Context for Tragedy: How Intentional Worship Helps
My niece Hayden Dixie died suddenly on a Saturday night in a far away county and none of us knew until Thursday. She was 18 years old.
She’d been a runaway for years, compelled by some inner flight response now fueled by addiction. A week before, by divine coincidence I had gotten to see her in person for the first time in months and I held her in my arms, kissed her soft cheeks and heard her say, “I love you, Aunt Lori,” over and over again as I answered her back with my own love. I got to look into her beautiful, rich brown eyes and slowly tell her for our whole family how we love her, we accept her, we like her, we think she’s funny and so pretty and we always want her to be with us. I saw her hear me, taking it in like a river.
A week later, high out of her mind, she ran into highway traffic without looking and passed away on impact.
The coroner of the county couldn’t identify her, so her body lay for days alone as a Jane Doe. They publicized photos of her tattoos on the news and online and they soon found their way to John and Carrie, her parents.
That’s the word for how our hearts felt upon hearing the news. It was around 9:30 on a Thursday night when word began circulating, calls being made, visits to Grandma happening. Tears. Shock. Cries of “NO” and wails. Wracking sobs; dogs coming near, sitting down to comfort. Desperate hugs and intense gratefulness for each other being alive. More phone calls made to tell distant family. Racing thoughts about how many prayers we’d prayed for her, talks we’d had with her, hope we’d held out to her. Over now. Just so sad, so so so so sad. No words.
Grief is heavy. It sits on your chest like a giant. It’s sharp too; frequent jabs like an ice pick right over the right breast. It’s persistent, a churning vague ache in your belly that will not go away. It keeps you from sleeping, chattering in your mind and murmuring at once for hours. Time seems to crawl; you’re stuck, moving slowly in molasses mode and you don’t care at all.
Yet the world keeps moving at the same pace it always did. Quick and flippant, taking everything for granted, life around you goes on. At this slow pace you can observe more than usual, and what you see stands in stark relief—what’s important and what’s not becomes quite clear against one another.
Obligations become optional as people feel compassion and move in to help however they can. Some events, however, must go forward…and therein lies the challenge.
What do you do with grief when you’re the worship leader of a large gathering of people who aren’t grieving…whose lives are moving at the normal pace, who do not have the same keen, raw awareness of how dear, how poignant every detail is? How do you push down a feeling the size of Texas inside without bursting? What’s the recipe for authenticity and appropriateness while you’re processing the biggest loss and tragedy of your life so far?
I came into rehearsal Friday with no breath. Grief is heavy and you literally can’t breathe deeply. You sigh more than breathe, which makes belting notes pretty impossible.
Also, I had questions. Singing the line, “show me one thing He can’t do/show me a mountain He can’t move/He’s the God of the breakthrough and anything is possible” gave me pause. I went through the motions with the mic at my mouth.
Wait a minute. Hayden had died, though we had prayed earnestly and constantly for her life to be miraculously touched by God and turned around to glorify Him as she lived in freedom, full of His Spirit, leading others to know Him as their savior and Lord. What happened was the ugly opposite of that. And the empty seats before me in the dark room would be filled soon with hundreds of women who needed to believe what they sang—that God could do anything.
Could I believe that God could do anything, sitting there in the fallout debris after the exact of opposite of my prayer had just happened? After Hayden just died?
I don’t even remember singing the rest of the songs during rehearsal. I knew I was in trouble if something didn’t change in my heart before the worship set. Authenticity is my highest value, and I can’t operate without it. I needed to pull everything together or I’d fall apart.
Our worship pastor prayed over Sheri (who would be preaching) and Emmy (Hayden’s cousin, another worship leader onstage) and me. Later I prayed over myself while standing in the wing about to go on, sighing, “Lord, please just take over. I’m giving you what I’ve got—just fill me and do what only you can do to make this go well.”
Stepping into the light, it was like a bubble filled me, buoyant and light. I smiled and it was real. I welcomed and invited everyone warmly to join us before the Lord. I thanked Him in faith for filling the room and for helping us believe everything we were about to sing. I asked Him for a life-shifting encounter with Him, for each of us present.
Then I sang from my core, concentrating on every word.
My mind caught up to what my heart understood. Every line that left my mouth had commentary from Jesus going on under it. His voice answered my questions as I sang. As I sang out in faith what I’d struggled to rectify before, JESUS TALKED TO ME.
“Lori, I did move the mountain.”
“Lori, I did part the waters.”
“I did breakthrough."
“Every prayer you prayed, Lori, I answered.”
“It wasn’t too hard for me. I rescued her out of all her troubles. I delivered her from every enemy.”
“She is safe. She is secure. She’s with me.”
I realized as I sang that the counsel of the Lord is the most important, the most precious resource we have during our time on Earth. In intentional worship, I was experiencing the power of His presence in real time.
As I chose to worship Him in the most abject grief, He met with me and comforted me and gave me true context. With every line He helped me understand, to believe wholeheartedly in His ability to accomplish what concerned me. He made me able to rationalize the irrational. He gave me access to His mind about it all; I understood the spiritual narrative.
It felt surreal to be having a therapy session in front of hundreds of others who had no idea of what was going on in their midst, but it was so good.
I hoped the same phenomenon was happening for every one of them too, to some degree, for their own situations. As we repeated the bridge of the first song, I found myself meaning it desperately and I sang with all of my might:
Now all of my fear I will turn into praise
Shake off despair as I sing out Your name
A victory dance I will dance out in faith
I will crush disappointment and break every chain
By the end of the song, I was standing on top of the tragedy instead of being crushed by it. It was a joy and pleasure to sing Way-Maker next, knowing it was totally true:
You are here, moving in this place
I worship You, I worship You
You are here, healing every heart
I worship You, I worship You
Promise-keeper, light in the darkness
My God, that is who You are
No matter how dark Hayden’s deep darkness was, He was the perfect, powerful light that could and DID penetrate it. Her final days spent in darkness did not compare to the glory she saw the very instant that her spirit left her body. He was there. And she, in her open, expressive way, breathed out, ‘“Whoa…wow…wow…”
And as Jesus stood before her with His arms held open wide, she fell down on her knees and just clung to him and cried.
A few months ago, the day before Grandpa John (who had prayed for Hayden more than any of us combined) passed away, she’d come to Grandma’s house and wept over his bed, saying, “Grandpa, I need you to know that two weeks ago, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I did it. I need you to know that.”
Though her lifestyle didn’t change altogether in the few months afterward, her life was in His hand. (This drawing was in her journal. Holly, her sister, found it after she was gone.)
Though the enemy thought he had her because her body and mind moved under devices of his control, Jesus held her spirit and nothing could snatch her out of His hold.
Love is stronger than death.
Now Hayden is free to worship Jesus in spirit and in truth. She knows full well that He is her savior. He is her Lord. The blockages of this earthly, broken world cannot keep her from knowing Him and living for Him anymore. She sees Him better than any of us do now, and she is completely changed because of it.
As we sang “nothing else, nothing else will do, I just want You,” I saw an image of Hayden on her knees in child pose (just like the drawing in her journal, though I hadn't seen it yet), bowing before Jesus’ pure light, singing along. She’d gone everywhere else while on this earth, looking for what she needed. Now she got it: He’s everything. He's enough for every need, every time. She only wants Him.
I got it too, onstage that night. I meant what I sang because I understood what I was was singing. Because of the context that Hayden’s death and resurrected life provided, seeing her worshiping Him there on the other side, bowed down before the brightness of His glorious light, the perfect awareness of heaven leaked over into me on earth.
Nothing else but Jesus will do for me either. Nor you.
Anything that tries to take His place as Provider is an idol. No wonder He tells us not to go for those—there’s nothing on this planet that can fill our needs (which is what lots of things say they'll do) except for Him. Only He tells the truth. He really is our source, and the giver of re-sources for all we need. Whatever we need, He will provide. He does it for love without any other agenda AND He has the authority to do it, too. He is able, willing and ready to satisfy us with whatever we want or need without demanding anything else but our love in return. Only He can make our joy complete.
The Jesus that I saw Hayden bowing before will fulfill our deepest longings, satisfy our inner cravings, heal our broken cisterns and keep filling us with living water that will never, ever run dry. He is infinite. He is only light; there is no darkness in Him. He is all and only good. Anything that tells us otherwise is a lie that will fall away when our spirits leave our bodies and we see the real deal. False things that have separated us from Him will be crystal clear in the light of Him. May we discover and know those even now, in the body, and may we be freed from them in His name and by His power. May we all become completely free to worship Him by faith and in the moment, like I did on that stage last Friday night.
One might call this revelation “revival." Whatever it was, I am completely changed now. I will never be the same.
I praise God that He had me and others plan each of those songs for that night, months before. Even back then He knew Hayden would die, that it would be a fresh, awful wound in us and we'd need to minister to others while hurting from it. He knew just what would minister to us and He moved through us beforehand to lay the foundation for what He wanted to say to our hearts that weekend as we grieved her passing. Most High God over time and space, indeed.
He even knew she would die in a dark way from the very moment of her conception…and He showed His love to her all of her life with His goodness that kept running after her. Even as she kept running away, He kept running after her…and I believe that she let Him catch her just in time.
Mercy held Hayden. God planted the tree and He picked the fruit, as her dad John keeps saying. What a beautiful way to frame with victory what was intended to defeat.
Intentional worship has the power to change your mindsets into the posture of Christ Jesus in the midst of any circumstance.
Jesus worshiped intentionally as He died willingly on the cross without a word of complaint or fear. Why? Because He believed His Father’s plan was goodness, not evil, to give a future and a hope. He knew mercy held Him, so He let mercy move His life where it would do the most good.
Now we who believe Jesus also believe the Father’s intentions apply in the same way to us. We can worship Him with our intention, too. This choice allows our minds to be transformed, to mold along the lines of His Word and promises, even and especially in times of trial and tragedy. The rest of the world may not decide to believe Him and His goodness, but we can and do because we’ve been freed by Jesus’ blood and victorious sacrifice-resurrection to do that very thing--all to show a lost and dying world the way out of despair and into eternal joy.
When we know Jesus as savior, we can trust Him to move our lives where we will do the most good. For me, it was into intentional worship on a stage during deep grief...but the same benefits come when anyone chooses to engage in intentional worship anywhere. The results will be the same: encounter with God, transformation on earth. He discloses Himself to whoever seeks Him with all their heart.
He's always working behind the scenes. There is always context to our part of the story. Our task is to focus and see where He's working, so we can appreciate it.
Even when we don’t see it He’s working
Even when we don’t feel it He’s working
He never stops He never stops working
He never stops He never stops working
Put your faith in the finished work of Jesus, and experience the freedom He died to birth you into. See where He's been working and let it astound you, how He's always saving you, running after you.
You can live your whole life being refreshed by Him like this.
Anything is possible. Your prayers are invested and He will answer them in His way, for His glory.
Crush disappointment and break every chain by believing in and surrendering to His goodness today.
Ask Him to show you where He's been working. Write it down, either in a book or on your heart.
Worship Him intentionally and feel the difference He and only He can make, in every event, in every season.
He is faithful. He is enough. He is good. He is able. He is willing. He is there. He is.
Believe and see and know God for yourself. Engage so you can focus and appreciate who He is and what He’s doing. Intentional worship opens the valve between heaven and earth, making the narrative, larger story and the objective, earth-bound story become one and the same. Engage in intentional worship of God Most High…and be forever changed for the better!