A Story of Song

A Story of Song

The disappointments flatten me, make it hard to get up. So I don’t get up right away. I know I don’t have to. I know it’s okay to notice when I’m crushed right down into the carpet, know it’s okay to be confused about how to get up, know that God is here in this place, among the crumbs and the footprints, among the pieces of broken hope. So I stay.

At some point in the flattening, I make my way, like a paper doll, to the piano bench and rummage through it. It always smells like my grandmother’s house, thick with nostalgia and gentleness. It’s her piano, her piano bench, her sheet music stuffed inside. The ordinary treasures minister to me sometimes, give me fuller perspective when I get tangled in today. I shuffle the papers that belonged to a woman of faith, and I rediscover a picture of Grandmother at the piano, young but the same. A picture of a woman whose song was unfailingly Jesus.

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The Bible Is a Story

The Bible Is a Story

My elementary school music teacher loved strawberry pie. She craved it, she told us, until one fateful day when the last bite of a long-awaited slice was corrupted by a bad strawberry. The rotten taste shifted her life’s pie-eating trajectory, and years of bliss were negated by one wayward berry: She no longer craved strawberry pie. “That’s why the last note of a song is so important,” she said.

I can’t remember a thing about my elementary school music teacher, except that strawberry pie anecdote. I’m as concerned as you are that this story has been tucked away in the crevices of my brain for two decades. Why is it so easy for me to remember? Why am I able to respond so fully to the question, “Caroline, can you explain Mrs. McNatt’s aversion to strawberry pie?” yet the question, “What’s the equation of a line?” leaves me flummoxed and RIDDEN WITH SHAME?

Is this evidence that my high school education completely failed me? No, I think it’s less serious than that. 

I think our brains are designed for stories.

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The Light Man: A Creative Retelling of the Big Story of the Bible

The Light Man: A Creative Retelling of the Big Story of the Bible

I have a story to tell you. Or rather, I have a story for you to tell your kids.

But before I tell you the story, here’s a little backstory:

I love to make costumes for my kids. They’re always simple and a little janky up close (the costumes, not the kids—gotta look out for those misplaced modifiers). The tradition is probably not sustainable longterm, but for now it brings me tons of joy, and (for now) the kids love it, too. This year at my sewing machine, a story started to take shape. (It’s it interesting how creativity has a way of spilling out in all different directions? I ignored the laundry.)

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Savoring & Sharing: When God Calls Us to Silence and When He Calls Us to Speak

Savoring & Sharing: When God Calls Us to Silence and When He Calls Us to Speak

The reason why we do things matters, you know? I can tell the difference in my soul when I’m changing outfits because I feel insecure and when I’m changing outfits because the southern weather (once again) unexpectedly changed seasons without warning.

I can also tell the difference when I’m listening to a sermon or a podcast or reading my Bible because I am chasing after togetherness with God or when I’m listening/reading because I want to send the information off to someone else as quickly as possible, like spiritual hot potato.

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The Story of Light: A Creative Retelling of the Big Story of the Bible

“God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.’” From the third verse in the Bible, light and goodness intersect. Later in the Gospel of John, we learn that not only did God create literal light, but that He himself is symbolically light—that by which we see all things. 

We were created to be in this light, to bask in it, to live our lives in its warmth. To string it up along our Christmas trees, to reflect on its illumination and realize that God is every bit as good as He claims to be. Light reminds us that he’s good, that he provides, that he’s powerful. After all, he just spoke, and there it was—light. Is there anything more powerful than that?

But as with any story, that’s only the beginning. Darkness crept in, the way it always creeps in: When we doubt God’s light-creating words. We see it first in the Garden of Eden: Satan whispers to Eve, “Did God really say…” Eve wondered—did God really mean what he said? Is God holding out on me? Is God really good?

Adam and Eve sinned, and the sin changed everything. Instead of basking in light, sin made them want to hide: “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Genesis 3:8). And so it started: hiding, shame, separation. We were created to be with him, to live in his light, but the sin divides things that are meant to be together. Cast out of the garden, Adam and Eve found themselves away from the one true light, plunged into darkness.

This was not just a simple separation—it was a chasm. The chasm between God and man was too deep for anyone to cross, too dark for anyone to conquer. And like a child whose father cannot look at her because of what she’s done, shame became the new reality, expertly tangling itself around our hearts, fusing its darkness into our DNA. Separate from God and devilishly intertwined with shame, we desperately needed rescue. We desperately needed reconciliation. We desperately needed light. And yet we kept chasing the darkness, craving the way it helped us hide.

Even while we chased after the darkness, we saw glimpses of light: God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, led the Israelites through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. He spoke through prophets, he spoke through plagues. He pursued and pursued—36 Old Testament books record his pursuit of us, of God calling his people to himself.

But then, he was silent. And this was not an ordinary silence: God did not speak for 400 years. What is a simple flip of a page for us represents four centuries of silence, generations of humanity hiding in the darkness. Is there anything more hopeless than silence?

But finally—after 400 years, silence was broken. Broken with a baby’s cry.

The baby’s birth was foretold by an angel of the Lord, whose robes shone bright enough to inspire fear, his brightness a mere glimpse of the glorious place from which he came. And he spoke: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). 

God with us? Could God be with us again? In the pain of separation, this is the most beautiful news: I am coming to be with you.

And Jesus was born, not clothed in bright robes of heavenly glory but in swaddling clothes from an earthly loom. Mary held in her arms that for which the world had always yearned: Emmanuel. God with us. In a dark, dirty stable, he was God, and he was light, somehow more brilliant than the host of angels that announced his birth. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

The baby grew into a man, and the man said things no one could believe. He spoke as one who had authority. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Everything He did and said made people marvel, made people wonder: “Is He the one we’ve been waiting for?”

And as he taught, hope spread faster than a flame. The hurting, the discarded, the outcast—there was no one to whom his light could not extend. Crowds were drawn to him, as if they knew they were created to bask in light like his. The Light extinguished not only the external darkness of disease and death but the internal darkness of sin. As 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” It was the brightest time in history, and its rays still stretch out to us today, some 2000 years later.

But The Story of Light is not finished with Jesus’ life. Darkness had been pierced but not conquered. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, wholly God and yet as human as you and I, became overwhelmed by what was required. As blood-infused sweat dripped down his forehead, he cried out. He cried out to the one whose presence he had always enjoyed, whose words he had always treasured. He cried out to Father God to spare him. It was too much. It was too dark. But even in his agony, he did what we should all do in moments of oppressive darkness: he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Darkness came that night with swords. Jesus addressed the angry mob in Luke 22:53: “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

They took light, and they pierced his hands and feet, they spat in his face, they splayed the lash across his back. Those whom he created looked at him with hate, those who once cheered his name called for his life. His disciples turned and ran—the darkness too fearful to bear. Light was growing dim.

In Psalm 22 we hear the prophetic words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (v. 1). Jesus called out to the one who always heard, to the one whose words he always treasured, but this time, there was no response. Through the intense pain of crucifixion, he bore our sin, but he also bore our separation. Oh the agony of a child when a father has turned away! Like a little girl with her nose pressed up to a glass door as her daddy drives away forever, the psalmist begs: “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help” (v. 11). Jesus cried out, but there was no one to hear. He bore not just our sin, but our separation. He became sin who knew no sin, and Father God turned his head.

“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’ And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.” Luke 23:44-48

It was a dark day indeed. Mere hours before, Jesus had been sharing a meal with his disciples, saying curious, ominous words about the bread: This is my body, broken for you. And curious, ominous words about the wine: This is my blood, spilled for you. They took it, and they ate and drank. Maybe they shrugged it off like we often do, ignorant obedience. But within hours—there was his literal body: broken. And there was his actual blood: spilled. As their stomachs turned when Jesus breathed his last, did they remember the sacrifice they had ingested?

Separation reigned again, and with it, the blackest night. He was wrapped up in darkness, enclosed in a tomb. Saturday was oppressively black, the sky thick with death and hopelessness. But in the darkness, we remember the whispered hope: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not over come it” (John 1:5).

Because Sunday—Sunday was different. On Sunday, a cold, still heart warmed, began to beat. On Sunday, pierced, lifeless hands stretched out. On Sunday, closed, unseeing eyes opened. On Sunday, God proved—the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!

“Behold there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see” (Luke 28:2-6).

Death did not win, and there is no better news. How fascinating, how fitting that the first telling of the story is entrusted to women—God knows who’s best at spreading information. And of course the women shared the news and shared it well: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’” (John 20:18).

Our Jesus is alive, and this is no small thing. This is no Easter thing. This is every thing. The old song says, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow/Because he lives, all fear is gone” —but these are not simply words to an old song, this is our commissioning. Because he lives, all fear is gone. With the grave conquered, what have we to fear? It's the ultimate proof that God is the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Because he lives, we take the bread and the wine, allowing his brokenness and his spilled blood to find their way to our insides, permeating our every part. His sacrifice is our sustenance. With tastebuds aware that our togetherness with him came at great cost, we let the cost become a part of us, allowing it to light us up from the inside out, changing the way we live, the way we talk, the way we love. The bread and the wine remind us that Jesus loved us enough to die, that sin and separation and darkness are no match for a love like that.

But here's the obvious and yet not so obvious thing about light: it causes us to see. When we are basking in light, we can better see those around us, and we realize that much of the world is still hiding in darkness, desperate for its coverage, dead in sin, unaware of the victory and the healing power of light. Like John 3:21 says, “The light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light.”

We must preach light to a world that loves darkness. We must preach light to a world oppressed by sin, separate from God. We must preach light to a world that groans.

Don’t you hear the groaning (Romans 8:22)? I hear it. I hear it when I learn of another marriage that’s dissolving. I hear it when a friend calls in tears. I hear it when I’m told of another high school classmate we’ve lost. I hear it with every news article about fires, about terrorism, about shootings. Why does social media tell me, the mother of two precious babies, all the ways that babies can die? Sometimes the whole earth seems to join in a collective cry: “God! Why have you forsaken us?”

Because babies do die.
Parents leave.
Friends betray.
Addiction enslaves.
Cancer steals

But in the groaning (oh friends, I hear you!), in the darkness of Saturday, may we not forget the whispered hope: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

This is why Jesus loaned us his own metaphor. In Matthew, he calls us light: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 14-16).

This is why we, like Mary Magdalene, shout “I have seen the Lord!” Shout like the psalmist, “Come and see what God has done!” This is why we tell our children, “let me tell you what God has done for my soul.” This is why His story must ever be on our lips.

What great hope we can tell this groaning earth that the story is not done! The last book of the entire Bible reveals the ultimate ending, the ultimate conquering of darkness: 

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

“They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:5

And so, until the day when he physically dwells with us again, until the day when He wipes away every tear, until the day when His glory quite literally lights our path, let’s remind ourselves, let’s remind one another what he’s done. Let’s remind one another who he is. He is Light, and he is good. He is God, and he is with us.

Dear, light-bearer: The dark world is in desperate need of you. The same God who spoke light into existence has spoken the same word over you. May you shine as obediently and as brilliantly as the rays at the beginning of Creation. May you feel the warmth of the Light of the World, because he is here: Emmanuel, God with us.