinquish all of me.  Yet God asked for ALL of me, so He could do immeasurably more than I could ever dream or imagine.

A few weeks ago, when I shut down emotionally, physically, and spiritually, I knew drastic changes needed to me made.  I could NOT go on like this [that] anymore, so I stepped away from Backseat Writer as well as other things so I could focus on overall wellness.  I have been learning so much about myself, God, and the Bible (among other things) through circumstances that forced me to come face-to-face with God.  No more running, no more hiding—just the naked truth of who I thought I was versus who God says that I am.

I am finding my identity in Christ, asking Him to help me overcome my unbelief, to help me believe the truth instead of the negative self-talk I readily offer myself, and most of all to learn to trust God in all things.  It sounds simple enough, yet it is a hard, long road, though it is the path worth taking.

At this time, God has called me away from many things, including Backseat Writer.  Not forever, not even completely, just for a little while.  When it is time, my sporadic and erratic posting will cease and Backseat Writer will return to a new “normal” with content that is solid, personal, and REAL—not the publicist pleasing garbage I’ve posted at times.  Although I assure you that not of it is garbage or posted to please publicist (or anyone else).  I can hardly wait to see what sort of future God has for Backseat Writer—something I believe will be far more wonderful that either you or I could imagine.

For now, dear readers, I must continue my sabbatical to focus on knowing God and knowing who I am to God.  I would like to pop in weekly with updates on what I’m learning—for there is so much to share with you!  Still, most will remain close to my heart; these things are spoken only between God and me.  But I want to let you in, at least a little, to show you what I’ve discovered.  I want you to know that God is not safe, but He is good.

I hear God calling to me, wooing me to Himself, “Come now, my love, my lovely one, my beloved.”  And it’s been such a long time since I felt lovely to anyone and loved by God.

“[God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 5:20, slightly paraphrased)

Currently Listening To: Selections from various Bebo Norman albums, Jason Gray’s latest album, A Way to See in the Dark (“Remind Me Who I Am” has been essential in my recovery. I hope to post more about this song/album at a later time.  Thank you, Jason Gray, for crafting such a wonderful album!) Select others including Matt Hammitt (latest album, Every Falling Tear, is excellent!), Josh Wilson, NeedToBreathe (mostly The Outsiders.  Yes, I purchased their latest album on iTunes, but haven’t really listened to much of it yet.  Shocking, I know!), and Cat Stevens.

Currently Reading: My NIV Study Bible (does that sound cliché?) as well as daily passages from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young and The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen.  I highly, highly recommend both of these books.  I am just about finished with a powerful, lesser-known book by Elisabeth Elliot called The Path of Loneliness—not for the faint of heart.  An excellent read that I heartily recommend! Next I hope to read God’s Plan B by Pete Wilson and Jenny B. Jones’ latest, There You’ll Find Me as well as a smattering of writing books and whatever else pops up.

Other Randomness: I’m enjoying the new seasons of “Modern Family,” “The Middle,” and “Glee” as well as peeking at “The X-Factor.”  I’ve discovered Facebook games like GnomeTown, Words With Friends (play with me!), and Bejeweled Blitz, as well as exploring my world and spending time with friends, my mom, and of course, my beloved fur and feather children.

Please Pray For Me: To have continued spiritual, mental, and physical healing; that my nasty tooth infection would heal and my root canal procedure could be completed; for the small group Bible study I lead; that I may find a meaningful volunteer opportunity; and for my future writing endeavors.  Thank you so much for your faithful prayers!

So, that’s me…what are you up to?  What’s going on with you and God?  Any new pets or babies or anything I missed?  What are you listening to, watching, doing?  Dish it!

Friday Faves: Dealing with Bummed-Outness Edition

9 Sep

Since I’m going to a Women of Faith conference (full story) this weekend, you’d think I’d be in a great mood.  I mean, what a great opportunity to commune with the people of God, right?  Absolutely!  And I feel the need for it now more than ever.  Looking for a church in the area is taking its toll on me.  So is the pressure of leading a weekly small group.  I’m giving out, but not filling up.   The rainy weather doesn’t help.  Even the local schools are closed due to flooding.  (Is it even safe to go out there?  Should I invest in a house boat?)  Really, I’m just plain ol’ bummed out.

I don’t know what to do for this depression (and anxiety) except to walk through it and know it, too, will pass.  I spend more time praying, thinking, talking to God and less time social networking, hanging out, and uh, showering.  Hopefully, the Women of Faith weekend will kick start my spirit.  Until then, here are some “faves” that help me get through the murky times.

*Bebo Norman is my go-to guy for hard times.  Whether I’m about to have a panic attack or cry my eyes out, I pop in a Bebo album and I feel immediate relief.  It reminds me of when David played his harp for King Saul when Saul was overcome with bouts of madness.  Bebo’s music is a gentle reminder that someone’s been in the depths, made it out, and that God is still very much present.  Lately, I’ve also listened to Jason Gray and Andrew Peterson, and of course, my old stand-bys–Rich Mullins and Fernando Ortega.  I used have specific playlists on my iPod for “sad times” and “mad times” and “happy times,” but they somehow got deleted.  Another song that resonates with me is “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North.  While I enjoy artists like Tenth Avenue North and Josh Wilson, when I’m down and out, their upbeat songs feel like salt rubbed into an raging wound.

*The Book of Psalms is an inspiration for many, and when nothing else makes sense, the psalms usually do.  I particularly love Psalms 42 and 46.  I also turn to the book of Hosea, which may sound like a strange choice, until you consider this passage from Hosea 3: 19-20,

“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.”

As cliche as it sounds, the Bible is an amazing source of comfort in its prose, stories (Elijah, for one), and guidance.

*One day someone who is very dear to me gave me a copy of Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love as a present.  She told me to read it, but not all at once, just bit by bit.  So I did, and still do.  In Nouwen’s most personal work, he shares his journal entries from a time when he underwent extreme hardship (some may call it a “nervous breakdown”).  At the urging of his friends, Nouwen published this book.  I rarely read an entry without bursting into tears. I also read Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (read review), which is great for use in small groups or for personal devotions.

*It may sound silly, but online games like Gnome Town and Words With Friends (both on Facebook) provide needed distraction.  I cannot always live in the pain, focus on the hurt, feel the depression, deal with the anxiety.  So, instead, I build a world of friendly forest creatures and get my butt kicked by high school kids who know more words than me.

*Since I’m a writer, it should come as no surprise that words at a healing balm to my soul.  In his song “The Cure for Pain,” Jon Foreman sings, “So blood is fire pulsing through our veins.  We’re either writers or fools behind the reigns.  I’ve spent ten years trying to sing it all away.  But the water keeps on falling from my tries.”  Like Foreman, I keep trying to write, not sing, it all away.  Still, I keep my journal close by and consider my notebooks full of scribbles among my most treasured possessions.  One of these days, I’m going to get a nice leather or mole skin journal (usually, I get them for 50% off at Barnes & Noble or as gifts from friends).

*Dogs, not diamonds, are a girl’s best friend.  Lonely days seem a little less lonely because of my two dogs–Cassie the Peekapoo (left) and Maddy the Shih Tzu (right).  They sense my mood and cuddle with me more often when I am down.  My bird, Kylie the Cockatiel, chirps praises to God when my spirit feels faint.  Animals are truly a gift from God.  And so are friends and family, who are willing to listen, even they don’t understand or don’t know what to do.

I’m not going to apologize for my less-than-chipper mood because it is my goal to be real, rather than entertaining.  Ideally, I like to be both, but real trumps entertaining.  Pray for me and I will pray for you!

How can I be praying for you right now?  What do you do when you feel bummed out?  Do you suffer from clinical depression and/or anxiety?  What kind of pets do you have?  Do you journal and/or blog to relieve your stress?

I Trust You, Jesus

4 Feb

I try to trust Jesus, especially when it's spooky.

A lot of times I review a book, throw it on my shelf, and move on to the next book. Not so with Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, which I reviewed last year (read review).  Written as though God is directly talking to the reader (to me), Jesus Calling is a 365 day devotional that has changed me.  I began using Jesus Calling at my ladies Bible study as a way to usher us out of our hectic lives and into a holy conversation with God.  It was amazing how each reading seemed to touch everyone in the room…and somehow address every circumstance with which we were dealing.

For 2011, I made the commitment to take my time with God more seriously, making the study of Scripture a priority.  I also started to read Jesus Calling every day.  The book is helping me to see my faith in new ways and it challenges the status quo of what has become a stagnant love relationship with God.

One passage read that in all situation God wants out first reaction to be one of trust.  It read (paraphrased): “When trouble arises, immediately I want you to say, ‘I trust you, Jesus.'”  Such a simple statement, yet so profound.    I’ll say I trust Jesus or God to get me through, but really I trust myself and God.  We make a great team.  Here’s the thing with God–He’s all about His glory.  I often get in His way because I want to do things my highly imperfect way.

Really I have two choices–to trust God or not to trust God.  Therefore, it could save me a lot of pain to trust God, to immediately respond with “I trust you, Jesus.”  And then five minutes later I have to say, “I trust you, Jesus,” again.  And so on and so forth.  As I sink into unbelief, I must quickly pull myself out by reaffirming my trust in Jesus.  My prayer goes something like this, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.  I trust you, God. I trust you, Jesus.”  What it lacks in eloquence, it makes up for in sincerity.

Lately I’ve found myself saying, “I trust you, Jesus” in a lot of situations–driving through a foot of snow to get my mom to the hospital by 5 AM for her hip replacement surgery, sitting through the surgery, dealing with my own health and mental health issues, financial problems (my Sallie Mae loan drama), and even simple tasks like interviewing my friend, Josh Wilson.  Sometimes I have to say it 50 times, sometimes more, yet somehow it’s getting easier to have my first reaction to be one of trust.  It doesn’t mean I don’t freak out, cry, get scared and all that other jazz.  Instead I cry as someone who has hope and trusts that her Abba will work in the situation.  I know that in my own strength I will fail, yet I have the hope that God will carry me through.

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