A few weeks ago, I swerved my car into the parking lot adjacent to the Chick Fil A restaurant six miles from my country house and glanced at my watch, so glad that I was on time. I knew we’d only have a few minutes. Most of the parking lot at the restaurant had already been roped off and overtaken with a stage, large speakers and lights. Fold out chairs were set in rows facing the platform but I know a little about the spiritual side of Houston and that most of those listeners would only sit in those chairs until the first note. Then they’d be up on their feet. This is a hot, sweaty, some-might-even-say-homely town in a lot of ways but it is a fair and lovely place to those who love Jesus. Maybe one of the reasons is that our area is home to a really fabulous, award-winning Christian contemporary radio station – KSBJ, 89.3 FM – that serves as a central station for unity, that turns up the volume on worship and still fights harder to win souls than awards. They host something called “Brown Bag Concerts” throughout the year where they bring in various CCM artists to do concerts at different Chick Fil A restaurants around the city. (I feel so sorry for you – truly I do – if you do not live where there is a Chick Fil A or, worse yet, if you have no idea what one is. Move.)
That day the artist going up on stage was Christy Nockels. My pastor of 25 years, John Bisagno, used to say, “All people bring gifts to the church. Some people are gifts to the church.” Christy would be one of those. A year or so ago (not sure how long it’s been), we invited her to one of our LPM Tuesday night community Bible studies. As I sat to the side and watched the women packed in that sanctuary and the aisles, lifting their faces throne-ward, many of them with their eyes closed and their hands raised, and listened to their voices in almost perfect pitch with hers, I had a revelation of sorts. I realized that in so many ways, Christy is to this generation what Amy Grant was to mine. She helps place words on the tongues of true worshipers who want so much to express themselves to God but don’t always know how to say what they feel. That makes a person a gift.
As I got out of my car and headed across to Chick Fil A, I spied my two friends, Christy and Nathan, and they were grinning at me just like I was grinning at them. We hugged then headed into the small RV so we could chat a little while. Mike McCloskey, who was managing the evening for them, asked me if I wanted anything from the restaurant while we were visiting and, of course, I did. “Nuggets and an Ice Dream? Oh, and Polynesian Sauce?” And in minutes, I had them. While I spooned Ice Dream into my mouth (always spoon down, for some reason), we conversed quickly like a couple of people on borrowed time. We talked mostly about their kids, my kids, and my grandkids, and did a bit of musing about Passion 2012 and had some wild thoughts about Passion 2013. We got out pictures on our iPhones and even watched a video their son Noah had created. (Actually, it was astonishingly impressive. But I guess his gene pool is nothing to whine about, now is it?)
Mike reminded them about the time and Christy glanced over at me and said, “Hey, Beth, do you care if we rehearse one song really quickly?”
“Absolutely not. Please, do!”
And so I sat right there on the couch in that RV, six inches from Christy to my right and Nathan across from us, leaning in with his guitar. We were all three crouched in about 4 square feet. And I listened to a song I’d never heard from a voice truly as beautiful as any I’ve ever heard. The album is out now so you may well have already heard it but I really need you to join me in the intimacy – no, the strange sanctity, really – of that small RV and hear it again. With nobody else listening. Just you. Just the voice singing. Just that guitar. And Jesus.
“I’m so concerned with what I look like from the outside.
Will I blossom into what You hope I’ll be.
Yet You’re so patient just to help me see.
The blooms come from a deeper seed that You planted in me.
Sometimes it’s hard to grow when everybody’s watching.
To have your heart pruned by the one who knows best.
And though I’m bare and cold, I know my season’s coming.
And I’ll spring up in Your endless faithfulness.
With my roots deep in You, I’ll grow the branch that bears the fruit.
And though I’m small, I’ll still be standing in the storm.
‘Cause I am planted by the river by Your streams of living water.
And I’ll grow up strong and beautiful, all for Your splendor, Lord.
So with my arms stretched out, I’m swaying to Your heartbeat.
I’m growing with the sound of Your voice calling.
You’re bringing out the beauty that You have put in me.
For Your joy and for Your glory falling.”
Written by Christy Nockels and Nathan Nockels, Copyright 2012 sixsteps Music/worshiptogether.com Songs/Sweater Weather Music (ASCAP) (Admin. at EMICMGPublishing.com)
As that melody floated in the air, I pictured Annabeth running down the path from my house to Big Pops and Memmaw’s, sunlight dancing in her dark honey hair. I pictured Amanda and Melissa, each of them growing up before my eyes in Christ. So, so different from the other, just the way they’ve always been, but equally breathtaking. My mind cased across the faces of so many women I’ve seen, faces reflecting the light bouncing from an open page of Scripture. Oh, now, you know I love our brothers. But I’m not called so much to our brothers. I’m called mostly to sisters. And somehow the lyrics touched me in a deep place for all of us. Deep enough that I’ve thought of it every day since then and played it many times in the same car I pulled into that parking lot. Now I know it almost by heart. But that day I knew it more by faith. More by growing experience.
I want to say to you today that I watch many of you fight this good fight, trying to keep your equilibrium in this crazy culture where – for the most part – a woman is as desirable as she is sensual. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, she’s as valuable as she is marketable. I want to cheer you on and say to you, Good Job! And Don’t Give Up! And don’t forget, no matter what this world tells you, that the most gorgeous blooms come from a deeper seed. The lyrics ring so true. “It’s hard to grow up when everybody’s watching.” And sometimes God lets others behold the pruning process in us when we’d just as soon have done it in private. But He always knows what He’s doing. And He is only doing you good. Never evil. Never harm. He cannot be unbiased toward you. The blood of His Son flows through your veins. Even through the silence He is talking. Even in the stillness, He is moving. He is hemming you in. He is closing in on you to open you up to Him.
All that you are going through, all that you are learning, is bringing out the beauty that He has put in you. And some of those same folks who watched the pruning will see the blooming.
I just want you to know that I already see it happening. And others already see it, too. And if you’d look really close, not into your rear view mirror, but into His Word, I think you could even catch a glimpse of it.
You get more beautiful by the day, Darling Child. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t decide it can’t matter all that much. “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for His name in serving the saints, as you still do.” (Hebrews 6:10) He will see to you until you are stunning for His splendor.
I know your season’s coming.
PS. I totally forgot until this morning (Tuesday) that we snapped this picture that day in the RV on my iPhone. If you’re like me, you love pictures in blog posts. If you’re not like those of us who do, stop reading now. Laughing. Man, I so love you guys.