• Dana L. Butler

On Treasuring My Limits and the Courage to Be Swept Away {in which I really let the Lord awaken my h

We dance and spin and fly around the room, my boy and I. Baby girl sits in her high chair, watching us with wide eyes. We’re pretty entertaining, I’d imagine.

Daily nap time is quickly fading into the past for our 3-year-old, and I’m coming to grips with it. So this afternoon after some “quiet play time” in his room, I’d invited him to join me downstairs for some Piano Guys videos on YouTube. Particularly this one.  It’s our fave.

We watch it over and over, first in the living room, then baby sis wakes up and we move into the dining room for snacks. The song comes with us and I think we’re on our 6th or 8th time watching it by now.

We move from watching and munching snacks, to conducting while the music plays, to this wild, full-on breakin’ it down together. It’s borderline tribal. Even Maia’s doing her little head bobbing move, and the entire time, I’m fighting back tears.

Tears, because I adore watching my kids develop a love for music.

But mostly, tears because this music is awakening places inside me that’ve long been dormant. Tears because I’ve tended to avoid it — to steer clear of music that moves me like this stuff does.

Threatening to Sing Me to Life

Yup, I’m owning it: I’ve been afraid of how it moves me. How these brilliant, God-breathed melodies wrap themselves around the strings of my heart and threaten to sing me to life.

For the last year and a half plus, I’ve played my guitar only a little, and my first instrument, the piano? Just a handful of times at home, and only minimally at church, because since August, when our church family moved out of our buildings and into smaller space, our worship team has been downsized.

There’s been such distance in my heart from my former focus on musical worship, that I’ve gotten rusty at allowing my heart to be moved by melodies and chords, by the way the Spirit sings and burns inside me, by the way I can’t escape the beauty of notes and lyrics and instrumental nuances. Not to mention rusty at playing my instruments and singing my heart with abandon before the Lord.

Y’all, we were created come alive in loving Him wild and free and wide open, and this whole music thing is so core to me loving Him like that, yet I’ve largely laid it down.

Some of the laying it down has been simply due to life season and lack of time — my children are little. ‘Nough said.

Some of it’s been because I’ve put time and energy into deepening and honing my skills as a writer, separately from music, which has been so life-giving and necessary for my heart.

Naming My Fears

But in the laying it down, in the growing rusty, fear has crept in. And in this season, as the Lord’s reawakening and cracking open these places in my heart, I’m able to put my finger on some of my fears.

I’m afraid, like I said, of music’s power to move my heart — how this All Consuming Fire burns inside me when the melodies and lyrics start to flow.

I’m afraid if I give in, if I allow another’s heart expressed in song to sweep me up and carry me away, I’ll be moved to create again. I’ll want to write songs, even produce another album (I have one from a decade ago), and I fear I’ll lack the the resources, the time, and mostly the skill, to fully give expression to all that’s in my heart.

Even in writing this, the common thread exposes itself — this root of my fears: I fear my limits. My limited time, limited resources, limited vocal and instrumental skill. Even limited articulateness, if that’s a word.

I’m so afraid of being held back. Afraid “limits” will translate to “leash” — tightly wrapped around my heart, this ever present reminder: you can only go so far, Dana.

Only so deep into the heart of God. Only so high in the Spirit. Only so fluent on your instrument. Only so authentic and authoritative as you prophesy His heart over your hearers. And only this much of the Fire in your bones will actually be able to escape your limited lips, your limited fingers.

My limits embarrass me. Lie to me. Shame me even, and I’m afraid they’ll win. Afraid they’ll pick up their pen and scrawl Failure! in blood red ink across my poured out guts — my rusty, timid efforts toward this raw, unrestrained spilling out before Him.

The banner over my life’s passion: Inadequate.  The label stamped over my efforts: Not skilled enough.

I’m afraid my limits will have the final word. 

The Girl I Once Was

My mind wanders back to a little girl making up songs about Jesus in her bedroom. Then forward in time a little to a teenage girl sitting alone, banging ivory keys, singing straight to His heart, not giving a second thought to her limited vocal range or piano skill.

Fast forward to my early 20’s: while more aware of my limits, I wasn’t paralyzed by them. I shared my worship vulnerably, weakness bleeding all over the place, but I learned to find safety in Him and the intimacy was more than worth the risk.

A full decade later and I find myself wondering — how’ve I become so afraid in my old age? So self-conscious? What has so opened the door for fear to come in and clamp down?

I don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, but I’m pretty sure the gradual shutting down of that girl who sang fearless, straight to her Love, has been cloaked at least somewhat in the guise of “maturity.”

Embracing My Limits

At one point yesterday during the undignified, singing, dancing crazy that filled my kids’ and my afternoon, I broke down and wept. I confessed my fear of re-awakening to His movement in my heart via music, confessed how I’ve clung to my supposed “dignity,” confessed to shying away from the way strung together notes can put me so profoundly in touch with my desperate love for Him.

I owned my fear and I asked for courage. Courage to move forward, to let Him open and awaken me in these tender places. Courage to admit that it matters to me whether or not I have opportunities to move in this gifting. Opportunities to open myself, tap into the flow of the Holy Spirit, to sing the heart of God over a generation.

And courage to admit that even though it matters profoundly, I’m terrified to move forward in the face of my limits.

And not just “in the face of,” but the invitation is to actually embrace my limits as part of what the Father will clothe in His mantle of holy authority. These blessed imperfections through which He desires to display tender, fierce, raging glory.

See, limits keep me humble, aware of my need. Limits create vulnerability. And in art and all of life, vulnerability makes space for beauty.

Vulnerability attracts anointing. Evokes longing. Moves souls. Dismantles depths. Reaches out to tenderly poke hearts awake, or to full-on shake them to their core. Vulnerability stirs our awareness of how God has woven eternity into the very fibers of our souls. How He created us with this gaping desperation for intimate connection with the Heart of the Most High.

The Road Forward: Returning to Childlikeness {or discovering it for the first time?}

I’m asking the Lord to take me deeper in this art form these days — the art of living gaping open, like a child who’s been entirely accepted, embraced, and affirmed, who’s never known rejection or invalidation.  Madeleine L’Engle calls it “the conscious-unselfconsciousness of a child,”* and I don’t have words for how deeply that terminology resonates in my heart.

Me at age 3

That unselfconsciousness and the raw authenticity it births — it’s what I’m after with every ounce of intentionality and courage I can muster. And though I don’t feel I have a complete picture of that heart in looking back at the 3 or 13 or 23-year-old version of Dana, in her I see signposts pointing the way.

And I have no doubt my Father is fiercely committed to taking my hand and leading me all the way to that place of unselfconsciousness. The place where my limits become treasured and sacred because His beauty fills the gaps they leave.

Because He has never not desired to unlock and unleash every. fiber. of how He knit me together. It’s always been huge in His heart. And it’s in releasing the fullness of the soul He’s given me — releasing me to live and move and worship from my very core, freeing me to hold nothing back and no part of me closed  — that He will receive the greatest glory in my life.

The glory of God is man fully alive. -St. Irenaeus

*{From Walking on Water, pg. 52}


I wrote this post in community with a bunch of incredible women via Story Sessions. Linking hearts and arms {and blog posts} with them today here.

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