Wisdom From a Ten-Year-Old Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

In case any of you are like me, and you are waiting to see about the InspireSong songwriting contest results, for which we've just learned we'll have to wait a little longer, let's you and I wait together.

Songwriting contests. I have entered just a few... I still am working through my issues about why God values me, and why it doesn't matter so much about how the world values me. Anybody? I do want to grow in my craft, however, and so I did decide to enter, hoping for a bit of feedback, hoping to learn from the other writers. And also because my ten-year-old daughter, who is a writer herself, was watching. "Mom. What's the worst thing that can happen? Besides, your songs are good. You should do it." So what choice did I have?

With over 500 of us having thrown in a song, that's a lot of hopes and dreams. That's a lot of us wondering "is my song good?" or "what might God do with this song," or "maybe I can win the prize." Over 500 of us, with our pens, papers, pianos, guitars, or whatever other instruments we've used. We've used our gifts to bring glory to God.

Here's what I think: the songs we've written matter to Him. Every note, every word, I think it all comes together like a giant mosaic piecing together our perception of the Most High. Do you remember those posters in the 80's and 90's of famous images like the Mona Lisa, but they were made up of hundreds of little tiny Mona Lisas? My song is just one tiny Mona Lisa, and I keep thinking about that, and how it's ok if my Mona Lisa doesn't get to be the pupil of her eye. Maybe it's just a little part of the hem of her sleeve. But it is up there, it is a part of the big picture.

And still, it would be so thrilling and fun, right? To get to win at something. To feel affirmed. I want to affirm every single one of you who were gutsy enough to put your song in. We took a risk, we put ourselves into a song and then put that song out into the world to see whom it might touch, to find out whom it might move.

When I found out we'd have to wait a little longer for the finalists to get posted, I told my daughter. She said, "You know what you should do, Mom? Think of something to do every day until then, like one day practice your singing, then the next day play the guitar or write a song."

How do ten-year-olds know so much?

So bless you, dear songwriter, whether you entered the Contest or not. Our songs all make up the big picture. God really hears them. I believe it! Our song may be for the whole wide world, or it may be just for us alone. But like my daughter said, let's keep on working while we wait to see what God is up to!


Peace,
Ginny

posted by Ginny Halstead on 04/20/2016

Jesus loves Thomas, too. Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

I was so inspired by the film "Risen." Have you seen it? I know I'm a little behind the crowd here... that's about how I roll.

Anyway, in the film Risen, Yeshua is so close and personal with his disciples, so kind and caring. To see this portrayal really helped me envision that brotherhood together. And it helped to remind me of how Jesus is like this with us, even though we can't see him in the same way the disciples did. I'm one of those Christians that needs a lot of reminding. How about you? What helps you to remember our close friendship with Jesus?

I was also fascinated with one of the guards who was being questioned by the protagonist, Clavius. The guard whom Clavius was interviewing had been present at the moment Christ broke free from his tomb. I understand that the writers were going from their imaginations when they wrote many of the scenes, since we are not told in scripture exactly what this moment looked like. What we are told in the 28th chapter of Matthew is:

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

What I have usually surmised from that passage is that the guards must have passed out, unable to view the full glory of God. In the film, the guard is found drinking in a tavern, in a rather disheveled state, attempting to make sense out of this event that he has witnessed. He gives details about the resurrection, and, unable to find all the right words to explain what he saw, says that it was "everything." (yes, yes, I know these are imagined by the movie writers. But go with me here...) As a songwriter, I could sympathize! The poor fellow wants so badly to describe what he has seen! Words fail him. Why? For one thing, he's not able to reconcile what he has seen with what he understands of the world. And he was there in person! As an aside, he is also loath to continue to tell the story the chief priests have bade him tell: that Jesus' body was stolen. Having witnessed this event, he is too amazed and shaken to know what to think, but he cannot bear to tell this false story. Again, writers are filling in some details from their imaginations, although we are told in scripture about the chief priests giving the guards a story they are ordered to pass along:

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.

Clavius also says that he is unable to reconcile two things he has seen: Jesus on the cross, dead, and then this same Jesus, alive again. It is a crazy, crazy thing. This Easter Sunday, Pastor John Fanous taught us about this at First Covenant Church of Oakland. He made us really stop and consider how very impossible this is... that Jesus was dead, and then that he was, and is, alive again. I was thankful for Pastor John's drawing our attention to this, since as Christians it is easy for us to become desensitized to the wonder of this truth. Pastor Marco Ambriz then prayed for us, thanking God for meeting us wherever we are on our journey.

Here is my challenge for us: I believe the Church* (*and by this, I mean the entire body of Christ, all of us who are seeking and following Jesus, which would include but not be limited to my beautiful church that is filled with humans like me)... as I was saying, I believe the Church needs to make more space for people like this guard, who are fumbling to make sense out of the gospel. People like Thomas, who, despite the fact that his friends told him that Jesus was alive, needed to go and see for himself. I believe Jesus loved Thomas just as much as he loved the others, even though Thomas also had trouble reconciling the amazing event of the resurrection with what he knew of Earth, of people, of life. I love that guy.

On my faith journey, I find that I sometimes need say to God, "I believe! Help me make sense of this! How can it be? Help me to have faith." I firmly believe that we are told stories in scripture of people just like us, people who struggled to make sense out of miracles. Our Abba loves us so much, I believe He knew we would need these kinds of stories.

If you are in a season in which you find yourself feeling a lot like Thomas, you are in good company. There are many! If you are in a season in which you feel a deep confidence and firm footing in Christ, then, I praise the Lord with you! And I dare you, my dear brother or sister, to think of ways to cultivate a humility in your journey that will sweetly attract the Thomases, rather than convict them.

And PS, what do we do with our doubts?

When I am struggling with doubts or with comprehending the nearness of my God, sometimes I listen to music from brothers and sisters on the same journey as I'm on. It is like a spiritual I.V., hooking up those earbuds! For an example, I bet many of you are familiar with the song "Mystery." Sara Groves says her faith is "always there before me, and I can no more own it than I can own the road that I am on." Yet she resolves to follow after Jesus, and she trusts that the mystery will rise up to meet her. What a beautiful song! I've listened to it many times, and it brings such comfort to know that a sister I admire, who is such a minister of the Gospel of Jesus, also acknowledges the mystery.

Another thing I do when I am struggling with doubts is I try to dig in and serve. If I get busy with the action of the Gospel, it can give my mind a break from the deep ponderings that I once in awhile feel I could nearly drown in. God has been gracious to me, keeping my eyes above the waves on the sojourns into the deep ponderings, though, and I think I'll always have a soft spot for Thomases. (Like me.)

How about you? How do you keep Christ's amazing, mysterious resurrection power at the forefront of your mind and heart? I would be so blessed to hear about your journey.

Peace,
Ginny

posted by Ginny Halstead on 03/31/2016

(Palm Sunday) Why I Like Having a "Brown Thumb" Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)


At my mother's house, there are always a whole lot of houseplants looking green and robust. She loves to take care of her outdoor plants, too. She has a home with my step-dad in the Houston area, and if you've never been to Houston, just imagine how it feels when you step into a sauna. It's your basic rainforest climate, except with the occasional hurricane. Besides being a natural gardener, my mom has spent years mastering the skills needed to grow a fabulous array of plants in her humid backyard, and today it looks like a tiny tropical resort back there.

I, on the other hand, write songs. The green thumb skipped a generation, because I definitely do not have it. I have one surviving house plant, and this is because my mom grew it for me before I got married and had the wedding florist use a small clipping of it for my bouquet. My sentimentality, it turns out, trumps my brown thumb. (I admit it is an ivy, the world's easiest houseplant besides a cactus.) This plant, I have not killed. But other green things don't fare as well in my care. If there were a society for the prevention of cruelty to plants, someone would turn me in.

An interesting side effect of my brown thumb is that I get to watch almost-dead things come back to life with more frequency than someone like my mom, whose plants are never in mortal danger. Sometimes a plant of mine will be at death's door, and I will notice it and water it really thoroughly, maybe cut away the dead parts, perhaps reposition it in a more favorable location. Once in a blue moon, I might even put a shot of Miracle Grow in the soil. (They have invented handy little sticks that you just poke down into the soil, specially made for people like me who tend to be lazy with plants.) I'm no theologian, but I can think of some desert times in my life when God has poured in His living water. You too? At times when I've spread myself too thin, He's trimmed away dead stuff that is sapping my life force. Sound familiar? At times when I was not basking in His life-giving light, He's helped to reposition me into a healthier situation. Anybody? And whenever I open His word, it is pure Miracle Grow.

Please don't think I'm advocating that we ought to mess up all of the time just so we can see God do His thing. But wait, isn't that what ends up happening? Isn't that the human condition? We sin. It's kind of inevitable. We try our best, but let's face it: we are like Swiper from Dora the Explorer, ("Swiper, no swiping!!) when every morning we look in the mirror and say to ourselves "Sinner, no sinning!" (I lifted that straight from a sermon, that was from Pastor Marco Ambriz.) We're human, so sinning is what we do. Yet Romans chapter 6 teaches us more about this:

6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

I don't think this means we quit sinning forever and ever. But thank goodness, when we look in the mirror, we can have a new identity: beloved, forgiven, redeemed. Christ makes us new, doesn't He? For me, this process is ongoing. I am always so amazed when a plant, the morning after it has received just the smallest amount of TLC, is able to make its leaves stand back up. It turns a bright, vibrant green again. I imagine God watches us as we re-gain the vibrancy He planned for us, as we stand back up tall after being freed from our back-breaking shame. His compassions are new every morning, as we are taught in Chapter 3 of Lamentations:

22 Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Every morning. That's really good news, people. Maybe someone has the kind of struggle that they can only manage by getting through one day at a time. So it is good to know that our God takes care of us way better than I take care of my plants.

As we enter into Holy Week, a most precious time of our spiritual calendar, I will leave you with this passage from Ephesians chapter 1, and I will be praying this over you, dear brothers and sisters:

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in His holy people, 19 and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 He exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated
Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms...

May His resurrection power continue to work in your life.

Peace,
Ginny

posted by Ginny Halstead on 03/20/2016

Losing an Hour Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)


I struggle with the management of time. I confess that as an at-home mom, some days I accomplish embarrassingly little. So the prospect of losing an hour when we Spring Forward is particularly disheartening. I am pleased to report that despite the onset of daylight saving time, I delivered 50% of my children to school before the bell rang. That is a glass half-full in my book. Even still, on this first Monday of DST, like many of you, I'm pretty wiped out, notwithstanding my second whole cup of coffee, so this is going to be short and sweet. (You've also lost an hour, so you don't have time to read a long blog anyway. God bless the two of you who are reading it. Thanks, Mom and Dad.)

What does the Bible have to say about time?

Probably the most famous instruction we find is in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens."

Notice it says "There is a time for everything," not "There is time for everything." Hear it anew today: there is a designated time for each thing.

We creative types, we have so many IDEAS, right? Do you ever find yourself wishing there were two or three of you, just so you would have the power to implement all of your ideas? I know I do. My dad and I often joke about how nice it would be to have the luxury of a personal assistant. What things we could accomplish! But if I'm honest, a better explanation is that I lack the amount of discipline to do many of the things I dream up. I daydream, I piddle, I organize a drawer full of sticky notes that was already organized. Other days, I run around like a small tornado, washing the clothes, putting away groceries, shampooing the dog.

Even on the days I work my list, I still catch myself doing several things at once: texting in multiple conversations simultaneously, for example. Or better yet, I'll pause between texts and discover I'm holding a dirty dish in one hand, two envelopes under my arm, an errant sock in the other hand, and the dog's leash around my wrist. I experience the illusion of efficiency, but I don't think it actually plays out that way, especially when I trip on the leash and then have to go find carpet spray to clean the spaghetti sauce that spilled from the bowl. In the interim, the envelopes get lost, and the sock gets swallowed by the dog, because he needed a little dessert after taking care of the spaghetti sauce.

Thankfully, in His wisdom, God teaches us in Ecclesiastes that there is a specific time for each thing. Doesn't that sound orderly? Lord, help me learn the time for every purpose under Heaven! Help me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, so that I may be present in the task at hand. In this way, may I faithfully and wholeheartedly serve the people you have placed around me. I pray this also for my creative songwriting brothers and sisters.

This week, how might God be teaching us to discern the proper time for each purpose He has given?

Peace,
Ginny

posted by Ginny Halstead on 03/14/2016

Just Keep Writing Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)

I am my husband's biggest fan, and by extension, a very biased Pixar fan, since that's where he works. Like millions of other people, I love little blue Dory from Finding Nemo. I am betting you've heard her song about "Just Keep Swimming." This song, with its tendency to get stuck in one's head faster than you can say 'seaweed,' is really good advice. Many things may be accomplished if we just refuse to quit. Some familiar people in the Bible give us a variety of pictures about this...

When Noah was making his ark, and everybody kept teasing him, he just kept building.

When Moses was leading the slaves out of Egypt, and they were complaining, he just kept walking.

When Mary poured out her perfume on the Lord's feet, and everyone was shocked, she just kept washing.

When Peter and James and John were in the boat, and Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they followed his directions and kept fishing. (With apologies to Dory.)

When Peter stepped out onto the waves to go to Jesus and the waves kicked up, he needed to just keep looking at Jesus.

And when Jesus was on the cross, being mocked, tortured, and giving up His life for people who at that time despised him, He kept forgiving. And He keeps working His resurrection power in all of us, day after day making all things new.

You could come up with lots and lots of other examples, I'm sure. But here's the one I have for you today, dear songwriter. You have received a special gift, a way to share the love and the grace of Jesus: you are able to write songs! So, just keep writing, just keep writing, what do we do, we write, write write...

Here are some practical writing fluency strategies I like. Please chime in with your brainstorms and add to the list. There are a lot of really smart folks around here on Indieheaven, I can already tell...

1. Let go of the outcome; write for the exercise of writing. I attended a workshop with Joy Williams years ago, and I still
remember when she said "dare to suck," by which she meant, generate a ton of ideas and don't worry if they are good
or not. Save the editing part of your brain for later.
2. Make up new lyrics to a song with a melody you love or vice versa.
3. Re-write the words to a secular song in order to share the Gospel. My good friend & talented songwriter Margena
Wade is really good at this, and she shares her created songs at FCC often. I love her "Hosanna" from Toto's
Rosanna! She also testifies in "If you don't know Him by now." after Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
4. Flip to a random page in the hymnal and give an unfamiliar set of lyrics a new melody. Those old hymns have
timeless wisdom. We often think we've got problems they didn't have "back then," but a glance into the hymnal d
disproves this very quickly.
5. Co-write with somebody, especially someone whose main genre is different from yours.
6. Write a song each day for 30 days.
7. Too busy to sit and write? That's ok, people made up songs long before anyone had paper. Sing in the car, sing at
the sink, sing in the bathroom. The songs I make up en route are usually more singable and simple, because I have
to rely on my memory to make them up.
8. Infuse your song DNA with new music. Treat yourself with new music from a favorite artist. I bet they have a new
album you haven't checked out yet.
9. Most of all, show up every day, or weekly, at a sacred time. Show up. Keep showing up. Pray and give the time to
God. Play through your old songs. I think new songs will come. Just keep writing.
10. How about you? What strategies help you to keep writing?

According to Ephesians 2:10, We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do! Hear this powerful truth again as if for the first time. We're His workmanship. We're His "poema," his love poems to the world. He has prepared assignments just for us.

May He continue to bless you as you just keep writing.

Peace,
Ginny

posted by Ginny Halstead on 03/05/2016

The Desires of Our Heart Subscribe To My Blog (RSS)(Click this icon to Subscribe)


Hi, I'm new here at Indieheaven.

May the peace of Christ be with you, dear reader, and may this find you with many new songs percolating in your notebooks/keyboard/strings/cocktail napkins.

While cleaning out my clutter, Kon Marie style: http://konmari.com/en/ I came across a notebook from the Mt. Hermon Worship in the Redwoods conference in 2010. (It sparks joy, so I'm keeping it.) I had attended a workshop with our very own Keith Mohr on Mentorship, in which he imparted 10 valuable tips for the indie artist. This found treasure, coupled with incoming emails about InspireSong 2016, gave me the gumption to go ahead and actually JOIN Indieheaven, at last. So that's how I got here.

Tip #10 from Keith, in his countdown of tips, was "Calling vs Desire." In my notebook I had written "It's OK to love what we're doing! He wants us to have the desires of our heart." (Here I had drawn a heart.) And I think he was talking about the kinds of desires we have when we take delight in the Lord, as in Psalm 37:4. Keith then took us through some ways to discern our calling. It was good stuff. Seeing those notes today made me think back about the desires of my heart...

When I was in middle school, the desire of my heart was to be Laura Branigan. Or Olivia Newton-John. Or Cyndi Lauper. I could picture myself with really big hair, belting a clever/gorgeous pop tune at the top of my lungs, clutching that wireless mic, on a stage with all sorts of crazy spotlights, in front of a large, cheering, validating audience. This would make me special. This would make me important. This would make me count. This particular desire of my heart was more like what Paul was referring to in Galatians 5:24 when he said "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

Now that I'm 42, I'm no Laura Branigan. I can say God has been very good and really patient with me regarding whom my audience would or would not be, and what the purpose for my singing in front of anyone (or alone in my house) would be. The "crucifixion" process has been more of a careful process of nurturing, rather than a horrid process of torture. I'm so grateful for how my Abba has cared for me in this way.

I admit I do still wonder if my life will count for anything after it's done. Which reminds me God is still working on me, praise be to Him.

I mean, so many of the things I do day to day as a stay at home mom are "invisible." I fold laundry (occasionally) that is worn by my family, tossed on the floor, collected, sorted, washed, and then needs more folding. This occurs in mere days! There is nothing permanent or enduring about this task. I also cook meals (once in awhile) that disappear into the mouths of my family, and yes, the nutrition will become part of their cells (gee, I hope I bought organic), so I suppose in a very roundabout way, I do see the results, eventually, on their smiling faces or the way they grow. I am compelled to add that several minutes after said meal has vanished, my twelve-year-old is hungry again. More food prep, more mess, more cleanup. I realize the whole point of food is that it ought to disappear, but a person can start to feel like nothing she does will last.

I do have the privilege of leading worship a couple of times each month with my brothers and sisters at FCC Oakland while we all stumble and fumble toward our grace-giving Jesus. This task is admittedly visible in a way. But in other ways, it is invisible. I don't usually get to see the result of my work. Did the people meet with God? Did my efforts help to facilitate that meeting? Did I do a good job?

From dust have I come, and to dust shall I return. This can be a rather discouraging truth.

And yet here is the thing: It is very, very OK that I'm not Laura Branigan.

I'm going to skip to #1 (spoiler alert!) of Keith's countdown: "God is the Center." I don't get to be Laura Branigan, or Sara Groves, or any of the parade of talents I have seen and heard in my lifetime. Why, just last weekend, I was so blessed to see the lovely Lily Jones of Colorfair leading worship at Mission Springs Mothers and Daughters in Scotts Valley, California. Wait- correction: I was able to meet with God, thanks to the leadership Lily and her team provided. Boy howdy, was that terrific. *Sigh,* I don't get to be Lily Jones, although it looks like a pretty sweet gig. But no, I get to be Ginny Halstead, a forgiven child of God, wanted, and dearly loved by Him. Most people have never heard of me and never will. Crowds of people will never raise their hands for me like they do for rock stars. But I am raising my hands to Him, and he is swinging me, or holding me close, or teaching me something from his Word that is living and active. I write and sing songs because it feels good and right and joyful. I am one of His kids, and I am approaching my Father's throne of grace with confidence. Woo-hoo!

Of course I fail at this endeavor of humble service often. (Duh). I covet other people's gigs. I end up letting Jesus be on the side of my life. I get stressed out and forget the Main Point of Life. I feel aimless, rotten. I forget to place Him at the center.

Yet each time I turn my face back toward Him, He receives me with such gentleness. His love really is unfailing. As Sara Groves reminded us in her song, "You are the Sun," when we turn our faces to Him, we are able to reflect his light. I hope we can be encouraged to keep on turning our faces toward Him. I'll leave you with that thought.

Thank you, Keith Mohr, for creating Indieheaven, and thank you, fellow indies, for populating it with yourselves and your songs. I look forward to finding community here. Today that's the desire of my heart.

Peace,
Ginny

posted by Ginny Halstead on 02/28/2016