All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Singing Makes you HAPPY. Sing More. (My Journey through Psalms 95-99)

Sometimes, I come home and all I want to do is sing at the top of my lungs in the shower.

Sometimes, I put on my PJs and socks–and do a Risky Business move down the hallway…once, or maybe twice (ya’ll that’s the BEST part about my awesome new floors…you think I’m kidding. Just ask my dog. I’m not).

Sometimes, when I’m in the car, I roll down the windows and JAM out to whatever song is on the radio.

Sometimes, I turn on one of my favorite musicals (*cough, cough* Newsies *cough, cough*) just so I can sing as loud as I can.

I love to sing. Off key, loudly. It ain’t pretty, or cute, but it just makes me feel…GOOD.

Now, I’m a nerd, so let me tell you what I know about singing.

  1. When you sing, endorphins are released. This also happens when you exercise, but let’s face it. I’d much rather sing then run on a treadmill.
  2. When you sing, you have to breathe in a different way than when you speak. More oxygen in your blood=better circulation. Better circulation=better moods. Breathing techniques are important in meditation and exercise as well, so this only makes sense.
  3. When you sing, you forget about things you thought you needed to worry about. It’s hard to worry too much when you are singing Backstreet Boys as you slide down the hallway in a pair of Batman socks (purely hypothetical…I assure you… :-)).

But even more than these three things about singing here, I know that singing can have a deeply spiritual component. This is why it is such a common motif in Psalms. Songs are poetry. And poetry, according to Dr. Curt Thompson in Anatomy of the Soul, is a powerful tool. He states:

It has several distinct features:

  • By activiating our sense of rhythm, poetry accesses our right-mod operations and systems.
  • Reading [or singing] poetry has the effect of catching us off guard. Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose …don’t apply. This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode procesisng, but to left-mode as well, given its use of language. This makes it a powerful integratvive tool.

Psalm 95-98 all utilize the idea of ‘singing’ to the Lord, about the Lord, for the Lord, as ways to show gratitude, understanding, acceptance, love. Here are a few examples:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud oto the Rock of our slavation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. (Psalm 95: 1-2)

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. SIng to the Lod, raise his name; roclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his golry among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all the peoples (Psalm 96: 1-2). 

Zion hears and rejoices [sings] and the villages of Judah are glad ecause of your juddgments, O Lord (Psalm 97:8).

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; […] Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing (Psalm 98: 1; 4-5). 

And these are only a few of the Psalms–this motif is seen from beginning to end because singing is a part of being human. But beyond just singing is exalting. When we exalt the Lord, we lift him up and acknowledge that he alone is mighty and just. When we sing, we more easily exalt him. We belt out a tune and shout out our praise and worship him without regard for what others think about us. Singing lets us do what we are created to do.

Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy. (Psalm 99:9)

So turn up your radio, put on your socks, and rock out.

Spiritual Struggles : My journey through Psalms (94)

I have, like many people, struggled with anxiety and depression for a good part of my life. It is where the enemy targets me—especially in moments where I am basking in the glory of God’s light. This time of year, November-January, is always the hardest. The days are dark and long. The stress is high. Each day is a battle, a spiritual one.

A few nights ago, around ‘fall back’ time, I had a dream. To the average person, this dream seems mundane at best…stupid at worst, but here it is:

My good friends got together. They did not invite me, I just happened to stumble upon them at a park where they were gathering. They greeted me with smiles and told me the plan. Of course, I was invited, they were glad I was there. But I knew I was an afterthought. 

I walked away. 

A couple of them followed, but wallowing in self-pity, I didn’t return. Instead, I watched the gathering like an omniscient ghost. Every good friend I have ever had, met, or spent time with was there.  Illogically they were together and having a great time without me, even though most of them didn’t know one another. 

Later, I flooded the bathroom–I’m not really sure how that fit into the dreamscape, but I woke up startled and confused, breathing in the anxiety of my dream.

My friends. My Family. The people I do life with. I know they love me. Intellectually I have no problem accepting this. Yesterday I had an amazing time hanging out with some of the people who have been with me since elementary school–clearly not a place of anxiety This dream was stupid, yes, but it also is very telling about my fears. 

But then…

I had dinner with a friend of mine and I said something pretty stupid. My extemporaneous delivery in conversation sometimes is terrible, and my comment was meant as a joke, but based on her reaction I realized it was not life-giving, it damaged hope. I felt bad. I’ve obsessed over it for a few days now, even though I know she immediately either forgot or forgave my insensitivity, I still sometimes struggle with the feeling that one wrong move and all my relationships might just crumble.

 

I fear many things, but rejection is pretty high on the list. Even when I’m with people I love and who I know love me, a part of my mind is always battling against the whisper that I am unwanted–that I don’t fit in and I should stop trying to.

I fear being an afterthought. Forgotten. And worst of all, being isolated in my own head because I allow these fears to become realities.

Because the fact is, sometimes I do allow it.

Psalm 94, of course, spoke to me after a night of restless dreams. Verses 18-19 read:

When I said my foot is slipping, your love, O Lord, Supported me. When Anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy.

The fact is simple. We all have a choice–to lean on God or let the world support us. The world will always let us down. No matter how much our friends and family care–they are only human and they make mistakes. We simply can’t count on them to sustain our life force the way that God alone can.

Don’t get me wrong. Friends and family are important! Jesus had 12 BFFs that he did life with, but even Jesus asserted that we must leave them and trust only in God.

Only then will we find consolation for our weary, fearful souls.

I found this graphic to be simple, but effective. It helps me, so I’m sharing it in case your spiritual battles are equally mind-blowing.

I can’t control every subconscious fear, but I can put God in control, and listen only to his voice. When he is my foothold, then the fears can never control me.

Lift (My journey through Psalms: 93)

Last weekend we had our second annual “Chosen” girls night at GraceLife. We gathered the middle and high school girls together and pampered them with worship and wisdom. I had the great honor of speaking to these beautiful girls who received me with such grace it was easy to forget to be nervous and let God move. The next morning as we were processing together over eggs and bacon, we discussed Lisa Bevere’s advice I shared that as women we should

LIFT

ENCOURAGE

CORRECT

SPUR

The girls asked good questions and one stumped me in my post-sleepover haze. What is the difference between lifting and encouraging? My words escaped me. I did my best and the other leaders picked up my shattered explanations and we moved forward in our discussion. So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when, in my morning devotions Sunday, I read in Psalms that word ‘lift’ again.

3 times to be precise.

Psalm 93 verse 3 says: The seas have lifted up first their voice, then their waves. A quick dictionary turn yielded the definition of this word, lift: to move to a higher position.

Now, this psalm is using seas as a representation, a symbol of the chaos in pagan religions that surround the psalmist’s words–juxtaposed with the firmness of the earth in verse 1 and God’s statues in verse 5, I begin to understand the beauty of this word–LIFT.

Lift out of chaos.

Lift into the heavens

Lift onto the firm ground.

Moving from the lower position to the higher position requires strength.

Encouragement does not require strength. When you encourage someone you are giving hope or confidence, telling them they are on the right path. It requires faith and kindness. Maybe even empathy.

But lifting requires backbone..and humility. It requires a willingness to move beneath someone and lend them your strength till they are higher than you.

I lift my niece.

I lift my students.

I lift my friends.

As Jesus lifted me. Lifted us.

We don’t stay lower after we lift someone, but it requires a certain amount of denial of self to lift someone into a higher position.

The seas lift their voice to praise God to a higher position–out of the chaos.

And we do the same.

We lend our strength to lift others out of the chaos and into the presence of God.

Rest in the Lord (my journey through Psalms: 92)

This morning, out of habit, I pulled up my weather channel app. I like to know what the temperature is like (hot, always hot) where I am and what I should wear that day. Other than the typical SC weather (hot with 1000% chance of humidity), there are always videos–usually of whatever weather event has occurred in the past week or so. Given the current status of things, there have been a plethora of videos. Usually, I glance at them and then pull up the news app on my phone for real details. But today, this video caught my attention.  A tree caught on fire, but from the inside out.

Now, I know this wildfire has been catastrophic from beginning to end and believe me, those affected have been in my prayers.

But this image of a tree burning from the inside out is hauntingly beautiful.

And an incredible picture the human soul.

Seriously. Check out Psalm 92: 12-15a:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; 

When our soul is right with God, we are like planted trees that flourish; our roots run so deep that we can endure harsh conditions and still bear fruit.

But when we are not right with God, we become hollow inside. Dead. Rotting. Susceptible to fire and wind. All it takes is an ember and suddenly we are engulfed in flames. Burning from the inside out until we collapse as ash.

I don’t want to burn from the inside out.

I want to flourish and bear fruit. I want my roots to run deep.

This week I was told I needed to rest…or rather Rest. She said with a capital R. I am always trying to go, do, see–so active–that I have forgotten what it means to just…be. To be a tree, lifting to the heavens even as my roots drink in the beauty of the earth and all God provides for me. Don’t get me wrong, theologically I’ve always known God’s grace is a gift…but in my heart, deep down I have a hard time with the concept.

I don’t simply exist well.

Somewhere in my past, I equated love with action. Success with productivity. Acceptance with accomplishment.

But you can’t earn God’s love.

Honestly, I’m not sure you can earn man’s love either.

All you end up when you try is…empty, exhausted, and burnt out. From the inside out.

The psalmist knew this. He encourages us in 92:1 that

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High

Even as he is speaking he shifts from third to second person. From doing to just being with the LORD. From giving advice to taking advice. To simply praise and be grateful for all the LORD did because he loved us, not because we did something to earn it.

Not to simply DO worship, but to BE it, as my associate pastor at GraceLife Church (Brett) encouraged our youth recently.

To rest in the LORD.

To Rest in the LORD, with the LORD, and for the LORD. Action is important–but sometimes so is your state of being.