It’s already been six years since I graduated high school, which in some ways is hard to believe. Even so, I find that there are some events from my high school years that are hard to remember all the details, because they happened so long ago. There are others that are fondly etched into my memory and will be for years to come. Being in Highest Praise was one of them. It taught me more about music, friendship, and servanthood that I could have ever imagined. It did the same for my older sister and all our friends in it with us. It is doing the same thing for my little sister and her friends right now, as she is leaving on her 3rd Highest Praise tour as I am writing this. It was the highlight of my year each year I was in high school, and I think you will understand why by the end of this post. Although it would probably take me an entire book to recount all my memories, I want to tell you what Highest Praise does, and then I will share about the biggest lessons I learned from my four years on tour (2006 - 2009).
What is Highest Praise?
Before I go on describing the lessons I learned from Highest Praise, I probably need to explain what Highest Praise is for those that may not know. Highest Praise is an auditioned high school choir and small orchestra started by Ozark Christian College. All of us (we ran about 90 - 100 teens back in my day) would meet on the campus of OCC in mid-June and would have 6 days of intensive rehearsal to learn a full concert of 12 - 13 contemporary Christian songs in choral arrangements, sometimes with skits and/or narration parts. We would rehearse about 8 hrs a day during that week, mostly in the morning and evening. We would have some free time in the afternoon. We would end our day with a chapel service of great worship, a video message, and reflection time in our family groups. We would have a fun theme banquet toward the end of the week. On the 6th day, we had dress rehearsal on campus.
The next day, we would take off on tour. We used to have two tours (or groups) take off in opposite directions, but now they only have one. We would load up our charter buses and take off for an 11 day tour of churches all over the United States. Each day, we would travel to the church, be served wonderful meals by the church’s hospitality, do our concert, and then stay the night with host families from the church. The next morning, our host families would feed us breakfast, then we would load up the bus at the church and do it all over again. We occasionally had to spend a day traveling, and we also had fun days each tour at amusement parks and other attractions. After a week and a half on the road, we would return to OCC, where we would have our finale concert to end the tour, usually at the end of June or beginning of July. Since we had two tours back in my day (the Handley Tour and the Mahn Tour), this was the only time all of us performed the concert together. It was a total of 18 days we would spend in Highest Praise each year.
Each tour I went on was an incredible experience full of its own special memories and lessons learned. As I have been thinking back to all the time I spent rehearsing and on the road, I was amazed to realize how much the lessons I learned in HP shaped me into the person I am today. Three lessons stand out the most.
Being a Servant Is a Challenge
I think being on tour was one of the first times in my life when I remember specifically identifying what servanthood looks like and having the choice to live it out. You see, in order for everything to happen the way it’s supposed to on tour, every member is assigned a job on a crew. We had crews for luggage, equipment, ironing, bus clean-up, and everything else that needed to be done. We were self-sufficient went it came down to getting ready for a concert. We often didn’t even need the help of our adult sponsors! For me, I was always on the sound crew, which meant that I helped set up and tear down all the sound equipment we brought with us. My job usually boiled down to setting up the microphones and taping down their cords. It can be extremely time consuming if you don’t do it right, if you get distracted, or if you are running behind (which was very common). We also had to assist our sound technician with whatever he needed, which can be an extremely stressful job, especially if you are running behind.
All this being said, being on sound crew was a demanding job. We were often untangling cords, hauling around heavy mic stand bases, and even crawling on our hands and knees to tape the cords down to the floor so no one would trip. It wasn’t a glamorous job by any means. I was often late to dinner. I think I even completely missed dinner a few times. But as I became more used to the demand that this job required, I was amazed to discover how much I enjoyed it. In fact, I remember there was a few times when I was so caught up in getting the job done that the other sound crew members would have to remind me to go eat. I found that in doing the difficult but necessary job that I was also was able to put myself to the side, which is really what servanthood is about. Being in that state of mind when we performed I believed helped to make my worship more real and sincere. I had several friends that had similar things to say about their service informing the sincerity of their worship.
There’s a great quote that I have heard attributed to C.S. Lewis that says, “Being selfless is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” I found this to be true through my experiences on Highest Praise, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn what true servanthood looks like. I think the sincerity of our service is shown in this documentary my dad made of Highest Praise behind the scenes.
Being on the Road Is an Inspiring Experience
I don’t even know if I could begin to calculate the exact number of miles I traveled over the course of those tours. I guess that it was probably at least 10,000 miles I traveled over four Highest Praise tours (and that’s not counting my 8-hour trips to and from Joplin each year). It’s crazy to think about all the places I had the opportunity to travel to and all the people I had the chance to meet thanks to Highest Praise. I had the opportunity to travel to Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana (which was by far the most fun tour), Oklahoma, and Arkansas, just to name a few of the states we visited. I probably went to at least 30 different churches and stayed with at least 40 host families. I went to one amusement park (Silver Dollar City), Navy Pier, two national parks (Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Glacier National Park in Montana) and a music festival (the Alive Festival in Canton, Ohio).
That’s just an idea of where we went on the road. But all the tourist nostalgia aside, the thing that left the biggest impression on me was the hospitality that was given to us over those tours, both by the churches and our host families. The churches would make us the most incredible meals, and would be so welcoming to us. And our host families were amazing! We received more blessings than most of us could have ever imagined when we started on tour. To think that so many of them were willing to open their homes to complete strangers, and teenagers none the less! But that’s what the biblical concept of hospitality is all about. The Greek word literally translates to mean “the love of strangers.”
I definitely experienced that with my host families. I have some especially fond memories of conversations with my host families, the houses we stayed in, and sometimes even the outings they took us on after our concerts. We even had some of our hosts or the churches give us gifts bags when we left! I still have some of those gifts to this day and I thank God every time I remember those people and their hospitality. Most of my fellow Highest Praisers would say the same thing.
Being in Christian Community Is a Blessing Beyond Measure
It’s hard to find the right words to describe how incredible it was to live life in that kind of community for two and a half weeks each year. I ended up traveling with about 50 - 60 other teens and about 5 adults plus our bus driver(s). Most of normal life experience does allow for that kind of community over that length of time in Christian circles, especially in your teen years. Even things like church camp only last 6 – 7 days tops, but Highest Praise lasted 18 days. The friendships that were formed and the memories made in those friendships have lasted with me to this day. We were all brought together by our love of music and our love for Jesus. I may not have stayed in touch with many of those friends as well as I would have liked, but many of them are still my Facebook friends, and I could easily pick up right where we left off. Some of those friendships were sustained through college because we ended up attending Ozark together. Even some of the adult sponsors ended up being my college professors.
One of the things that makes me smile the most is when I discover someone was in Highest Praise before I or after I was in it. Not to say I would mind getting to reminisce with someone that toured with me, but it’s amazing to see what kind of connection I have with someone that wasn’t on tour with me. We automatically have a special connection because of our time in Highest Praise. No matter how long it has been for any of us, we have a mutual understanding of the experiences we had on tour and we often end up telling each other stories on the spot. There is still that sense of community among those of us who have ever had the experience of being a part of Highest Praise. In that sense, it unlike anything I have ever experienced. End of story.
As I said earlier, I could literally write an entire book about my experiences in Highest Praise. And maybe I will write more about specific experiences on Highest Praise in other posts. But as I reflect on everything that happened during Highest Praise, it still amazes me how much of an impact Highest Praise had on my young life. My YouTube user name, HPgirl0609, was derived from my experience in Highest Praise and the years I was in it. It has become such a huge part of who I am and how people know me.
The beginning of my understanding of the “Carpe Aeternatatum” also came from Highest Praise. My first year, I clearly remember the opening narration of our concert talking about the author John Piper recalling the plaque that hung on the wall of his childhood home. It read
“Only one life twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
The narration continued this thought:
“You only get one pass at life. That’s all. And the lasting measure of that life is Jesus Christ. What are doing with the life He died to give you?”
These quotes have stayed in my heart and my mind all these years later, especially that last question. As I think about this lesson and all the other lessons I learned, my heart still overflows with gratitude for those that made it possible and are still making it possible for other teens to have the same experience.
For the school to the adult sponsors to the churches that host them, you will never realize how much good you are doing by furthering this program. To all Highest Praisers of the past, don’t ever take for granted the experiences you had. To present Highest Praisers, remember to always give your best to the Lord in everything you do on tour (especially concerning your attitude) and I guarantee that you will walk off the bus at the end of tour a different person than when you started. And to everyone else in high school with musical talent that is thinking about doing it, you should!
I learned a total of 49 different songs over four tours, and I can honestly say thanks to Highest Praise, I now know what it means to praise God “At The Top Of My Lungs.” (which happened to be the title of one of the songs we learned). I hope that some of you will have the opportunity to do the same thing.
Please enjoy a few more pictures from my years in Highest Praise!
Because this phrase "Carpe Aeternatatum" is so unique, I should probably explain where I found out about it. I think you many better understand my vision after you read this story.
I had the incredible blessing of attending a private Christian school for junior high and high school. While there are many stereotypes associated with this type of schooling, this school was foundational to the person I am today. As my junior year of high school approached, my Bible class started to discuss possibilities for themes for our next year of chapel services we had once a week. We wanted a broad theme that all the chapel messages could fit under. After much discussion, our Bible teacher came up with the idea of using "Carpe Aeternatatum." He explained, much like I did in my last post, that despite its popularity, carpe deim was not the right mentality for a Christian to embrace while forsaking the effects the present and even the past has on the future. We really liked the suggestion, and started to work on developing this theme. Our teacher suggested that we use 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 as our theme passage:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:1-10 ESV)
The underlined part was our main verse. I'm not going to go into detail on this passage in this post, but I wanted you to know this idea's scriptural basis. As we looked at this passage and discussed it, one thing that became evident is that we were not meant to have our heads always stuck in the things of this world, but that we must live our lives in light of of the hope we have of an eternity spent with our Lord. When we began to realize the power of this theme, it changed everything.
That year of chapels was awesome, but the other amazing part of what happened with this theme is that it began a part of everything else. Our Bible classes, certain projects, and even our yearbook was themed "Carpe Aeternatatum"
This is a picture of my graduating class our junior year (yes, my whole class! This was all the people I graduated with!), in a picture they took for the yearbook. We wanted to get pictures like these of every class in the school, but for some reason, we only got 6 of them! We wanted it to remind us of a clock, and to remind us that our time on this earth is short. On the page that we had these pictures, we referred Ecclesiastes 3:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecc. 3:1-8 ESV)
I will never forget how the understanding I have come to have on this topic has come to have on my life. These verses are the main framework from which I shall pull my understanding of this topic. And from this framework, I wish to explore how it effects other areas of our lives and our worldview. If you want to find out how, please stay tuned!
[This second shot is funny because some of us were laughing. Enjoy!]
Those of you that may be checking out this blog and saw my last post might be thinking “What’s wrong with ‘seize the day’? Aren’t we supposed to enjoy life? Shouldn’t we take hold of every opportunity?" Well, I would answer both yes and no. I want to challenge the traditional view of this phrase from a Christian perspective, because I think it means more than we realize.
I heard the phrase “carpe deim” and “seize the day” a lot as a kid, and thinking that it sounded like a reasonable idea. After all, we shouldn't waste our lives wishing and hoping, but never doing. A lot of attention was brought to this phrase by the recent death of Robin Williams, because of his famous speech in the movie Dead Poets Society. Unfortunately, I believe both Williams and his character had the concept of "seize the day" from the wrong angle.
According to this scene, the reason we should make our lives extraordinary is so that people will remember us after we die, because our memory will be all that’s left of us. We will be fertilizer and nothing more. That is the sad reality for those that do not have the hope of salvation. “Living it up” merely because life is all we have is too small a thing to live for. “Let up eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is a reality of too many people today. Paul warns the Corinthians not to associate with people that live this way, because bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). This would imply that this is not the life philosophy that a Christian should adapt either, because we have hope in life after death. Although our bodies do decompose, our souls are bound to spend eternity with Him. We know that the things we do in this life will have consequences, either good or bad, that will follow us into eternity, so we can’t just do whatever we want.
However, I do think there is a connection between “carpe deim” and “carpe aeternatatum.” Just because we should live our lives in light of what matters eternally does not mean that we should lose sight of the opportunities that this life will bring us. I think that there is a difference between living life the way you want and choosing to seize the opportunities life brings your way. The latter is the wiser way to live, especially for the Christian. We should be seeking every opportunity to bring glory to the Lord, and to serve everyone else. “Carpe deim” reminds us that our lives are short, and that's what makes the opportunities we have all the more important. It also reminds us that we have the ability to choose the way our lives go, and that we should be faithful stewards of the free will and talents He gave us.
I want to conclude by sharing a song that my sister sang in church when we were kids called “Seize the Day.” This song has much more biblical approach to the idea of seizing the day. For myself, I personally pray that I am faithful with the gifts He has given me, and that I will be able to make the best of my short time on this earth, so that my eternity will be all the better. That’s what it really means to seize the day.
So, most of you are probably confused about the title to my blog. First of all, it's in Latin, which is a dead language, if that relieves those that thought you that were stressing about knowing what the word means. Second, you are probably more familar with the phrase "Carpe Deium." This phrase is translated as "seize the day." In other words, you are supposed to live in the moment to enjoy the moment, because you never know which one will be your last. While I do think that we should appreciate our time on this earth, that is not my life philosophy.
Instead, I try to live by the phrase "Carpe Aeternatatum." What does it mean? It means "seize eternity." This phrase carries with it the concept of living life in ways that will have eternal significance.
I am a Christian, and I believe that most important things that we should do on this earth is love God with everything we are and love one another above ourselves. Only the things that fit under those categories will matter in the end. This is illustrated by one of my favorite quotes:
"Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."
I once heard someone give a continuation of this quote:
"You only get one pass at life. That's all. And the lasting measure of that life is Jesus Christ. What are you doing with the life he died to give you?"
In light of this, my posts here are meant to point people to that purpose. If people truly believed this idea, I think that it would completely change the way we would approach life and how we interact with everyone around us. How, you may ask? That is the kind of thing I hope to talk about here. Stay turned to find out more.