My Favorite Present: A Babies Cry

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Let me start by saying this: I’m not going to tell you what I got for Christmas.

You’re confused now right?

Last year I wrote about how the true spirit of Christmas is lost among the gifts, the lights, and the food, but somehow I forgot that within 365 days. Last week I found myself wondering what was under the tree and how I could make my life a little more “festive”. Last night I fought with my sister because we told each other we weren’t buying presents (which I stuck to), but she bought me a gift.

I woke up this morning to my sister jumping on me (at 7:18 to be exact!) and within a half hour we were ripping wrapping paper and pulling out our newest clothes, movies, and gadgets. Sure, we took 5 minutes to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and read a devotional, but within a breath we were already tearing into gifts.

Instead of imagining the hands and feet of God on earth, I was trying on my new shoes. Instead of dwelling on my Savior dwelling in a filthy manger, I was looking at my clean white beanie. Instead of thinking about Mary, a woman that gave birth to the Emmanuel, who was probably in pain and freezing, I was already wearing my new jacket. Instead of listening for the echoes of angels singing to the Lamb of God, I was figuring out how soon I could use my new recording equipment.

Instead of focusing on my Savior, I was completely focused on myself.

But a month old baby girl’s cry brought me back. In fact it brought me to tears.

Almost 7 months ago, my cousin and his wife announced they were having a baby. I had written a song for their wedding and had recorded songs for my family for a gift a couple months back. In late October, I had a conversation with Jenna and she had mentioned that their baby (still not born) got really excited when my songs played. So I knew what I wanted to do.

I was going to write her a lullaby.

A month ago my cousin and his wife welcomed a beautiful baby girl: Kaylee Esther Swope. I was in Boston when she was born, but I got to see her via Skype the day after and instantly fell in love. I held her for the first time on December 7, but was so enraptured by her beauty that I didn’t sing to her.

Today I got my chance.

In the busyness of the morning we got some down time before the rest of the family showed up. It was close to her feeding time so she was getting fussy, but I wanted to hold her no matter what. She started crying as soon as she left the comfort of her daddy’s protective arms. I’m holding her, so in love with a screaming month old baby, when my sister, mom, and grandma start prompting me, “sing to her“.

So I sang a song. Her song. Kaylee’s Lullaby.
And she stopped crying.

As soon as I sang she stopped,
looked straight at me,
smirked,
and closed her eyes calmly.

And a funny thing happened. As soon as she stopped crying, as a result of my voice, something welled up inside of me. A joy that I have never experienced.

And I cried.
And I cried.
And I cried.

As soon as I got my bearings together and this beautiful miracle given to Ryan, Jenna, and our family fell asleep in my arms, I realized I had just received the best gift in my lifetime.

I can’t stop thinking about that moment.

I think it’s because the two greatest gifts I have ever received came as a result of a tiny babies cry. Today it happened through Kaylee’s fussy, hungry crying, but it really started 2,000 years ago with Jesus’ cry.

My God came to earth. A sinful, messed up, screwed up world. He came in the form of us lowly humans. Us sinful, messed up, screwed up humans. He was a baby, a sinless, divine, but human baby who would grow into a powerful teacher, mentor, and friend. But then he needed to complete his mission.

He came to mend the broken.
He came to heal the bruised.
He came to give sight to the blind.
He came to give words to the mute.
He came to give strength to the weak.
He came to give hope to the hopeless.
He came to give peace to troubled.
He came to seek the lost.
He came to save the sinners.
He came to redeem His children.
He came to die for the unworthy.

I was reminded by a baby girl, just ready for food, of the beauty within a babies cry.

The beauty within the Baby’s cry.

 

Merry Christmas,
Mariah

\’ev-rē-,thin\

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It’s a pesky word if you think about it. It can be used in almost any situation, in a variety of ways.

“What’s wrong?” “EVERYTHING”
“I have EVERYTHING I could ever need.”
“Babe, you are my EVERYTHING.”
“She gets EVERYTHING handed to her.”

But does anyone actually know what it truly means. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it like this:
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With this in mind I feel like the appropriate use of the word everything falls along these lines:

“God made EVERYTHING we see.”
“Jesus gave up EVERYTHING on the cross.”
EVERYTHING I have done has been forgiven by a wrathful yet loving God.”
“Christ is my EVERYTHING!”

Wait. What?

We hear Christians say this, but do that actually mean it? If we [Christians] were to lose our homes, jobs, cars, TV’s, vacations, love, money, friends, family, pride, etc. would we still proclaim that Jesus is our EVERYTHING?

Jared Wilson, a Christian blogger and pastor, spoke in chapel at Lancaster Bible College last week and he said something that smacked me across the head like a 2×4. He said,

If God takes away EVERYTHING, but I still have Christ… I still have EVERYTHING.”

 Woah. He’s right.

I’ve always heard Philippians 3:8 which says, “What is more, I consider EVERYTHING a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (NIV).

Or as The Message puts it, “Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.”.

I’ve been through the wringer over the past year. EVERYTHING I thought mattered, doesn’t anymore. Anxiety washes over me from time, relationships fall through, money is trickling in, and I’m just downright tired. But through it all, I have gotten to a place where I can say: “I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him”.

I wish I could tell you I believe it everyday, but I can’t. What I do know is that our God who created EVERYTHING, sent His Son to give up EVERYTHING, so that EVERYTHING we have done can be washed away. Who wouldn’t believe that having Christ is EVERYTHING?

EVERYTHING will be alright if you make Christ your EVERYTHING,

Love,
Mariah

“Waiting On God”

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One of the most overused phrases in the Christian world is “I’m just waiting on God”. Honestly I never got it. It seemed like empty words and, most times, a lame excuse. But you know what? It’s legit. When you truly wait on God, the result is something more beautiful than any human could even begin to imagine. What changed my mind?

Experience

In the early weeks of June 2013, my dad lost his job. Without my dad’s income, my family hit a wall. Forget speed bumps, this was a full blown wall. I got into a car accident in August, totaling my car. Shortly after, our furnace broke, leaving us heat-less in late fall. My mom started working close to 50 hours a week, with only one week of vacation, just to keep our heads above water. I got in a ten car pileup in February of 2014 (I swear I’m a good driver), which should’ve not only totaled my car, but injured me. My mom was rushed to the ER for appendicitis-like-symptoms, turns out kidney stones come with getting old (or drinking too much gatorade, but that’s another story). While all this craziness, pain, and confusion was looming over our house, this message stayed on our family whiteboard.

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Not once was it erased. It was doctored if someone accidentally brushed up against it. It hung in our bathroom so that it was the first thing we saw in the morning and the last thing we saw at night. But let me be completely honest: just because I saw it and preserved it, didn’t mean I always believed it. I felt as if I was praying and pleading and crying day after day, and that He wasn’t answering. I didn’t feel peace like He promised in Philippians. But I recently came to a realization:

He just wasn’t answering in the way I wanted.

I kept saying I trusted Him, but I was trusting Him to do what I wanted, not what He had planned. People kept saying “wait on Him” and it honestly just made me angrier. I thought I was waiting on Him, and I felt as if He wasn’t coming through.

Fast forward to this past week, the end of September, a year and three months after this nightmare began. My dad was offered a full-time job at a hospital that provides health benefits. Not only that, but my mom was offered a job at another daycare, with less hours, but higher pay and more vacation time. It was a week that took us by surprise, but was simply a blessing from God in His timing.

Looking back on our journey over the past year, my family and I realize how blinded we were by our own wants and desires. We were looking for an answer that matched ours, but what we got was a list of blessings and answers to prayer. Here are just a few of those blessings:

-My sister received free dance lessons, in exchange for her teaching some
-My sister received a scholarship from our church to go to a youth conference
-As a student, I received scholarships and grants that have left me with minimal debt
-Our family van is still pumping after 210,000 miles, plus no car issues at all
-We had no major health issues
-As a family we received more than five monetary gifts, nearly covering the cost of the furnace
-We often opened the mailbox to see random cash/gift-cards
-We received debt forgiveness
-My dad was offered a part time job at our church, just as unemployment ran out
-My sister and I received health insurance from the state
-After my first accident, we were offered a Jeep for a lower price than listed
-After my second accident, which should’ve totaled my car, my grandfather worked his tail off to fix it for under $400.

There are other gifts and blessings that we received during our time of uncertainty, so looking back we were foolish to ever doubt God. Not only did He provide, but He sustained us. We were trying the best that our human minds and hearts can do to trust Him and “wait on God”.

I thank God that His Word is true. That when we bring our requests before God, and trust in Him, wait on Him, our lives become more beautiful. Not only that, but we see the true beauty of Christ and grow closer to Him. So through experience, I have cried, I have yelled at God, I have been discouraged, I have been challenged. But after this experience I am stronger, I am trusting, I am confident in my relationship with God. And through it all, I have learned a lesson that I will now pass on, PLEASE LISTEN TO IT:

Waiting on God is more than worth the wait.

 

Waiting in all aspects of life,
Mariah Keener

Free from Another Shackle

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Yesterday was Independence Day and as I started writing this last evening I could hear the distant booms and crackles of fireworks, as many people – licensed fire-workers and not so licensed – celebrated our freedom that was signed into effect on July 4, 1776. I’ve been working on this post for awhile, constantly putting notes in the back of my mind, and eventually writing a song to get it out. So, in essence, this blog is serving two purposes: a song release and a release of something that I am going to free myself of. There’s really no way to sugar coat what I’m going to say next or ease into it, so I’m just going to say it. Ready? Okay.

I was sexually abused as a child.

Now some of you read that statement, read it again, and then got someone else to read it to make sure you didn’t make a mistake. But most of you probably read it and are thinking “why is she telling the world this?”. Well in the same way that those men signed their lives away on July 4th to something that was bigger than themselves, I am signing away this situation, and my life, to a God who’s plan is much grander than mine. In the same way that the Founding Fathers wanted to be free from a power that gripped them, scared them, and brought them down, I want to be free from the power that the person, and situation I was put in, has had over me for the last ten or so years. And in the same way that those men sacrificed their well-being for the well-being of generations to come, I am doing the same to help save young men and women from the pain that can so easily make years seem like an eternity.

While I am not going to share the details of my childhood tragedy, I will say that it was at the hands of someone that you would not expect. It was someone that I trusted, that I loved, and someone who was the same age as me. She was my friend. I knew that what was happening was wrong, but I never spoke up. I suppressed it in the back of my mind for ten years, not even giving as much as a hint that something might be wrong. I grew up trying to force myself to believe that it didn’t happen, that I made it up, or that I was exaggerating the facts. I started watching shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, shows that focus on sexually based crimes, and understood all too well the pain portrayed by the victims. But I wasn’t going to tell anyone because deep down I thought I was to blame; that everything was my fault. 

Then I led worship for Confidence Conference, a conference that I helped start for teenage girls, in February 2014. The speaker, Shade Ashanti, shared about her struggles after being raped. She relayed how she felt it was her fault and that she didn’t want to burden anyone. At that conference I finally admitted to myself that I was a victim of sexual abuse. I emailed her the next day sharing with her my story, making her the first person to ever know my secret. I continue to thank God for her heart, her encouragement, and for our continuing friendship. About a week after that I worked up the nerve to tell my parents, the only other people I wanted to know. It wasn’t anyone else’s business.

Then I remembered Shade’s words to me in her response to my initial email,

“You breathe your beautiful words into the pain of a generation and I see now why you can touch hearts so meaningfully. You were hurt too. There’s a kind of Japanese art that involves putting pottery back together with liquid gold. It’s considered more rare and beautiful for having been broken and having the AUDACITY to survive.”

That continues to be my favorite email exchange ever. As I continue to sort through my abuse, I continue to see God using it. As much as it hurts, God has just opened another door for me. He has given me the opportunity to touch people’s lives – boys, girls, young, and old – who have been wronged the way I was wronged.

Now please believe me when I say that it has taken me awhile to get where I am. This happened ten years ago. And just six months ago it was a secret tucked away in the furthest corner of my heart. I went through all the emotions. Denial. Anger. Hatred. Depression. Disappointment. I hated myself, I hated God, I still don’t like to be touched, I still have anxiety, I still push away people that I love, and the list of effects goes on and on.

But you know what else it does to me? It makes me stronger. It makes me see that only the broken speak the language of the broken. It forces me to believe that God’s plan is so much greater than mine. And it forces me to give my entire life to Him.

So I did what I always do and wrote a song. A song that I hope speaks into your life and into the lives of those who have been hurt. The link will be at the bottom of this post, but this is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE ENTIRE BLOG…

If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, please don’t wait ten years to tell someone. Don’t be afraid to burden those you love or think that you did something wrong. Reach out: to me, to RAINN, to family, to a friend, to a teacher, to a pastor, or to a counselor. Don’t let the pain and anger eat away at the best parts of you. Tell someone and then don’t be afraid to get the help you need.

God made you. He loves you and He will protect you through every storm of life. Through every flashback, episode, and counseling session, He is right there by your side. 

Thanks for reading, enjoy the song, and please pass this on so the world can see that just because your broken doesn’t mean your worthless. You can be covered in gold and considered the rarest and most beautiful art.

Newly free from another shackle,

Mariah Keener

 

Make It Thine by Mariah Keener

http://www.reverbnation.com/mariahkeener/song/21270842-make-it-thine

 

A Sincere Letter to Olympic Medalist, Nick Goepper

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On Friday, February 7 at 12:14pm ET, the world watched as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics began. The Olympics provide a platform for competition in contemporary sports (such as slopestyle skiing) and classic sports (such as figure skating and hockey). As each event’s final grew closer, the buzz from the audience and the competitors was electric. Perhaps the most anticipated event was the debut of men’s slopestyle skiing.

On Thursday, February 13 at 4:30am ET, the world (except for most of America) watched as the United States swept the podium for only the third time in history. The three men that had the American flag draped upon their backs were all under 25. Before the final, they showed videos documenting the short, yet strenuous experience that these men (Joss Christensen, Gus Kentworthy, and Nick Goepper) have had as they train to medal in the Olympics.

And on Friday, February 14 (Valentine’s Day) at 1:35pm ET, the female world (that are aware of sports and those competing in them) went into a frenzy. Us Weekly and Nick Goepper announced the #iwanttodatenick contest. Women from all over the world were invited to invite Nick (Bronze medalist) to be their Valentine. First it started with selfies, then came photoshop, then came videos, after that came original songs, and the cycle will indeed continue. Weirdly enough, I found myself doing all these things.

I made a funny picture:

Before and After my date with skiing star Nick Goepper

Before and After my date with skiing star Nick Goepper

I made a 15 second Instagram video (which is too embarrassing to post)

I even rewrote a Taylor Swift song because I heard he loves her:

I GOT HIS NAME TATTOOED ON ME!!! (okay I’m kidding) 😉 

My point is, is that I got wrapped up in this. I then got down on myself because some of the women that are submitting things are ten times more attractive than I am and more talented. So instead of show surface traits (which I guess I did above) I’m just going to write you a letter Nick. So here it goes (and I guess this is for everyone who doesn’t know me)

Nick,

First of all, congrats on your bronze medal. Thank you for representing the US and also us 19 year olds (we aren’t all trouble). Can I be honest with you Nick? Yeah? Okay. I didn’t know who you were until the slopestyle event. That could be bad or good, but at least I’m not a creeper who gets your face tattooed on me (or did I?). Anyway, you have girls throwing themselves at you from all of the world and I wanted to give you something more. This letter is not to plead my case, but to tell you who I am.

I have two loving parents and an awesome sister. My favorite color is blue. I play 6 instruments and sing. I can’t draw. Like at all. My stick figures are even bad. I love Apple products and the iPhone is the best invention ever. I am a sophomore in college and I’m going for music. I have a dog and she’s cute. See?

She's my favorite :)

She’s my favorite 🙂

Okay back on topic. Yeah, all these things are fine and dandy, but the thing you need to know about me is that I love my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without Him I am nothing. I continue to work on my relationship with Him, because that’s the only relationship I really need. So I just wanted to tell you something as you look for your valentine. Whoever you pick!

Guard your heart.

You are now one of the hottest young men in the sports world. You will be approached by all kinds of women saying that they love you. But be careful because they may very well love Nick Goepper, but they may not even care about Nick.

Nick, who grew up in the midwest and worked his way to the Olympic podium.

Nick, who loves his family (especially his mother and father who helped you get to where you are).

Nick, who loves to goof around and have fun.

Nick, who is gold in every sense of the word and no where close to just a bronze (sorry that was cliche, but I had to)

All these girls want a piece of you, and honestly at first, that’s why I was doing this. But now I just want to say: THIS IS ME.

So if by some chance, like 1 in a million, you pick me for this date, you know what you’re getting into. Sometimes I love too much, sometimes I don’t love enough. But one thing I know is that God’s love covers all: even Olympic medals. So I’m done, this is longer than I wanted, but just be careful. I feel like I’m being your mom, but choose wisely and whoever it is; show them what a dream date looks like.

Good luck in all you do and always keep Christ in the center.

Love,

Mariah Keener

A Day in the Life of a Sinner

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I am a sinner. You are a sinner. We are all sinners. I had to do a project for a class and the topic was sin. So what started out as a joke to one of my friends (I told them I would document their life) became an eye opener for me. I decided that every time I had a sinful thought I would video what was going on. I obviously had tons of footage and had to narrow it down to a minute and a half. However, thank God for his abounding love and extensive grace. By sending Jesus to die for my sins, all footage and beyond, I am free and there is hope. Doing this video opened my eyes to see how sinful I really am and it got me thinking. So now I just have one question:

What would your video look like?

Music: Worn by Tenth Avenue North

It’s a Blessing to be a Blessing

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On January 5, 2014 at 12:53pm, I walked into the Fulton Opera House in Downtown Lancaster for the first time in my life via a side door. At 1:30pm I was called, along with my fellow Chamber Singers, for dress rehearsal. At 7:00pm the show began. And at approximately 7:20pm we stepped onto the Fulton Stage in front of a packed house.

That was my Sunday. At an opera house. Singing arias in foreign languages. With the greatest voices of our time. Among the stars we humbly shared the stage with were:

Madeline Bender (Operatic Soprano), Timothy Long (Pianist), Joshua Jeremiah (Operatic Baritone which has been in more opera houses than I can count), Matthew Burns (Bass Baritone which works with opera houses and symphonies), Erin Morely (who just finished leading a production at the Metropolitan Opera and was recently featured in Vogue Magazine), Jennifer Johnson Cano (who is currently leading a production at the Met), and John Bellemer (who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Faust in the 2013 movie Lincoln).

As you can tell we were working with the some of greatest opera singers in the world. So I was so excited right? Wrong.

*Dr. Bigley, I’m sorry if you are reading this, so if you want you can skip to where I say you can start again* 

I was loathing this performance. I am not an opera singer, and I don’t want to be one. (It’s good to have those skills, but I won’t use them as a career) So to me, singing in an opera in the middle of winter break, was a waste of time and it took me away from my beauty sleep, Law and Order: SVU marathon, and the food in my pantry. I didn’t want to do it. Not even a little.

*Dr. Bigley you may begin reading again*

That was until I walked into the rehearsal room on Saturday (the night before the performance). We walked into the room and Timothy and Madeline immediately greeted us, making us feel welcome. Of course I was intimidated (as soon as they started singing), but that went away as they began to interact with each other and with us. They were normal, goofy, lovable people (especially John, Erin, and Joshua: they’re hilarious). I had so much fun in that rehearsal even though it was extremely tedious and sometimes boring (*gasp*)

As soon as Sunday rolled around, I couldn’t wait to get to the Fulton. First of all, it was my first time inside of the theatre. Second of all, I was performing there with music legends and some of my closest friends (who will one day be legends). Yes the day was long. Yes my voice was overused. Yes I came home and slept 13 hours that night. But it was all worth it. Why? Because I left out one minor detail.

This event was called Voices of Hope and all the proceeds went to the Mennonite Global Family Ministry. Madeline and Timothy decided to give back to the community where Madeline is from. So they grab their amazingly talented friends to come to Lancaster, PA and sing for this amazing cause. The most touching part of the night came at the end when the Chamber Singers, Timothy, Madeline, and the entire audience stood and sang hymn 606 (the Mennonite Doxology). The guest artists did not know that this was going to happen and they immediately reacted with smiles, joyful laughs, and tears. Following the show there was a gathering of the artists, the Voices of Hope committee, and donors. Before I left I wanted to personally thank each artist for joining us, to show my appreciation.

They were all nice, but then I talked to Erin Morely last. I went up to her and she immediately hugged me. I said a quick thank you to her, but then she said thank you to me. She thanked ME. She told me how blessed she was by the Chamber Singers and their attitudes. She said, “The happiness, joy, and energy that comes from your group is infectious and amazing. All of us (the guest artists) pulled from your energy and loved working with you. And you all sounded great.”

WOW

So three major things happened that day:

1. We sang professionally with professionals, who noticed our musical giftedness.

2. We were apart of a Gospel encounter for all the professionals and all those in the audience.

3. As the Chamber Singers, we showed the light of Christ, by being ourselves. And that is a second Gospel encounter for the professionals.

So I guess the point of this blog is to share the miracle that happened last night. Whether it be the money they raised or maybe a life that was impacted, Christ was glorified last night. But the greatest lesson I want to share is: it’s a blessing to be a blessing. I didn’t want to be a part of this event at first, but God pushed me into it and it became joyful, which led to impacting the life of at least one Opera superstar. Erin Morely was blessed by our group, by our attitudes, and touched by Christ last night. All I can do is pray for her, and trust me I am praying for her. I am so thankful for the experience and the conversation I had with Erin, and am feeling so, so blessed.

Sidenote: As I started writing this, I realize that this is extremely close to my last post, so it’s unofficially titled, Blessings (Part 2).