Sara Bareilles: Brave

Sara Bareilles: Brave

On my flight home from Israel, I listened to a generous helping of music. During one of my many searches through Delta’s selection of albums, I stumbled across Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave.” It caught me from the start:

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Words are truly powerful. Forget the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a lie.

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you:

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Bravery. That’s what I needed in my writing endeavors–the bravery to say what I wanted to say, instead of struggling with words and thoughts and phrases and fears. I needed to simply let the words fall out and watch them fill up the blank pages.

But the song wasn’t over yet:

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Empty words. Those are the worst. 

Anybody who has anything to share (which is everyone) has to tap into that bravery of being honest with their words. It takes bravery to let the words fall out–the honest ones, not the empty ones–but it’s worth it. 

So my prayer is for bravery.

The will to create comes from the Creator Himself.

And even though I still get scared and my words don’t always fall out easily, He helps me to rise above the fears.

He gives me my brave.

Now it’s your turn. What’s a song that has inspired you?

Psalm 96

Independence Park in Jerusalem (6/14)
Independence Park in Jerusalem (6/14)

The day was June 7. It was the Sabbath, and a group of believers from all over the world had gathered at one of the main parks in Jerusalem. Kids ran across the grass and played in the bubbling creek under the trees while the adults sat on blankets in the sun and discussed Scriptures and current events. My dad shared a teaching on the book of Ruth, and then one of the ladies suggested we read Psalm 96.

“I read it last night,” she explained, “It’s such a lovely psalm.”

I tried to remember it, but nothing came to mind.

One of the men began to read it:

(Note: יהוה is the name of God, commonly pronounced as Yahweh)

Sing to יהוה  a new song,
Sing to יהוה, all the earth!
Sing to יהוה, bless His Name,
Proclaim His deliverance from day to day.
Declare His esteem among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

It began like so many other psalms, but from the beginning I was captivated by it.

For great is יהוה  and greatly to be praised,
He is to be feared above all mighty ones.
For all the mighty ones of the peoples are matters of naught,
But יהוה  made the heavens.
Excellency and splendour are before Him,
Strength and comeliness are in His set-apart place.

Perhaps it was within Jerusalem that the psalmist first sang these words. Perhaps that’s what caused them to come alive to me.

Ascribe to יהוה, O clans of the peoples,
Ascribe to יהוה  esteem and strength.
Ascribe to יהוה  the esteem of His Name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
Bow yourselves to יהוה,
In the splendour of set-apartness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among nations, “יהוה  shall reign.
The world also is established, immovable.
He judges the peoples in straightness.”

I had memorized those verses years ago.

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Let all the trees of the forest then shout for joy,
At the presence of יהוה.

Creation itself was singing. I must join the chorus.

For He shall come,
For He shall come to judge the earth.
He judges the world in righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.

The chapter stunned me. It’s a cliche, but at that moment I felt that the psalm had been written just for me. I had found my life motto. Psalm 96–it was the same number as the year I was born.

The psalm called me to sing for joy. It called me to ascribe the greatness of God. It called me to remember that justice conquers and truth still reigns.

I felt a tugging at my soul to be the singer that God called me to be. He had never explicitly told me “be a singer,” but he had been leading my heart in that direction for many years.

He was calling me to get over my stage fright, and sing praises in the company of others, not just myself.

But singing praises doesn’t just mean singing songs. It means living praises.

How we live is how we sing. Our lives are our greatest songs.

So let us embrace Psalm 96:

Sing to יהוה  a new song,
Sing to יהוה, all the earth!
Sing to יהוה, bless His Name,
Proclaim His deliverance from day to day.


 P.S. Thank you Elise for prompting me to share this story.

Write Your Story

When I hear Christian pop artists sing about “losing their keys” and “rips in their jeans,” I’m usually not too impressed.

That was my first impression of Francesca Battistelli.

Francesca Battistelli
Francesca Battistelli

Fancy name. Bland message.

But I was being prejudiced. Francesca’s style might not be what I prefer, but I know that many people love her music. And even if she is mainstream, a lot of her songs have a good message. So, I’m not bashing her entirely. In fact, my appreciation of her music went up a notch after hearing her song “Write Your Story” while shopping at the mall.

I didn’t recognize it as one of Francesca’s songs at the time, but I could tell that it was a love song written to God. (You just don’t call someone “maker of the stars,” no matter how great they are.)

The chorus caught my ear:

I’m an empty page
I’m an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark

Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won’t You write Your story on my heart

As someone who loves to write, the song resonated with me.

The empty page–that is what we are in God’s hands. He washes us of our sins and makes us pure. We are nothing without him.

The open book–that is our lives. We are stories. But we shouldn’t strive to write our stories on our own. We need God to write our stories. We need him to direct our lives.

The work of art–that is what we are in God’s eyes. We are crafted in his image. We are shaped by his hands. A work of art isn’t perfect, but it’s always being perfected.

What greater calling is there than to be God’s work of art? To offer ourselves as empty pages, and let the Author of Hope write His story on our hearts.

My Father’s World

A bouquet of broccoli and Brussels spout shoots from our thoughtful neighbor--It made my day.
A bouquet of broccoli and Brussels sprout shoots from our thoughtful neighbor–It made my day.

I love the world outside my window.

Every day the sun rises and then sets again. Every year the seasons change–spring, summer, fall, and winter. Every few seconds we breathe in air and then exhale carbon dioxide. It’s all a routine. A continuous loop. We don’t often think about this loop. It’s as natural to us as…well…breathing. But whether we realize it or not, this routine gives us a sense of security.

Yet the world around me is so much more than a monotonous machine. It abounds with personality, quirkiness, and mystery.

It’s a world of patterns and paradoxes. Questions and answers.

It’s a world of unity and diversity. Simplicity and complexity.

It’s a world of countless shades of color. Countless angles. Countless songs being sung at the same time.

It’s My Father’s World.

And what a privilege it is to live in it. To hear the birds sing the songs that God composed for them. To see the mother holding the baby that God has given her. To feel the sun shining down on me. To taste the salty sea.

To live is to be surrounded by God every moment of every day.

This is the world we live in.

Our Father’s World.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas.
And established it upon the rivers.”

(Psalm 24:1-2)

An Afternoon Vacation

Cheaha State Park

Last Sunday found my family and me at Mount Cheaha State Park with some friends. Even though we were at the highest point in Alabama–2,413 feet above sea level–it was still a warm day.

It was October the last time I was at Cheaha, so the change in season was even more obvious to me. This time the sun was shining in the clear blue sky and the trees displayed their bright green leaves. Children splashed in the lake. There was no need for jackets anymore. Spring had made its arrival on Mount Cheaha.


We hiked the Blue Trail, a steep one mile trek up Mount Cheaha. I heard the peaceful sound of the gurgling creek running alongside the trail. It blocked the path at one point and we stepped on rocks to cross it. There were many trees down, due to the ice storm of a few months back, but the trail had been cleared well enough.

Hiking the Blue Trail

Despite the canopy of treetops above us, the air was still warm on the trail and everyone was sweaty by the time we reached the top. I kept thinking of my older brother who recently ran a 50K up Mount Cheaha. His race ended with the trail we were hiking. I realized once again how crazy–and amazing!–my big brother is.

View From Top of Cheaha

The view from the top was beautiful, as always. We could see the rolling mountains in the distance, the lake where we had started, and the vast range of treetops that someone said reminded them of broccoli. We saw the small waterfall that the creek descended from. My dad splashed me with a bit of the cold water. A cool breeze finally swept the stagnant air. That felt good. Very good.


After hiking back down, we chilled out while the kids splashed in the lake and built sand castles on the small beach. Three of us gently swayed on a lovely, but partly-broken bench swing and chatted. The boys entertained us with their castle fights, and my little sister entertained us by acting as the mediator: “Guys! Stop fighting and work on your castles!” But evidently making castles wasn’t nearly as fun as destroying them, so the war raged on.

Cheaha Lake

Time slipped by, and as we finally left Cheaha, it seemed as if we had been on a mini vacation. Just for an afternoon.

The Blue Trail

Writing Isn’t the Only School Subject

Pencil by jay Williams (

I suppose I don’t post many fictional stories on this blog. But I write fiction almost every day. In fact, I’m writing a fiction novel right now.

Yes, I just told you a big secret.

I’m going to title it “Don’t Write a Book in High School.”

Just kidding.

Actually, I’m thrilled to be writing a book. It’s an exciting, challenging, frustrating, and encouraging, roller-coaster-like experience. One of the problems I face is that writing is not my only school subject. If it was, then my high school education would be much easier, and I would have more time to write. But it isn’t. I have a list of subjects and courses to complete before I graduate high school next year. It’s a good thing. I’m thankful for that long list. I strive for a well-rounded education. But my mind still seems to struggle with the concept that writing isn’t the only school subject.

Sitting down and reading my senior year “to do list” is overwhelming. But I’m going to get through it, and I’m planning on writing my way through it too. I’ve just got to remember that writing isn’t the only school subject. Maybe if I keep typing that, my brain will finally register it. Maybe then it will be easier to break free from my long sessions of maniac typing to study astronomy and delve into a book on ancient history.

So the future for me looks like a long list of assignments, but I’m excited. I’m taking deep breaths. I can’t get stressed. This is fine. I am fine. And I will graduate next spring. I will. It’s just a matter of realizing that writing isn’t the only school subject.

There. Maybe I’ve hammered it into my head by now.

(photo by Jay Williams,

Passover 2014

Passover Matzo

Last night was a special night.

It was Passover.

The festival of Passover is special in many ways. Not only does it commemorate the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt, but it also commemorates Jesus’ death upon the cross.

It’s a solemn night to remember the Messiah’s sacrifice, but it’s also a joyful night to remember that His death is not the end of the story. He rose again, conquering death and condemnation once and for all. It’s a night to celebrate that redemption.

Several families joined us in the celebration. It was a wonderful time of fellowship, so wonderful that we never even stopped to take pictures. Thus you will have to trust me that I’m not making all this up.

We youth (me being the oldest) were annexed to a table by ourselves for the Passover meal and were soon laughing far too much. Between pranks with horseradish sauce and cracking silly jokes about Bible characters, it was a hilarious time. One of the guys said it was one of the funniest meals he had ever had. Maybe it wasn’t the most reverent way to celebrate the Passover meal, but we definitely embraced the celebration side of the festival.

After the meal, we had a time of group worship led by my sister and me. Hearing the voices blend together in praise was beautiful. The first song we sang was “Passover Lamb,” a song my sister and I wrote two years ago, followed by “Lead Me to the Cross,” “Oh the Blood,” and “10,000 Reasons.”

After the praise time, we took turns reading the account of the ten plagues in Egypt. My mom and dad helped bring the account to life by tossing rubber frogs and Ping-Pong ball “hail stones” in the air, swatting people with fly swatters, and turning off the lights when the plague of darkness was read.

My dad then shared his testimony and we watched a few videos on the importance of Passover. By eleven o’clock the party was over, but for many of us the festival had only begun.

We now have the seven days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread to celebrate and the festival of First Fruits next Sunday. With the house free of leaven, I’ll be baking plenty of flat bread this week.

I suppose we’re a bit unconventional in our celebration of the biblical festivals, but what’s important is that we celebrate them the best we can according to the Bible.

It’s not that complicated.

And it’s a lot of fun.

Rainy Mornings, Gungor, & Inspiration

A Dreary Sring Morning

It was a rainy spring morning. The sun hid behind gray clouds as I stood in the quiet kitchen, humidity seeping through the open windows. I could hear the birds chirping outside, their cheery songs lilting through the damp air.

I had a sudden inspiration.

It was the perfect time to listen to Gungor’s album Ghosts Upon the Earth. (Although I don’t endorse all of Gungor’s music, I do enjoy most of their songs on this album.)

I turned on the album and reveled in the beginning strains of “Let There Be.” As I continued to listen, I realized that it truly was the perfect match for the rainy morning. It harmonized with the birds outside and turned my thoughts to Creation–the beginning–the vast empty space brought to life by the the Creator’s simple, revolutionary words:

Let there be…

It’s moments like that when I’m struck by the transcendent beauty of music. Suddenly something I’ve listened to so many times before comes alive in some amazing way. It’s not just reaching my ears anymore. It’s resonating with my very being.


That’s what the artist feels when he plays a song with all his heart. And that is what I feel when I allow my heart to get carried away too.

The sky brightens, the birds sing along–and suddenly–music bursts to life.

Haunted by Wild Onions

There are many things that I love about spring. And today I realized something else that makes spring special. Its something small. Something that goes mostly unnoticed, but something that has haunted me ever since my sisters discovered it in the back yard.

It’s wild onion plants.

Not only do I smell them and see them, but thanks to my two youngest sisters who have taken such a liking to them, I hear much about these smelly sprouts.

Just last night I was given one as a gift. My sister handed me a tiny box constructed of scrap paper and held together with lots of tape. A smile lined her face as she told me how to open the makeshift package. I peeked inside to find the tip of a wild onion with a wobbly smiley face drawn on it and roots flaring out like it had a bad hair day. Despite the smell of the gift, I was delighted with it.

Then the wild onions came back to haunt me again this morning. I was sitting on the back porch writing when my other sister handed me two precious onion plants with the command to “keep these safe.” After leaving me with the smelly sprouts, she ran off to toss onion stems at a squirrel in an attempt give him a “delicious meal.”

So, yes, wild onions haunt me. They sprout up in my yard, they pester me with their smell, they smile at me with Sharpie marker faces, and they even accompany my writing. And some how, some way, they bring a smile to my face.

Life is an Ocean (Short Story)

Life is an ocean. Vast. Deep. And powerful.

You float along this ocean, sunning yourself on the deck of your little boat on blissful days, and hiding for cover when storms rage.

Slowly the strip of land that marked the beginning of your passage slips from view. You become better acquainted with your vessel, learning how to ride the waves of life and survive the storms.

You sail further and further into the heart of this vast ocean of life. And then one day a startling question whispers to you as you sit alone on the deck of your boat. “Where am I headed?”

You hadn’t considered that when you set sail. You had only dreamed of adventure. You had only wanted to sail. To be free. To live.

You tell the question to leave you alone. But it haunts you, flitting through your mind at the oddest of times. And you still can’t answer it. You don’t know what lies beyond. You don’t even know where you are. You can’t go back to the shore you launched from. You’re on your own. You’re scared.

The sky begins to darken and a low rumble pierces the salty air. As the fiercest storm you’ve ever fought rages against you, the answer to the question strikes your heart like the bolts of lighting in the sky. “Where am I headed?”

Fear grips you as you realize that you are headed down. The waves are forcing your vessel lower and lower into the encompassing ocean. Yet you fight. Fight for the sake of life. Fight until your strength is all but gone, your boat all but sunk. Then you call for help.

The storm still rages, but an unexplained peace wraps around your heart as you feel strength returning to your limp body. You continue to fight. Fight for the sake of life. And slowly the waves begin to calm. The lightening stops, and you discover that the morning has come. It dawns in brilliant hues against the clear sky above.

The storm of the night before seems like a nightmare from your sleep. You almost excuse it as such. Yet you know it was real. You shudder at the thought of it. You remember your call for help and realize that something beyond yourself helped you survive the storm.

Your eyes spot something on the horizon. Your heart skips a beat as you realize what it is. It’s a shore. A vast shore glistening in the sunlight. You wouldn’t have discovered it if you hadn’t survived the storm. The miracle of it all overwhelms you. You are headed somewhere. Somewhere beautiful. All you must do now is continue to sail toward that distant shore–your destination.


Some say there is no distant shore, that life is simply an ocean we sail on until death parts us forever. Many never question this worldview. Many fear to question it. Yet it haunts each one of us. “Where am I headed?”

For the believer of the biblical account of redemption, the answer is simple. We are sailing along this ocean of life toward another life–toward a heavenly shore. We don’t fight the storms alone. We don’t drift along aimlessly. We have our course set. And though we wander, we strive to sail straight toward that ever-fixed mark. Toward that glistening shore. Toward our Heavenly Father.

Words can’t capture the majesty of this truth. Neither can music, yet I believe that Phil Wickham struck along this line of thought when he wrote his song Sailing on a Ship. It’s vivid. It’s real. It’s a reminder that we are sailing–closer and closer every day–to that golden shore.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)