One Nation Under God- ALC/NECC 2011

What an AMAZING FANTASTIC WOW weekend! But it was more than an inspiring time of worship- God used this conference to work on my character, too!

I had the honor of singing/ playing guitar and leading worship at the American Leadership/ New England Christian Conference for the International churches of Christ this weekend! Dressed in our black with flag blue accents on Friday night we took the stage with 8 front singers (I was on the soprano mic), a song leader, a full band, a choir. We started with the uptempo gospel “They That Wait”- it ROCKED! In addition to everything else there were dancers as well! From there the praise soared including Christian rock, island jams and Spanish songs as well,  interspersed with spoken word and an opening message for 1000 or so Christians.

On Saturday, once again I was blessed to help lead the worship for around 1000 women

Praising God in song at Women’s class NECC 2011

– later there were classes, workshops and concerts. I got to sit and watch Saturday night during a stirring presentation about the Christian heritage of the USA.

After numerous rehearsals- some going late into the night- others taking over meal times (I did sneak away for lunch with my family:)) We finally came to the climax of the weekend: Sunday morning at the Hynes Auditorium with some 3000 Christians. The short story was that it was GLORIOUS! The true zenith of the weekend– and I was so tired and satisfied in my time with the Lord when we went home. But then there is “The rest of the story!”

Adorned in black and flag red we arrived for a 7 am rehearsal and sound check. I was among the first there- a miracle given my reputation for punctuality- NOT. I then skipped quickly across the hall to Starbucks for a hot tea. I should have realized I wasn’t starting off well when I tried to discreetly put my tea down on a chair- and it fell over, the top popped off and spilled hot tea all over the chair, the floor – and worst of all- it was almost gone!

OK- no biggy! Out onto the stage we go. Time to back up here…

Months earlier I was shoulder tapped by one of the conference organizers and chief administrator, Jeff Todd. He wanted to give me a heads up that we were planning this huge conference with people from around the world and I would be needed to sing on the praise team. I felt special- and also a bit vindicated, I guess, because due to inner church politics and some sin (and ultimately the will of God) I had felt neglected as a musician for years in the Boston church. I was  appreciated more by those in Chicago or Maine or anywhere else… but then a prophet rarely receives honor in his home town– look at Jesus.  OK- so it felt really good to be asked. Don’t tell me you’ve never felt good when your ego gets a little stroke!

At last I get a rehearsal schedule- daunting to say the least. But I reschedule classes I am teaching and turn everything upside down to make sure I can be at every one. A good friend of mine is told he cannot participate even in the choir since he could not attend all of them. WARNING! Then the schedule was changed and I couldn’t make it to 3 rehearsals- I got insecure that I’d be cut from the team and I frantically tried to reach the woman administrating the calendar! At last we connected and I was re-assured that they knew I was a good musician and would know my parts in time- no worries! I was still in! PAUSE- Does your mind ever work like this? At one moment you are so confident- and then the next you think noone values you at all! PSYCHO!

Julie With Tony Martin

Do you see how important this all was to me? Why? One because I really love to worship God in song and feel that leading in worship is a big piece of my personal purpose- as a Christian and in life- Wow! But it is so easy to get wrapped up in “My purpose” and what I love to do- And of course I feel my contribution will be very important and make the whole event better- Yikes! As if this is about ME!!! This is a trap I hear many of us get in who have some gifts and talents blessed by God. Please tell me I am not the only one!

Crazy- and we haven’t gotten too far in the story yet! Fast forward… weeks of rehearsal later.  We, the Boston praise team are told that there is also a national praise team chosen and that we may not sing on the front mics at all.  Say what!? OK. I really stopped a second- Why am I doing this anyway? Yes I am a servant of God and the church- I will give wherever I am needed. Period. And all was good with the world, for a while. I even got to since some solo parts at a rehearsal and ended up singing them at a practice performance at our home region. cool!

A couple weeks before the conference I got a cryptic email- once deciphered I understood that a talented worship leader and arranger from the church history wanted me to put together a guitar choir for two of his songs. I should probably have said no- with life as it is- but I decided that here was a special way I could serve even if I was not up front singing. I spent hours and several weeks getting the 8 guitar players together… then the ceiling caved in on the project and we ended up using only me and two others on one song at the last minute. What happened to being super prepared? But it can be so easy to miss when we are being blessed in one area when we want it somewhere else! Ever been there?

Julie with Jerry Maday and Scott Hopper playing on "Lamb of God" NECC 2011

Now we are at the conference. I arrived on Friday morning by subway so Ralph could come in later… I brought with me a bag full of CD’s to sell at the book tables. Even though there were no showcases this year… I need to move those CD’s and these conferences are the best time to do so. I gave the CD’s to my friends at the book table a while before they would be moving them to another location- they said they bring them with them. GREAT! So I put my coat in the bag with the CD’s (Less to carry) and headed off to be enlightened by some classes!

You may think I am way off track here- but as I have been learning in my marriage class- this is called “Spiderwebbing” (something that drives husbands crazy!) but I will tie up all the ends soon enough.

I walk into the green room before our Friday night rehearsal, inspired and surrendered. I see an old friend, a talented singer herself, form the Chicago church. “Are you showcasing this weekend?” she asks? “No- I am only in the choir this time,” I answered. “But you are great! I get your emails, too- Why aren’t you being featured?” I shrug and honestly point upward “I am but the Lord’s servant.” The women’s ministry leader, Melanie, was right there when I said it, too. And I meant it- no show going on there. It sure feels good to really be surrrendered- why is it so hard sometimes?

Melanie Singh-Womens ministry Leader Northern Regions, Boston and fellow singer

Then we went out onto the stage to rehearse- and wouldn’t you know it- there was a soprano missing and I got chosen to be on the front mic- for the whole evening! I got to do my solo in “I Hear God Singing to Me”, too. As Melanie said to me later: “You humbled yourself before the Lord and he lifted you up!”

Julie on "I Hear God Singing To Me" at NECC 2011

Worshipping with the praise team Friday night at the NECC 2011

I felt blessed, joyful, FANTASTIC! And I worshipped with all my might! I could end here and everyone would smile and nod and click the X to close the page… but it AIN’T over till the FAT Lady sings- again! (Did I just call myself fat? Another can of worms completely!)

OK- Friday turned out magnificent! Saturday was filled with challenging child-rearing classes, inspiring women’s worship and more rehearsals for the guitar song  and Sunday morning in general. In the back of my mind I thought “I was up front on Friday- they will put me up again on Sunday morning- right?”

At last I sent my children home with their Dad and I went to sleep in a shared room with some good friends at the hotel so I’d be there for the crack of dawn rehearsal- and oh- my CD’s and coat had not turned up at the book tables yet either- but, though disappointed about the lack of sales- I was too busy to do anything about it then. DO you ever get that niggling sensation in the back of your neck that “Gee, I should do something about this…” but you just have no bandwidth left to do so? yeah- it was like that.

Happy Family at NECC 2011

OK- we have caught up- up on the stage for Sunday morning rehearsal at 7 am. The songs chugged on- with me in the choir. Several times parts were switched off from the front mics- but no one suggested that I should go up again. And there was that unnamed sister from Boston who was up there the whole time- and I was jealous of her. What made her so special? Why was she up there instead of me? Ugly thoughts raced through my head. Of course you’ve never been jealous that someone else was picked instead of you… never felt like “I could have done it better!?”

Even though I got to go up front for the guitar piece- that wasn’t good enough for me. “Consider others better than yourselves, Consider others better than yourselves, Consider others better than yourselves…” I kept reciting over and over in my mind as my attitude degenerated completely. I started to get mad- tears peaked behind my eyelids and I began to hear the lying voices in my head of demons saying “Maybe they didn’t think you did such a good job on Friday night after all”, “You are just deceived about your talents- you’re not as good as them.” and “If people don’t see you up in front now- with the bigger audience, they won’t think of you as one of the lead singers in the movement and you won’t be asked next time to do anything either.” OUCH! SHUT UP!

As soon as the sound check was over I grabbed Melanie by the arm. “I need to pray! Can you pray with me now?” “Of course.” And we moved to a quiet spot off stage- immediately the tears began to flow as I confessed the ugliness in my heart. We prayed fervently to exorcise the green demons of jealousy and pride in the name of Jesus Christ.” – just a moment here- as serious as I am about this- this was not ‘The Exocist” movie- no green spew or twisting necks please! This was honestly calling on the power of Jesus to free my spirit! And he did. I washed my face and went out a worshipped in the choir with all my heart.

Julie at NECC 2011- Sunday

It was a glorious day! We all played and danced and sang as one voice before the lord and the assembly! I would do it again as soon as possible! Though honestly- I did need a few days to recover physically from it all! But you know- not only did I have a battle with my pride that weekend- but my CD’s (and coat) never showed up either. God really didn’t want me distracted by my own career and success that weekend.

Any of you who are worship leaders or singers for the Lord or of Christian music, who are also trying to make a living in music- how do you reconcile needing to sell music and concert tickets and do promotion with being humble and not making it about you? I’d love to hear your story!