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Sara Groves’ Invisible Empires

With musically interesting tunes and inspired lyrics, Sara Groves’ “Invisible Empires”is a feast for my soul and my ears.

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Gripping the steering wheel, I take shallow breaths. The telltale signs are there: tightened muscles, swiftly beating heart, twisting stomach. Anxiety holds me in a death grip.

I push a button and the car’s CD player whirs to life. Soft piano chords and a soothing voice transport my soul to a quiet place.

Lay down your arms,
Give up the fight,
Quiet our hearts for a little while.”

The song, “Miracle,” is the first in Sara Groves’s lastest CD, Invisible Empires. In it, Sara sings about finding peace and healing in a relationship. As in many of her songs, the lyrics are infused with personal experience and emotions. I understand and empathize, connecting with her heart as I listen to the music.

Although I’ve known of Sara’s music for years, in the past few months it has become a near-constant companion. In the midst of personal heartache, I kept Fireflies and Songs, her 2009 release, on repeat in my car’s CD player. A few weeks later, I bought Invisible Empires. Sara’s newest album presents an array of emotions and musical styles and, as usual, her lyrics dig far past the shiny surface of the Christian life.

The CD’s second track, “Obsolete,” is a poignant poem about the impact of technology on our lives and friendships.

“Are you and I an apparition flickering upon the screen?” Sara asks. Later in the song, the lyrics tie in the album title:

And I don’t know where we are
Are we passing through these wires?
Are we walking through the streets
Of invisible empires?”

As someone who feels the constant tug of technology, the pressure to keep up with endless streams of information on e-mail and social media, I understand these questions. Sara is asking if, in this world of virtual reality, we really know each other anymore. It’s a question I ask, too.

The songs “I’ll Wait” and “Open My Hands” both speak of resting in God and allowing him to order our hearts and lives. Many times, while sitting at stoplights or zipping down the freeway, I’ll sing along with “I’ll Wait” and let the words rise as a prayer of surrender:

I can take it from here
And have nowhere to go
I could take it for years
And have nothing to show
I’ll wait for You now more than ever
I see it’s true now more than ever
I’ll wait for You now.”

Echoed in these lyrics is the understanding that I cannot do anything productive in my own power — that I have to let God do for me what I cannot do for myself. And that He often asks me to wait while He works. Waiting is difficult, agonizing, and essential to spiritual growth. As I wait, it is helpful to sing along and realize I am not alone.

The song “Precious Again” is a beautiful reminder of the awe I felt in childhood when the world was new. Sara asks, “Where is the wonder?” When did I stop noticing the beauty around me, in nature and in the faces of people created in God’s image? But while the song begins with a wistful question, it journeys to a redeeming answer — an invitation to reclaim the sense of awe:

Friendship and goodwill, a sweet invitation
Kindred in spirit and eager to share
Love in familiar and long conversations
There is the wonder, there is the wonder.”

The chorus is a prayer, entreating God to continuously renew this sense of wonder about the love in our lives, asking him to “make it precious again.”

After a beautiful song based on 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter), Invisible Empires concludes with “Finite,” which Sara wrote in response to Chaka Khan’s 1978 hit “I’m Every Woman,” a song later recorded by Whitney Houston. The lyrics of “I’m Every Woman” proclaim a woman’s all-sufficiency:

Whatever you want,
Whatever you need,
Anything you want done, baby
I’ll do it naturally
‘Cause I’m every woman
It’s all in me.”

In “Finite,” Sara counters the idea of self-sufficiency. She writes, “I’m not every woman; it’s not all in me” and “I’m finite; I come to an end.” With humor and humility, she describes the desperation of grabbing for control yet realizing her frailty. And I relate. I agree. I nod, and sing along.

I take a deep breath as I park my car and reluctantly turn off the CD player. With musically interesting tunes and inspired lyrics, Invisible Empires is a feast for my soul and my ears. Anxiety’s grip loosens. In the beauty of Sara’s music, God gives me a glimpse of his perspective — and a taste of hope, grace, and healing.

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Jessica spent the first 23 years of her life in Tennessee, and the next two serving as a resident assistant at a missionary boarding school in Germany. Now back in Tennessee, she lives in a little yellow house and works a plethora of part-time jobs. Her favorite is running a homeschool cooperative based on Charlotte Mason's educational ideals. Learn more about Jessica by visiting her blog, I Wonder as I wander.

3 Comments
  • Jessica,

    You are an amazing writer and this post had me engrossed at “gripping the steering wheel.” Lately, that is how I have been taking life on, one chaotic moment at a time and feeling if I let go for one minute, that everything will fall apart. How untrue, if I remember to let God take the worry, anxiety, and expectations off my lap and onto His.

    I had never heard of Sara Groves until now. Watching her video put such a calm in my heart and listening to her be real and transparent about how she needs her support system and she wants to be in that quiet place of calm. How I long for that everyday.

    Thank you for sharing such a great artist who has truly inspired me today.

    In HIS grip…thankfully!

  • I was just listening to this album today. I love it! “Miracle” and “Open My Hands” are my faves. Great job reviewing it!

  • Great review.. my favourite song on the record is Eyes on the Prize… such a powerful & challenging song.

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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Articles

He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Sara Groves’ Invisible Empires

by Jessica Boling time to read: 3 min
3