It had been one of those really bad days at work, I was frustrated with the conversation I had had the night before, and I had just received some really disappointing news.
I was in a bad mood and to make matters worse, the one thing I would normally go to as a release for those kinds of negative emotions wasn’t working.
I’d been dealing with this extended period of writers block for over a week and for the life of me, I could not get past it.
Writing has become my release; my outlet not only for all that God continues to teach me, but also for all the negative stuff that builds up in any given day. I have a number of essays and posts that don’t get published mainly because they’re the result of me taking my frustration out on my keyboard.
So for me to be unable to write, I had to get that stuff out somehow, so I turned to music and running.
These long runs quickly turned into a sort of therapy session for me, allowing me the time and space to just tune it all out and release.
I created a playlist for my running excursions which is mostly made of up NF and Lecrae and a little bit of TobyMac in there too.
For most of my life, Christian rap was never one of those music genres that I would get into. Sure, I had a brief rap phase back in like High School, but since then my music taste has generally stuck to the same Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, and Tenth Avenue North type playlists.
But this NF guy – I mean seriously, its good stuff.
I got back from my run Friday evening with about an hour to spare before I had to be at the church for this women’s retreat that was scheduled for Friday night and Saturday morning.
Since it had just not been a good day at all and I was still dealing with a lot of frustrations, I certainly was not chomping at the bit to get to this women’s retreat. In fact, I really did not want to go at all (and almost didn’t).
But by the grace of God and the gentle nudge of a couple friends, I found myself sitting in the near back row of this room full of women joyfully singing and worshiping.
The melodies they sang grinded with the NF lyrics that were still on constant repeat in my head from my run earlier and I felt guilty; like maybe I shouldn’t be feeling this way; maybe I was wrong for relating more to those rap songs than to Hillsong United; maybe I was wrong for feeling this down, this frustrated, this anxious.
What was wrong with me?
The applause shook me out of my inner reprimand as Lori Hoyt, the main speaker at this women’s conference, walked on stage. Because I had attended this retreat last year, a lot of her content was familiar. However, at one point during that Friday night session, she proceeded to explain the difference between hope and encouragement – something I hadn’t heard before.
Encouragement tells you that it’s okay because the situation you’re facing really isn’t that bad; the struggles you’re dealing with could always be worse, and the pain that you’re feeling will certainly pass.
You just have to cheer up a bit.
It could always be worse, you know? It really isn’t that bad.
Hope however, tells you that the situation you are facing is definitely that bad; the struggles you’re dealing with might very well be the worst you’ll ever have to face, and that pain? Yeah, that pain is real.
It is real and it is raw.
But hope goes on to tell us that God is real too.
That His grace will only be magnified in the worst of struggles (James 4:6).
And that there is absolutely no pain that heaven cannot heal (Psalm 147:3).
Hope legitimatizes what we feel and places God right smack dab in the middle of it all – sometimes not even to shine a light into our darkness, but to just be in the thick of it with us.
The scolding in my head had finally grown silent as I was filled with a sense of relief.
It was as if God was reminding me in that moment that it was okay that I didn’t necessarily want to be there.
It was okay to feel the way that I felt because He was bigger than all of that, yet still in it with me.
As these truths began to replace the lies being thrown around in my head, two songs quickly came to mind. First, my all-time favorite song – It is Well with My Soul settled on my heart as more of a longing to return to the peace of knowing that regardless my circumstances; regardless the good days and the bad, it is always well with my soul.
However, almost immediately the lyrics to I’ll Keep On by NF ft. Jeremiah Carlson came flooding back into my mind as well.
Oh these hands are tired / Oh this heart is tired / Oh this soul is tired / But I’ll keep on / I’ll keep on / I’ll keep on.
As I felt torn between how I wanted to feel, what I felt was expected of me in that moment, and how I really felt, God, through His amazing, beautiful gift of writing, guided my hand as it formed the letters into words and the words into one, cohesive state of being – It is well with my soul but oh, this soul is tired.
I was tired of trying; of forcing words that simply weren’t there and coming up empty.
But, even though it was tired, it was still truly, deeply, and wholly well with my soul.
Lori Hoyt, through personal experiences and stories, reminded us that God often takes His most beautiful gifts for us and wraps them in ugly wrapping paper.
The Son of the Living God and Savior of this world was handed to us wrapped in dirty rags and placed in a feeding trough. I’m not sure it gets any uglier than that, but that gift inside…?
Oh that gift was beautiful.
Sometimes things aren’t pretty; sometimes circumstances don’t strike us as good, and sometimes how we deal with them might look and sound ugly.
David writes in agony as I did that night, pouring out his soul’s longing in Psalm 42.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you…By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.
By day the Lord is in the thick of it with me. By night the Lord is by my side.
There is always hope.
God is always in the middle of it, and sometimes that hope is found in the most unlikeliest of places.
God had something else in mind for that week. Instead of meeting me at my usual corner table at the coffee shop through writing, He decided to join me on those long runs with NF blaring through my headphones, teaching me that sometimes it is in the ugliest (w)rapping that we find the greatest hope.