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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day- Blessings Abundant!


As we worshipped this morning at church, my heart cried out in praise, and tears welled in my eyes. All morning long, even as I was getting ready for our day, I was thinking of the blessings of Mother’s Day, and thanking God. I reminisced and thought back to my precious Grannie Sylvia and beloved Grandmom Florence. Those two strong and grace-filled women had a beautiful impact on my life and left a legacy I will forever hold close in my heart. I can still taste Grannie's special oatmeal she would make for me on summer mornings in Maine, and of course I can still taste Grandmom's delicious Polish bread that I would devour at Christmastime, a family recipe I still have yet to master! 

I thought this morning about how 31 years ago this week, I entered into this adventurous world. My amazing mom carried me for 9 months, delivered me, and held me so close. She prayed over my life blessings of which I know I am living out this very day. She prayed in the hospital that I would be a servant for God, that I would know and love Him. On a side note, I thank God that my mom chose life.  Not that she ever personally wrestled with that issue, but since 1973 in our country, so many moms who are past a certain age in child-bearing years get nervous to carry a child to full term due to risks. She was bold and brave and didn't even want doctors to do extra pre-natal tests on me- she told them she would choose life no matter what. Now, as I turn the corner to 31 years this week, I am more grateful for life than ever...After going through everything that Jamie and I have gone through, I realize that every day is a bonus, every day is a gift, every day is a chance to live fully, live passionately, love others, and glorify God! As I worshipped this morning, and the tears welled in my eyes, I remembered and called to mind the many miracles God has done in the past few years to bring us to where we are today. There is no way I should be here, by medical standards. The surgery I had was "impossible" by all accounts, but we know with our God, ALL things are possible. 

I also thought back to 3 yeas ago today...the day that my awesome man chose me to be his forever love, and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him as his wife. I still get butterflies when I remember him kneeling and pulling out the heirloom diamond that was my Grannie’s, set in a design Jamie had the jeweler create only for me. He stole my heart, and my heart is his forever. I still can’t believe he chose me!!! During the time of our engagement, we were pounded by doctors telling us that we needed to be prepared for the reality that we would likely never have biological kids, and there was no chance for children any time soon. But we kept pressing into God’s heart and into each other, knowing that our Lord is so much bigger than the medical trials we faced, than any diagnosis or prognosis, than the wisdom of the world. We believed that His plan was perfect, however that looked like for our family. We knew that children are a gift from the Lord and a heritage from Him alone, and that biology is not what defines a child being a part of a family, but that it is rather love which defines family and accepts children into the home...We had no idea what God had planned, but we had to turn to him in reckless trust and our faith stepped into greater realms of reality.

I think back to our wedding day, just four months after Jamie proposed, and how blessed I am to have married into a family of faith, love, laughter, acceptance, and adventure. Not only do I have the world’s best mom, but now I have the world’s best mother-in-law! Truly, that is how I feel. I know people say nice things on holidays, Mother's Day especially, just to sound nice, but I am forever grateful for the two moms in my life and in Jamie's life. These women love God, have such servants' hearts, and are always putting their families before themselves. Their devotion to live lives centered on truth, beauty, excellence, and generosity is such a testimony to me, and a legacy I want to carry. Joey adores his Mimi and his Memaw, and their love for him is so precious and pure. (I also got to adopt the most radiant Grandma Mary Lou when I married Jamie, and our time with her always leaves me spilling over with smiles. She is a gem, and I am so glad we live near her so we can enjoy her life and the blessing she is in this world!)

And now for the most incredible gift...two years ago I had recently received news of the most marvelous miracle in our lives, our little baby. I couldn't believe that I was carrying a child inside and the sound of his heartbeat made my world come alive. It was extraordinary. The most amazing surprise gift from my Heavenly Father. From the moment I found out about our little one, I was caught up in new depths of love. My soul leapt with joy and song and praise and wonder. My little Joey Bear is the greatest treasure.  When he runs into a room, locks eyes with mine, leaps into my arms, and yells "Mommé!"(I'm not exactly sure how to write the pronunciation of the name he calls me), I just am filled with such happiness that my heart cannot contain it. I've been blessed with exceptional grandmothers and extraordinary mothers, but now I get to cherish the gift that it is to be a mother myself. To be able to give a million kisses and snuggles every day, to read books and make animal sounds and play ball and talk to my baby boy...it's those little things that make life the abundant gift that it is and that point me to the love of God in ordinary moments.

I am overwhelmed and in awe of God's good gifts, there is no other way to describe it.  I know I don't deserve it, and I know the gifts of this world don't last forever, but I do know that they are a picture of the glory to come, and that relationships are what mean the most in life.  God created us for relationship and for family.  He adopted us into His beloved, royal family and made a way through the cross so that we can forever be alive with Him and have hope for true and lasting relationship with Him and with the ones we love forever. Thank you, Jesus! 

Friday, February 16, 2018

In Spirit and in Truth


Worship.  What is true worship?  It is both a noun- a state of being, as well as a verb- an action.  It comes from acknowledging the worth of someone or something, and is rooted int the Old English word "weorthscipe".  Synonyms are as follows:  reverence, veneration, adoration, glorification, glory, exaltation, prayer, praise, devotion, admiration, adulation, idolization, revere, exalt, extol, glorify. 

Our handy tool, Dictionary.com, tell us that worship is basically the following four things:

1. The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity
2. The acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity
3. Adoration or devotion comparable to religious homage, shown toward a person or principle
4. Honor given to someone in recognition of their merit

These are all good definitions, but do they get to the heart of worship?  The idea of worship has been on my heart and mind a lot lately.  Not only because of my passion for worshipping through song, but because of three incredibly powerful experiences recently that made me take pause and ask myself, "What is true worship?"  Some of you may have read snippets of these experiences in the Advent Journey blog, but I want to share them here, because they have had a profound effect on my spirit lately, and I never want to forget them.  Right around Christmastime is when they happened, and I want these experiences to carry my heart through this entire year, especially as I embark on recording a new album of worship, with a collection of favorite old hymns.

I'll call the three experiences the following:  Mary, Joey, The Chapel. I don't remember the chronological order in which they occurred, in my mind they seamlessly flow together as an exquisite picture of true worship.

Mary.  Weathered and worn, yet full of life. Wrinkled and white, yet overflowing with joy. A twinkle in her eye that no wrinkle can wipe away. A smile so bright, even if the color has faded and a tooth here or there is missing. Standing tall to the heavens, even as she is hunched over and shrunken. Mary is a soul so sweet, so shining that I'll never forget her.  Part of my music ministry lately has been to visit local nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and memory care places to do special music for the residents. I have the opportunity to bring Joey along so he can get to know these precious elderly folks and build friendships with them.  I love singing the old hymns, because many of them recognize the tunes, and even if their memory is fading, it will kindle a fire and they will burst into smiles and song.

I adore all the residents, but dear Mary stands out as a soul with such grace, joy, and faith. From the first day we met, I caught a glimpse of that sweet soul...Every time I sing the hymns, she unabashedly sings along with passion and vigor, but it is her eyes, her movements that catch my attention.  She lifts her hands in glory. She closes her eyes and it is as if in that moment she sees the splendor of Heaven, as the look on her face is so serene, yet so captivated. She moves her arms and makes the sign of the cross, she waves her fingers in the air and it is like angels are descending from above and filling the room with a choir so magnificent.  She is caught up in the moment and her heart is filled with spirit and truth.  The joy as she worships is astounding. That is the kind of joy I want to have whether I sing in the pew or I sing on stage. That is the joy I want to have when I sing around the house, doing laundry and doing dishes.  She is raw, honest, unashamed, delighted, radiant, soaked in the abundance of the Spirit, grateful for the gift of Jesus. When I see Mary close her eyes and lift her hands and hum a tune, I see a picture of complete worship in spirit and in truth.

"...Give praise to the LORD, proclaim His Name;
make known among the nations what He has done.
Sing to Him, sing praise to Him;
tell of all His wonderful acts.
Glory in His Holy Name.
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and His strength;
seek His face always...
Splendor and majesty are before Him;
strength and joy are in His dwelling place....
Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness."
(I Chronicles 16)

Joey.  When our baby boy first started saying words, it was of course "Mama" and "Dada". We loved it. That's all he said for quite some time...a few other words smattered here and there. Then Christmastime came and one Sunday morning, Jamie snuggled him and said "Today we have Church!  Hallelujah!  Praise Jesus!" And that was all it took- Joey burst out in "Ahhh- yay -loooo- yahhh!"  We couldn't believe our ears! He continued saying it for days and when the 24/7 Christmas carols were playing in our home, he would sit by the iPod speakers and when a song came on with his magical word, he would burst out in all triumphant glee, "Hallelujah!" He would sing it with passion, zeal, giddy joy, and a bit of gravitas too, for it seemed he knew this was a special word.  He began to say "Praise G" for "Praise Jesus."

Christmas came and went, and then croup came.  He caught those few wintertime colds that babies can't help but catch, and the one cold kept him up all night, coughing, hacking, breathing so heavily. He sounded like a winter bear, it was so deep and loud.  He was in our bed one night, because I was keeping an eye on his breathing, and he woke suddenly, sat up, coughed his awful croupy cough, and then said in his raspy, deep voice "Hallelujah. Praise G. Hallelujah. Praise G!" He was so matter-of-fact about it.  In the midst of his terrible state, he wasn't crying, he wasn't whining. He was quite uncomfortable and so sick, but he chose to focus on praise.  Okay, okay, I know many of you reading this are thinking, "Yeah, right, a 12 month old choosing to praise? Are you out of your mind?"  I'm not. Maybe my little boy didn't know the full extent of the power of that moment, for truly his innocence and naivety kept him from that, but the weight of glory in that moment of praise is something I will never forget.

I believe God has wired our hearts to praise. He knits a baby's very being together in his mother's womb, and he designs their hearts to praise.  Jesus Himself said that unless we become like the little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is natural for children to praise. It is natural for children to want to pray. It is natural for children to believe. As adults we think we are so advanced, so sophisticated, so wise, so strong, so learned...but in the Kingdom of Heaven, the reality is that things are upside down to what we understand or expect. It is a Kingdom of paradoxes, and in Jesus' Kingdom, it is the little ones who are inclined to have faith and inclined to worship.  Maybe my little Joey didn't realize just what he was doing in that moment, but I believe God has created this baby boy to worship, and he did just that in his moment of illness and weakness and fear- he sat up with all his strength and began to speak praises from his little mouth. And in that moment, the very powers of darkness were shaken by the majesty and glory of our Lord receiving such beautiful praise.  I will never forget that night...may it be a constant reminder to me to choose to praise, even in the dark, even in times of illness or pain or fear, even in times of brokenness and weakness, even when I want to cry and whine...it is in those times when praise is the most powerful, the most beautiful, the most thunderous and glorious and exquisite to the ears of my Lord. Praise brings healing, and praise brings joy.


"And they said to Him, 'Do you hear what these are saying?'
And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read,
'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise'?
(Matthew 21:16)

The Chapel.  Our church is quite large, seating 2,000 in the main sanctuary auditorium. You can imagine the beautiful worship on Sunday mornings with nearly 2,000 voices lifted up together! But that is not what I want to write about here. There is a tiny chapel down the hall, where the service is televised each Sunday morning, as well. Because our little Joey kept catching colds in December, we didn't want to put him in nursery and get the other babies sick, so we kept him with us, and worshipped in the little chapel. There is a special needs ministry at our church, which is amazing. It consists of mostly young people, and there are wonderful volunteers who lead the ministry. Before they have their Sunday School hour, they always come into the chapel for the worship time. Well, that one Sunday, their presence spoke to my soul in a deeply powerful way. I witnessed and experienced worship in a way so unique and beautiful, unlike any other time I can remember.

While we sang Christmas Carols, I was joyfully singing out with my lungs that morning. I felt that familiar Christmas cheer in my heart. But then I paused. The music in the chapel was overwhelmingly stunning and caught me by surprise. The atmosphere was so free, so full of life and light. It was a sound of worship like I had never heard before. Probably my all-time favorite Christmas carol is "O Holy Night," and that is the song we were all singing. Let me tell you, the group of beautiful teens and young adults with special needs and disabilities sang out with the greatest joy, greatest triumph, enthusiasm, abandon, and heart that I have ever heard. The pitch was a bit off, the timing not on cue, and even some of the words missing here and there, but that version of "O Holy Night" made my eyes well up with tears and my heart beat with a raw and authentic worship that brought me back to a place of Spirit and Truth. It seems that somehow as I've "grown up," the essence of true worship has slipped away, because I get so distracted by life, by even the music, and by the worries of this world. I want to live with such raw abandon, such zeal, as that precious group in the chapel. I want my life to be a continual song lifted up, not perfect by any means, but passionate.

"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."
(John 4:23-24)