Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just A General Update

So..what's going on around here? Well...

Shannon has a boyfriend. Marshall is his name. He's fun and competitive and has a great sense of humor, and the first time they hung out together at his house (with his parents), he taught her how to shoot a gun.


This is a different sort of romance!

Shannon is 15; she is not yet allowed to date. But they're hanging out together (even as I type, they are playing Guitar Hero...) and so far, so good.

I have to say that I am VERY thankful for the two boys that my eldest daughters have chosen to spend time with. They set great examples for Daniel and David, and they're lots of fun to have around.

David doesn't have a girlfriend (he's a little young!), but he got his hands on a nice guitar and struck a pose.

Looks pretty good, eh?

Other than this, Sarah is busy working a few nights a week at the local coffee joint. Both older girls are driving...I spend a lot of time in the passenger seat of the car, coaching and coaxing. Occasionally shrieking. I generally don't have a problem with cursing, but my anxiety level gets high in the car. However, since I seem to be in a constant state of prayer, what slips out of my mouth most readily is one word:


I am NOT taking God's name in vain; I am calling for help.

Sarah should have her license in March; Shannon, a few months later. I anticipate a whole new world of anxiety opening up for me at that point.

Daniel has been bitten by the female bug and seems to be obsessed with convincing a particular classmate to be his girlfriend. I trust that this, too, shall pass. In the meantime, I keep reminding him to take a shower, wear deodorant and do his homework. He's at that age. At this moment, he's sprawled on the floor, reciting his math homework aloud. In a British accent.

Go figure.

All three girls and I are training for the 10K run this year. If you've been around this blog for awhile, you'll recall that I ran SIX POINT TWO MILES last year and felt like the champion of the world. I was, in fact, the champion of my OWN little world. It was awesome, and it's particularly exciting to see that the girls were inspired and that they want to participate this year. We're running, cross-training, etc. The boys will run, too - but they'll do the mile kids' run. It'll be a family affair!

So. My house is constantly full of varying sorts of energy. We get through each day, collapse, and get up and do it again. And that is as it should be.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Cure For My Stinky Soul

I'm in the middle of some kind of season, for sure. Usually, the lull after the Christmas holidays finds me pretty content, happily catching up and reorganizing my thoughts and surroundings.

But work - and the continued activities of the kids as they get older - have really put a hitch in my days of relaxation and organization. I have always been extremely flexible, and not too obsessed with cleaning or tidiness. However, lately I feel suffocated and trapped by the sheer amount of Stuff in the house that is out of place, out of order, dirty or just generally needing attention. The house, in a word, is trashed.

I just feel swamped.

And I've not been coping too well.

I have learned, fortunately, to recognize the signs a bit earlier than I once did, and to identify the problem and search for a solution before my coping mechanisms move towards the dangerous or detrimental.

In the midst of all of last week's activities, I realized how busy I was - and yet, with all that was going on, I was also feeling pretty good about myself. Strange contradiction, I know, but bear with me. The tragic death of my friend's father led us to play music for the funeral on Wednesday. In the midst of this sorrow, we provided some amazingly beautiful music. I know that those present were blessed. My friends who sang and played guitar are gifted, and together we crafted something to help those who were grieving in that moment.

It felt good to be needed, and to do something in front of others. One thing about funerals, though: unless you are in a traditional funeral home, where they put the musicians behind a curtain, it's a pretty stark place to play. I did all of the pre-service music alone, which consisted of 40 minutes of piano improvisation. I pulled from familiar hymns that would be comforting to the audience of small town, rural farm folks. I enjoyed playing - but in a church, with the open casket in front of me as I sat at the piano, it's a little disconcerting to feel all eyes me. At a funeral, especially one where the death was sudden and unexpected, people don't visit much before the service starts. They tend to sit quietly, avoid looking at the body in the casket, and - in my experience - stare at the pianist, because there's not much else to look at. It was nerve-wracking. Although I am comfortable on a stage, this felt way too vulnerable. I'm not as secure as I think I am.

We went on from that to a small mini-conference of about 90 folks. Our 'Innovative Church Network' seeks to connect folks who are trying to negotiate the culture as it changes and intersects with the church. We heard from a terrific speaker who shared about 'Serving Values'. Having heard her before when she came to our church specifically, I had already implemented a lot of her ideas on my arts team. They work - they are hard-line, focused on accountability, unity and full-blown commitment to God (not much wrong with that, eh?). As we dialogued later in our breakout groups, it was easy for me to share what I'd learned and experienced. And as I did so, I kept thinking how good it felt to be the one in the group who looked like she had it all together. I felt like I was really all that. Other churches, arts leaders, worship pastors - they were struggling with musicians who didn't come to rehearsal, bad vocalists, etc. Me? I have this awesome, commited, large team. We do killer, innovative services. We got it going on.

It felt good.

(Can you smell my ego yet?)

And I went from there to a gathering of folks trying to start a new church in a county about 30 miles from our own. They have asked us to mentor them, to help out - they envision something that looks like what God has built here through our church, and for sure they want the quick numerical success that we have seen. They seem a bit stuck in their forward motion, due to reasons I don't quite comprehend. But when it comes to service planning, building a music team, I found myself declaring, with confidence, all I thought was necessary and needed. There is a lack of vision that will decimate this dream before it begins, and I stressed the importance of coordinating the vision before moving forward. I talked, a lot, and passionately.

If felt good. I felt important.

On top of that, our church is enjoying a season of massive growth. Services have been powerful, inventive, creative, with dead-on music and sharp messages. Attendance is steadily increasing, with more and more visitors checking us out and inviting friends when they return. People's lives are changing - one of several notes I read recently said, "Thank you for creating a church that I want to be a part of. It is making a difference in my life and for my family." We're talking about adding staff. We're building. People are supportive. (If you care, you can read more here.)
So. It feels good.

But something was wrong, something inside of my soul. Too much 'feeling good'. My continuing hormonal challenges made the entire week a challenge, along with sheer busy-ness, but there was a different thing nudging me. Something I could not readily identify - but it felt viral, like a small illness. Insidious.

Sunday morning, as I got ready to leave, I knew I had to do something before I led worship. My standard, "Lord, this day is yours. Move through me...." prayer didn't seem sufficient.

I got on my knees on my bathroom floor - my dirty, needs-to-be-mopped bathroom floor. Honestly, I don't pray on my knees much, but I felt stuck. I had to do something. Something different.

I asked God to forgive me for being so full of myself, for thinking myself so high and mighty. For allowing my ego to get so inflated. For thinking I was all that.
I said that I was struggling, that I couldn't say why or what was going on. That I didn't know how to fix it.

"Jesus, please forgive me for thinking I am so special."

And then...

There are times in my life when I know that God is literally speaking to me. This morning, it could not have been clearer.

Jesus spoke to me. I saw his face in front of my own, as best I understand what his face to look like. And the condemnation that my human nature has come to expect - the chastising reminder to 'humble yourself', 'pride goeth before a fall', 'you are SO full of yourself' - none of that came. My plea for forgiveness was answered quite simply, and in my soul I saw the face and felt the heart of God quite clearly as he replied.

"You are special. To me."

And from that, I extrapolate this: because I am special to the one in whom I place faith, I don't have to get so stressed over how special anybody else thinks I am. I can just let all that go. Sure, my ego got away from me - though I don't think I did anybody else any harm. I just beat myself up because I knew my soul was getting stinky. But it's a slippery slope, and dangerous and rocky road when your focus and your worth comes from all the good you think you are doing in your own little corner of the world. Been there, done that. Don't want to be there again, for the cost is great.

Say what you will about humanity's need for religion, or how and why people believe as they do. All I can say is that the reality of my faith in Jesus continues to be lived out on a daily basis, in a way that has relevance. It matters. It is real and personal, and it heals - beyond the encouragement of friends or self-help books. Past the hormone high of exercise or the pleasure of good food or a cold Corona.

And today was a very good day.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

It's snowing here in Virginia, which means it's panic time for the weather boys and girls. Yesterday I heard one TV weatherwoman say, "And tomorrow, it appears that we will be having a weather event."

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? I guess this is the 'weather event': IT'S SNOWING!!!!!

It's pretty and the air feels crisp and cold. The clouds are hanging low and heavy, burdening the sky.

I'm sitting in the midst of a house that appears to have been the scene of a weather event itself - or perhaps a party event - but, in truth, it's just the home of five busy, rambunctious kids. Who are all gone. But they've left a trail behind; homework, cereal bowls, shoes, Wii controllers, mail, books, shoes, more shoes, and look - over there! - more shoes!!!

The youngest four are spending the weekend with their dad, having a lot of fun, I'm sure.

The oldest...


I just returned from putting Sarah and Elijah (boyfriend) on a plane bound for Cleveland. His birthday gift to her. His mom and I drove together, got them checked in, watched them make their way through security, waved one last time and then watched them disappear. I did okay, until she turned and walked beyond my sight.

And then I felt my heart crack.

Sarah is at the stage in life where more and more things will occur that she will navigate alone, and I will simply have to stand back quietly and watch. Pray. Breathe deeply. Hold my tongue. Today was one of those. It's a challenge to imagine her on the plane (her first flight), a little nervous, wondering what she's hearing and feeling and experiencing, without me there to explain it all and reassure her. And keep her safe.

And here come the tears...

My children, my greatest joy, occupy the softest part of my heart. The part that didn't even ripen until their birth. And sometimes it feels as though the past 17 years have been nothing but slow and steady growth, a careful maturation of beauty and confidence, a fragile bloom that turned into a firm fruit, still on the vine.

Watching my daughter walk down the runway to airplane with her boyfriend provokes a major tugging on the vine, that still-existent umbilical cord that binds me and bids me watch over her.

My daughter is far, far away, above me even as I type this. What a feeling. I'm not sure I like it so much, but I welcome it, I suppose. The whole point of having them is to raise them up, empower and equip them to be decent, independent humans. Right?

I miss my girl already.

Friday, January 11, 2008


I'm gaining a new appreciation for the internet.

A few weeks ago, I started using Bloglines to check on my favorite blogs. It was getting so ponderous to check and double check websites for new updates. Christine mentioned using a feed and gave a little 'how-to' on her blog, so I tried it out.

Whoa. I know that many of you are doing this already, so it's old news for you - but, hey - it was new to me. And it is so cool. The drawback is that it takes an extra click or two to leave a comment, and I've noticed that I'm more inclined to read and navigate away, rather than comment. But at least I'm keeping up.

Bloglines made suggestions for feeds, and I took them up on a few offers. One of them - I am not exaggerating - has been lifechanging.


It's updated like every 10 minutes, and it's a collection of ways to use technology - specifically, your computer - to really improve your life. As someone who finds hours sucked out of my free time while mousing around on my trusty Dell, this is good news for me. Improve my life. Please.

Here's what I've discovered, thus far, reading Lifehacker feeds:

  • Circa notebooks from Levenger. I read about these, watched a few videos, ordered a starter kit. It came today. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. Somebody read my mind and made exactly what I needed for my life. These notebooks allow you to put various sizes of paper in them - and it's all removable. Interchangable. The plastic cover and pocket folders are sturdy. It's not a spiral - it's all connected by little plastic discs that clip into the paper. Oh. My. Word. As my 17-year old says, "You have no idea." This is good. Really good. It will revolutionize my work life, organize my life and make me happy forever. No kidding.
  • iGoogle. A front page that works. Shows me if I have mail in my gmail account; has a fast click to Bloglines. The current weather is front and center. News clips. Yahoo without the annoying ads that take way too long to load. My calendar, front and center, which is handy because Outlook has become demon posessed...

  • Google calendar. Oh, yeah. It gladly welcomed my Outlook calendar file - opened the door, invited it in to have a drink and sleep over. Now they're playing Guitar Hero together. Okay, not really - but it's good. It does what Outlook does, at least to the degree that I need Outlook - but it's just...well...cooler.
  • Right now, I'm checking out a piece of software that supposedly analyzes your music library and helps you identify songs by the beat per minute - enabling you to put together a good, consistent workout playlist. I just started training for the 10k, and I'm tired of clicking through my iPod workout list, because what I thought would be a good track for running ended up being ridiculously slow. I also read about a band called LCD Soundsystem that has a track called 45:33, designed to give you just that - 45 plus minutes of perfect beats per minute for working out. Cool. Check out the link - groovy music.

It's like this whole new world opened up to me. What can I tell you?

I'm going to go play with my new notebook.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

He's Only Eight Years Old

Before school today, David and I were cuddled on the couch watching a bit of the morning news. One of the hot topics was the New Hampshire primaries.

A picture flashed of Barack Obama. I asked David if he knew who that was on the screen.

Uh....Bara...Bar somebody..."

And how about the lady? Do you know who that is?

"Yeah. Isn't that George Washington's wife?"

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It Is What It Is

I mentioned, a few posts back, that I intended to reunite all members of the nativity ensemble for a gigantic birthday party for Jesus. I did just that, although the blue ceramic group as well as the clear glass gang all sat out this event and had their own gathering in other rooms of the house. Above, you see a fine reprensentation of the various members of our nativity sets.

As I cleaned up yesterday, which included taking the ornaments off of the tree, hauling the tree out to the back deck, wrapping and packing Christmas dishes and picking up scattered decorative things sitting around the house, I gave myself a moment when I got ready to clean off this shelf. The implications of this tattered, diverse group gazing at baby Jesus (actually, there are TWO baby Jesus's here...) touch me in a significant way.

First of all, our family nativity sets are all damaged in some way. Headless shepherds, broken pieces, missing parts. Damaged goods. I often feel that way about my life, or perhaps more specifically, about the fullness of my life. Some parts are in good shape, or at least appear to be highly functioning. Other aspects are disorganized, missing, chaotic. Broken. It's somewhat reassuring to think that - like this gathering - it's okay to simply gather up whatever you've got and lay it out, in full view. It is what it is.

Secondly, it's a diverse group here. Various styles, different ways that artisans have chosen to represent the people gathered at the birth of Jesus. From the cloth, stuffed set (created years ago by my mom, when the kids were younger and the danger of breakage was greatest), to the simple, clean lines of the wooden Mary. The tiny fellows in front are from my own childhood; I always loved the deep black skin of the shepherd looking skyward, and the bald guy with what looks like a wash basin.

All are welcome. We take everybody.

Interesting, too, that out of all these different sets, only two Jesus figures remain. Jesus tends to get lost, buried, set aside. We've never broken a Jesus figurine - just misplaced or overlooked him.

There's a metaphor that needs no explanation.

As we glide into a new year, I hope that my life looks more like this during the coming months. I'd like to say that my heart becomes more open, less judgmental. I hope that my kids learn to see more than what's in their frame of reference; that they are able to witness the fullness of the kingdom of God, in spite of the limitations of their culture.

I think this mishmash nativity is the metaphor I'll cling to today, rather than make any grandiose resolutions that I probably won't keep anyway.

(Although I did start the day with 50 crunches and 20 pushups, something I'd like to continue - daily - for the next 364 days!)

Happy New Year!