Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Scales

Interesting, that part of my journey over the past year has included this strong and persistent voice saying, "You are more than a piano player. You are more than just a piano player."

True, that.

But this week I am spending time with this instrument, which happens to be my favorite piano on earth. My hands rest on the keys and I feel home. It is incredibly difficult to describe; it's more intuitive than anything else. A feeling, an emotional connection. Odd, I know, because to most, it's just a piano.

But it's more than that. And this particular instrument is home to me.

This morning, I played scales for a long time, round and round the circle of 5ths. Whole notes, then quarters, eighths, triplets, sixteenths - the same way I teach my current students. Arpeggios and broken chords followed. I played and played, and found myself so settled by the linear, mechanical certainty of how my fingers fell. "1-2-3-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3-4...."

The patterns are etched into my brain.

I played a little Beethoven and the peace of dissonance and resolution settled me. Seems all is right with the world.

I am a pianist. I am more than that, surely; but at the moment I am reminded that at my core, built into my soul by my Creator, honed by years of diligent practice and a hunger for harmonic beauty, I am a pianist.

I'm resting in that today. And I am satisfied.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Our long awaited wonderful Savior has come to deliver us 
out of the darkness
And into this marvelous love that has given us life - new life
So shine your light - shine it bright"






Merry Christmas, everybody.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Full Heart For Christmas

Since divorce divided our family, I've grown accustomed to flexibility for holidays. We share, and things generally go pretty well.

That continues. I'm grateful for the relationship I have with my kids' dad and their stepmom. Many months ago, they asked my permission to have the kids spend the entire Christmas break with them; they wanted to plan a trip to Florida. They honored me by asking, and their reasoning was sound. I agreed.

That was about nine months ago. I'm still fully supportive of the idea, and excited for the kids and the fun I hope they'll have. I am squirming a bit at the thought of two weeks without them, especially Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as always, flexibility rules the day, and we've found a way to make it work.

So yesterday, after spending FOURTEEN HOURS at the church (and I'm not the only one...) as we prepare for Christmas week activities, I came home to our "Christmas Eve" celebration. We had a ham, and hot rolls and beans and a late dinner, followed by our traditional Christmas carols 'round the piano, the reading of Luke 2, the lighting of the blue Christmas candle and prayer. Santa sent an elf to stuff stockings (but he didn't leave much else, since it's not really Christmas....yet...) The kids woke up early and ran downstairs shrieking, and we spent the next three hours giving one another gifts.

I'm so happy that a tradition from their dad's family continues to this day; each kid gives the presents they have for one another, one by one, in birth order. When new folks are around (like Tony and Travis this year), they slip into the system according to their birth date as well. We open gifts one by one and take a minute to appreciate the giver. It makes the morning VERY meaningful; I really do think that all of the kids have come to value the giving more than the getting. That makes my heart swell with joy. As they grow older and more independent (and with their OWN shopping funds), it's really cool to see what they come up with on their own to give to one another.

My parents came by and added to the mayhem, giving and receiving gifts of their own. It was a warm, wonderful morning. I was blessed.

Traditions continue with a big pot of homemade potato soup (which is always accompanied by a hearty discussion of which potato soup is best, including my own - "The one you made with all the pepper that time!" - and others - "Mom, the potato soup at JMU sucks!")

We're winding down now; the kids are packing, the house is quiet, Tony is off running errands and taking the morning's trash to the dump (an advantage of celebrating Christmas when it's not really Christmas - everything is open!)

I feel blessed. I will miss my kids for the next two weeks - at times, probably quite desperately. But we have created family, one that is widespread and far-reaching, grounded in a common love for our Creator and His creation. We have memories and tenacious bonds of love for one another. That remains, regardless of distance. As they grow older, those bonds are stretched; each time, it seems, is a preparation for the next.

They leave in little ways, as it should be. But I'm finding that the residue of grace and love that they leave behind almost makes up for any sorrow in their absence.

My heart is truly full.
Shannon & Travis, singing in harmony...

Always, where I am most comfortable...

Shannon reads

Sydni's turn

The Christmas candle...not even sure where it came from, but it's now part of the family

Doing the Charlie Brown dance

More dancing!

The nativity scene is full this year

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Snow Storm And The Dawn Treader

What a crazy week. Due to snow (minor amounts) and broken water mains, my high school aged kids went to school once this week. Great for them, as they end up with a three week winter break. David had to go twice.

It was great to have them home so much more, but it made the entire week nutty. I couldn't remember what day we were on, and I still can't believe tomorrow is Sunday. Actually, today is Sunday. It's almost 1:00AM and I'm nowhere near sleepy.

Today (uh...I mean yesterday) was Sarah's 20th birthday, which meant dinner at my mom's and loads of fun. We had to shop today, because add to the craziness the fact that we are celebrating Christmas Eve tomorrow night, with December 20th being our "Christmas morning" and you've got one upside-down, confused family. With a firm deadline on finishing all Christmas shopping before an all-day rehearsal at the church tomorrow....sigh....

I can't keep sense of it all.

It has been a good week, though. One highlight: taking a break from work midday Friday and going to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third in the Narnia series. These stories are close to our hearts, as we listened to the entire series on audio books during a season of life that saw us making the eight-hour journey to Ohio on a monthly basis. We'd get closer and closer to the meeting place at Tamarack, and the kids would plead, "Slower, Mom! Slow down! We have to get to the end of this chapter!"

Aslan and Edward and Caspian championed us through a tough time of our lives. The movies are visual representations of some very powerful parts of our history.

This third movie is, in a word, awesome! I highly recommend it. Make sure you catch up on the first and second installments before you go. I was absolutely thrilled with the story, the characters, the actors, the special effects. I loved Eustace and the redemption of his terribly grumpy attitude. Loved the story; every time Aslan comes on the screen, my heart quivers and I cry.

Powerful stuff, this. The allegory is rich and surprisingly moving. Go see this movie. Take kids with you.

Try: Reverb10

December 18 – Try
What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

I read something on Facebook this week that caught my attention. It hasn't left. It was a question along the lines of Have you made your house a home? If not, what are you waiting for?

We purged the attic this week. I was stunned by how much crap (excuse me) was up there. The majority of it was either thrown or given away. It was needless, mindless clutter.

I think my house is full of too much needless, mindless clutter. I would like to be intentional about creating a home - with things that matter, colors that calm and inspire, functional doors and windows and locks and appliances.

I tried to stay healthy and fit in 2010, but I just got lazy. I didn't go for it. I'm carrying an extra 20 pounds because of it. I'd like to do something about this, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lesson Learned: Reverb10

December 17 – Lesson Learned 
What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward? 

I learned - as in accepted, admitted, and owned - that I am not just a piano player.

I am applying that lesson on a daily basis, leaning into the responsibilities of my role at my job and leaning back into being the woman that God created me to be. It's a strange brew at times, leaving some old assumptions behind and trying to stay centered while putting on the new me.

I had a vision a few months back that moved me forward in a deliberate way. This happened as our staff retreat began last summer; we were away for a few days sequestered in a house at Lake Anna. Our plan was to work on strategy and ministry plans. We also had a bit of work to do on ourselves.

For me, it was at the very beginning of the retreat. I had wriggled my way into the new skin of Married Again, learning how to wear another's name, to share my bathroom and my bed, to ask before I decide. Within that transition, my work persona remained steady. But after six months, it was time to see all things with fresh eyes.

I wasn't sure of what I was seeking, but I was prepared to take it in. And so I had this vision: I was walking toward the Creator, who was full of grace and gentleness. He is the face and figure of Christ. I moved towards him and felt accepted, completely. And then he held up a robe for me, as a gentleman would for a lady. His eyes asked the question; "Are you going to put this on?"

And he waited. It was my decision, obviously. He would not love me any less either way - that was clear. But he offered a garment.

And I knew that I'd heard the invitation I'd been waiting for. Not that it is a fulfillment of any great desire on my part - but the acceptance of my purpose. The confirmation of a call.

So this is what I have learned, through this vision, something supernatural and spiritual: I have learned that I am more than I was settling for. There is more, and it is offered freely.

The application will be tangible. Not long after that experience, I told my friend and pastor that I was ready to move forward with the process of ordination. I know that I have been called - not because I finally figured it out, but because I was called. It came in an unexpected and rather odd fashion, but I am called.

And I'm listening.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Everyone Can Make It To The Healthy, Weathly Corner

I'm generally not much of a stats wonk, but I found this fascinating. It's a great lesson in communication (it's interesting and easy to understand, even for a stat-avoidance person like me).

Plus it gives you a lot to think about.

Five minutes. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

5 Minutes: Reverb10

December 15 - 5 Minutes
Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. 

January 1, I woke up married.

At the end of January, we had to cancel church due to snow. In fact, we had to do so for two consecutive weeks. It was energizing (jogged my memory a bit by reading this). I'm thinking about that day as we consider an impending snow storm this weekend...

We moved into the new church building. We started a campus at Westchester.

I saw Wicked with my mom and my girls.

David and I hung out at Emerald Isle for spring break while the other kids went to NYC on a mission trip.

We went to Florida, all of us on our first major road trip. We survived.

Shannon graduated, celebrated, got into JMU and moved to Harrisonburg. She grew up, broke up with Travis and grew up some more. Then got back together with Travis.

I became friends with Lindsay Harris, one of the greatest blessings of my life.

I walked through an immense valley of depression and the roller coaster of bipolar disease with two people that I love. I watched the evil of cancer nudge its way up to the heart of one of my dearest friends.

I lost a dear old friend who was born the same year that I was born, and realized that 47 is not old; we are young, yet, with much life to live.

Five minutes is not quite long enough to process an entire year....

Secret Ingredients

Made chili for dinner tonight. Added a special secret ingredient.

Can't tell you what it is, but it begins with "peanut" and ends with "butter".

Can't tell you whose recipe it is, but his name starts with "Bo-" and ends with "-no".

And I love him.

Yum.

(He told me yesterday that he reads my blog every day, so everybody wave "hi" to Bob!!!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Appreciate: Reverb10

I'll never catch up, so I'm going to just jump back in:

December 14 – Appreciate
What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? 

I apologize for hitting on the same theme again, but it's the marriage. I have learned to appreciate the institution of marriage itself; the partnership, the relationship. The give and take and the selflessness required to be married well.

our first month anniversary cake

I have come to realize many things as I have grasped a greater appreciation for a marital partnership. Most importantly, I'm seeing the value of relationships - any and all - in a new way. This is probably partly due to the strengths of my husband in this area, and also because I'm simply functioning in a healthy relationship. Much is required. Much is given. And much is gained.

I express gratitude every day, as best I can, through words and deeds. It's a circular motion that necessitates a daily push. And I'm learning to appreciate the strong marriages I see around me, to pay attention and learn from those who are hanging in there and building something made to last. It matters.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wishing You And Yours The Same Thing, Too

Going forward with the "transitions" theme - tonight we decorated the tree without all of us present. That's a first. Shannon's still at school, not scheduled to be home until this week.

But you gotta love technology. She was "with us":



We stayed on Skype throughout the decorating. It was better than being completely separated.

We realized late this afternoon that we had no lights. This was after I sent the boys up to the attic three times, refusing to believe that they "couldn't find the lights". Finally, I threatened to do them harm if I ended up going up up there and sniffing out the location of the lights within the first few minutes. Syd even offered to bet money on me. But we started to think a bit, and remembered getting out all of our lights for a party in July. In fact, we remembered that we didn't have enough lights and that we had to borrow some from the church. And then we recalled how we packed all the lights up...and we realized that we'd taken all of the lights back to the church in one big box. I guess it was part of our tithe.

The boys were right. They couldn't find the lights because WE GAVE THEM AWAY.

So I calmed down, and we called Tony to see what he had done with HIS lights from HIS tree last year. Sure enough, he gathered up a few strands and we got lights on the tree.

We pulled out our huge collection of glass ornaments, gifts, hand-crafted stars from countless pre-schools and we got that tree looking good. As we worked, we listened to Harry Connick's Christmas album - there can be no other for tree decorating.

We saved a few ornaments for Shannon to hang when she gets home. But it's done. The halls are decked and the fa-la-la's are ringing loud and clear.








Merry Christmas, y'all.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Of Life, Loss, And Exhaustion

I'm stalling out, at least today, on the Reverb posts. This is just a post for posting's sake. Since Sunday, I have worked right around 57 hours. That's 10+ hour days, five days in a row. I'm not the only one, and I hope that my coworkers are carving out some time to breath tomorrow. It's been a busy week.

That is a ridiculous understatement. It's been an relentless week. I am exhausted, though I am content that it was work well done. But I have missed my home and my family. My dear, darling husband coaxed me home via a phone call tonight, telling me that it was all worth it. The time away matters, he said, because it was for work that became such a blessing to so many through the church.

Is it possible to receive such encouragement from the very one who was robbed the most? What a gift I have been given...

We held two Blue Christmas services this week. Tuesday night we were hosted by a traditional church in a neighboring town. I only knew about half the people in attendance. We offered a gentle blessing, the gift of our music and a brilliant message from our pastor. Grace covered us.

Tonight, we did the same service at our facility in Powhatan. We were "home" and there was a different sense of calm amidst the grief, something that spoke of safety and security. I love the people I work with through PCC, and to share music with John and Lindsay tonight, to weave "O Come O Come Emmanuel" around Jackie's recitation of a deeply hued Emily Dickinson poem - these things gave my heart a cushion.

Eric Heebner, my friend
I grieved tonight, carrying a hurt that was not present Tuesday during our first service. Tonight my heart hurt, not only for the grief that loomed large in the room, in the faces and hearts of the people in attendance. I hurt tonight for the loss of my friend Eric, who died in a car accident Wednesday morning in Texas. He was a dear, gentle friend, one whose kindness always graced my life. There are some people in my history who never, ever did any harm. Eric was one of those. He was a good man, a kind soul, a good father. And he is gone. I am shocked by how wrenching this is to my soul. We had not talked in over a year, but he was my friend. A good friend.

In honor of Eric, I am seeking peace tonight. Contemplating his death, I consider the opportunity for life that we still have; the things left undone and unsaid. How many others will slip the bonds of this life and move on to the next, taking with them a small piece of my heart? It will happen again and again, and we will mourn again and again.

And the sun will rise again, and again, and then again. And we will be left to consider all that remains.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Make: Reverb10

December 6 – Make
What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? 

Tonight I made quiche.

I've never made quiche - at least not that I remember. Found a basic recipe on google (on my phone, while walking into the grocery store).

Inspired by the fresh, natural eggs that my pastor and his wife keep sending our way (thanks to his new chicken-raising hobby), I decided to get creative. So, I used eggs.

And cheese, pie crusts, bacon, salt, pepper and half-and-half.

I want to make my tree beautiful and decorate my home for the holidays. I'm just not sure when it will happen. Every night this week is booked. The tree is up, but it is simply A Green Tree In The Corner. Like a large house plant.

Rather odd.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let Go: Reverb10

December 5 – Let Go
What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? 

A few things come to mind.

I let go of my identity as a single mom. That was a bit more complicated than you might imagine. I am all about the knight in shining armor that is my beloved, but after seven years of honing my hard-scrabble survival skills, I had created a life that worked, more or less. It wasn't easy, but I knew how to get 'er done.

And I will confess to no small amount of pride, occasionally, when someone threw the "I just don't know how you do it!" line my way.

There were times that I took a lot of comfort and security in that superwoman suit. To shed it meant crafting a new identity, one that involved a partnership. Give and take. Relinquishment of control. Willingness to relax, to share the load. To find some legitimate self-esteem, something not based on sheer endurance and survival.

Letting go was a process. First there was the planning, and then the wedding, and then the first month, and then the second month, and so on and so on. Even today, I had to remind myself to let go, as he offered to take on a few tasks this afternoon that normally fell into the realm of superwoman duties. Because he did what he did, I was able to do what I needed to do, and to do it much better than I would have had he not offered his assistance, which made him feel helpful and useful and made me appreciative and a little more willing to let go a bit more, which made him feel appreciated.

See? It's confusing.

It's a process.

It's worth it. I love the man. I love this life.

A Christmas Message

The PCC staff and steering team met today for our annual Christmas party. We shared some good food, had a fun gift exchange and enjoyed a few moments together.

As our time drew to a close, our thoughts turned toward a good friend who hasn't been able to be with us at church lately.

Bob and Jeannie, you are never far from our thoughts. So we thought we'd send you a special message.

video

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wonder: Reverb10

December 4 – Wonder
How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? 

I tried to be very intentional this year about including art in my life in a way that transcended my job. There are a few specific events that stand out.

My mom and I went with my three daughters to see Wicked, an incredible touring company production at Richmond's Landmark Theater. The story is clever and creative, the music beautiful. The performances were brilliant. It was a wonder-filled moment, made richer because of the company.

I spent a Sabbath morning roaming the halls of the newly refurbished Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Transported to another time by the American art that leads through decade after decade of change, chaos, love and war in our country. Although I'm certain the intent was not such, I came away feeling a deeper sense of patriotism. I love the museum. And IT'S FREE. HELLO? Wonder, doubled when my husband joined me for a brief tour of my favorite pieces. Wonder tripled when my mom and I returned for a special quilt show.

Tony and I had first rate (FRONT ROW!) seats for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, again at the Landmark. I was happy to go because I knew my husband would be delirious with joy; the sense of wonder got me with a sneak attack. I loved every second of every guitar solo. And there were a LOT of guitar solos. Joy, joy, joy! And surprise wonder!

Just last night our church staff experienced Behold The Lamb,  a Christmas musical presentation by Andrew Peterson and several of his fellow folk singer friends and relations. It was an experience possessed by a depth of spiritual wonder that I hadn't sensed in some time. Very liturgical, in the sense that a good percentage of the crowd was familiar with the work - which songs came when, where the climax occurred, how the "hallelujahs" arrived. This group has toured for eleven Christmas seasons with this show, and the ritual has power. Beautifully and emotionally executed, flawlessly played. Being surrounded by friends and coworkers exponentially increased the wonder.

We had an incredible experience at church a few weeks back, when we set the stage in the middle of the room, pulled in all new sound and light equipment and had a worship experience "in the round". I lead worship and play music weekly, and it's always - always - a profoundly moving experience. But surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, the wonder seemed to come hover all around. It will not be forgotten.

Moment: Reverb10

December 3 – Moment
Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

I am cheating a bit, because I was married on December 26 of 2009. For me, the year began on THAT DAY. Everything has pushed forward from that moment to create my year.

Our ceremony, at The Jefferson Hotel, was....well, I have typed and re-typed words. I can't find anything that doesn't sound gushy and ridiculous. So let me just say that it was amazing. Awesome. Incredible.

Surrounding by the best friends I've ever had and resting on the unyielding support of my family, we made a vow to do this, to do it forever. My heart sang.

And the best, most exquisite moment was shortly after we were properly wed. We walked through the doors into the foyer, and for a few precious breaths we had each other and only each other. We looked at each other, stunned, and said, "We're married."

Sarah caught a photo.

It was the best moment of the year, by far.

Not a lot of details here, but my heart remembers. And that's what matters.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Writing: Reverb10

December 2 – Writing 
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)

Undoubtedly, the time I spend reading detracts from my writing. Specifically, reading content on the internet that does little more than serve as junk food. Fills some sort of need, briefly, without nourishment.

The books I read - even the magazines that coax me to sleep each evening - inspire me and give my thoughts wings. I finished Franzen's Freedom and thought, "Oh, oh, oh. Such depth, such beauty, such life."

Well, okay; maybe that's an exaggeration. I probably thought something more like, "Holy crap. That was a good book."

Regardless, I read - some of it trash, some of it golden. And all that steals the moments from my days - Facebook, poorly-written blogs that appeal to my voyeuristic nature - all those thiefs must step aside in order for me to write. They rob my thoughts and offer little more than weak-winged words and incomplete sentences. Having a status is a poor substitute for being alive.

And I'm a sucker for it.

**Part of a writing prompt project for December designed by Reverb10. Check them out and join in!

It's My Favorite Holiday

Here are a few photos from this year's Thanksgiving celebration. We were at home this year, with Mom and Dad at the table with us. It was one of the most restful and relaxing holidays I can recall.

The table was full. Mom brought her signature cornbread dressing, and it pretty much ruled the day. Along with the deviled eggs and the FIVE pies we had...

Our yearly treat is sparkling grape juice for all. We always run out, so this year I stocked up and we opened bottle after bottle after bottle...





It's a yearly tradition that the cook kisses the turkey. Don't ask me where or when this actually started, but we've got pictures from several years running of various females in the family offering the crowning touch to the bird. My turn this year!
Shannon was home.

That was good.

In fact, having everybody under one roof was extraordinary this year. I truly appreciated the "homecoming" aspect of the holiday, more than ever before.




Our dinner conversation always begins with a tour around the table, when every person in attendance has a chance to voice their thoughts regarding a year's worth of gratitude. This year was interesting; our first year with Tony officially in the family. That marked the top of his gratitude list - our new family unit.

Daniel offered thanks for his percussion teacher. I thought that was cool.

David actually had something to say this year, which in itself brought me to tears. He has grown so much; he is surging into a full, confident life of brilliance. I was so proud of him.

Mom offered thanks for her good health, and then said "Oh, and by the way, I am having surgery in two weeks...."

It was our "WHAT??" moment at the table. She assured us that it was minor (cataracts) and not anything to worry about; but her timing was impeccable.

The day included little more than food, conversation, naps, the newspaper (and shopping plans, which didn't materialize for me except for the online variety...) and a sweet sense of life, slowly.

It is, indeed, my favorite holiday.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One Word: Reverb10

December 1 – One Word
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)

2010 - Transition

Undoubtedly, this year has been marked by change. A friend at church who led a seminar on how to offer support to those in crisis said that he used me as an example of folks who might be close to the edge when it comes to life change.

Funny, that - because on the surface, I continue to keep it all together. And more so than in years past, that foundation is literal and true. I feel more solid and believe that I am, indeed, standing on firmer ground than ever before.

But oh, the changes - they have been many!

A few bullet points and highlights:
  • There is the marriage - after six years of fierce independence, raising five children to some semblance of responsibility and decency and righting the ship of shame and despair (with Divine Guidance), a new commitment and new family dynamic. We count the months, one by one, and celebrate with gusto. I value this man and the daily struggle to be partnered rather than solo. I am better for it.
  • There was a challenging illness, a story that remains quietly sequestered until the heroine chooses to tell it. Suffice it to say that we were cracked but not shattered, and our family is stronger for the faultline that showed itself; because the love required for the repair came in hard and strong and intending to stay.
  • There is the daughter who moved out, starting a new life as a college student. Independent and anxious to fly away, her departure changed the entire atmosphere in our daily routine. We miss her, but we are astounded at how her wings have grown.
  • There is the son who has flourished in a new school, standing tall and reveling in discovering a sense of self that has been hidden.
  • Four teenagers. One eleven-year-old. Need I say more?
  • There is the job that continues to grow and expand and pulsate with new opportunities. Claiming a place in church leadership is a daily wonder. The sheer numerical growth has forced me to rethink what is required of me in this role, and it causes my head to spin. Change or die, every day.
  • There is the new husband finishing a hard-earned college degree, one that he pursued over a lifetime; and feeling led toward establishing a new business venture. Rethinking expectations and considering additional risks - setting out for more transitions, inviting them, in fact. And praying.
  • Feeling the time is right for ordination, a well-defined and intentional declaration of devotion to the local church and to the God I love. The internal transition necessary to see myself as More Than A Piano Player has been grating, gratifying and not altogether pleasant. But worth it.
  • Seeing cancer grab hold of ones I love, and processing how to walk through These Days without the crushing weight of sorrow. Gauging when to mourn and when to bless; it is not easily discerned....
And for 2011?

I aim to claim this word:

Expectant

**Part of a writing prompt project for December designed by Reverb10. Check them out and join in!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What Should Be Gratitude...

Christmas shopping stresses me out. More than almost anything I can name at the moment, the idea of buying the perfect gift for someone makes me nuts. It's not the money, the time, the malls, the crowds. It's this bizarre notion that the weight of the civilized world rides on whether or not I find the perfect gift for my nephew.

It's paralyzing.

I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. Who knows why; it's too early in the day to have any kind of focus on the sort of self-analyzing required to figure this one out. But I think it's the root of all my negative feelings about Christmas, and somehow connected to my deepest insecurities. The weight of the world is on my shoulders; I have to find everyone the perfect gift.

I have a large family - five kids, a husband, in-laws, brother and family, parents, coworkers. I have a huge circle of acquaintances and friends. Come December 1st, the overriding challenge behind most of my daily life is finding the perfect gift. And what drives me is not about what my friends and family might most appreciate or like; it seems to be more about me. Ironically, most gifts I give seem to end up being less than stellar. I tend to give up and grab something out of the dollar bin at Target.

Well, okay. Maybe not. But that's how I feel.

The option of failure seems somehow larger than a $20 purchase; it has something to do with my own self-worth, ability to do the right thing, be good enough.

It's just freaking overwhelming. I feel controlled by this inability to choose a gift. Frankly, it doesn't matter when I start - I can shop in July and struggle with the same thing. No amount of planning or budgeting ever seems to help.

It's somewhat ridiculous to be sitting in my kitchen early on Thanksgiving morning feeling this pit in my stomach. I thought I'd check out a few online deals in the hopes of finding the perfect gift. I thought perhaps that would help - no stress of stores or lines, no feelings of being overwhelmed by Too Much Stuff. Instead, I've come away with this nauseous feeling that I'll never get it right. It's not even 9:00AM, and instead of gratitude, the vile stench of guilt is sneaking up behind me.

I wish I could get over this. How do I get over this?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Utterly Happy

Writing the first draft of a message for church. Four pages.

Drivel.

Ugh. Frustrated, ready to trash it all, hopelessly unable to find the hook. So passionate about so much and so unable to relate it with any sense of order.

Going through my notebook, pawing through the things I have scrawled in the hopes there will be something of substance, I find this list. Buried at the beginning of the book, probably the result of some writing prompt.

It says:

LIST: UTTERLY HAPPY, ABSORBED IN AN ACTIVITY, NO MATTER HOW ODD
1. scrapbooking
2. playing music
3. sitting behind Tony on the bike
4. playing music
5. teaching Bible stuff
6. walking on beach
7. writing

I've been looking for utterly happy. Maybe I ought to pay attention to my own list.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Soul Print

If you liked chasing the wild goose, you might be interested in an upcoming new release from Mark Batterson (author of Wild Goose Chase). 

Publishing date is January 18, but amazon has a great pre-order sale going on.

It's called Soul Print: Discovering Your Divine Destiny. 

I ordered mine. Looking forward to a nice surprise in the mail in the middle of January!

Find it here - 33% discount!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Little Bit Of Truth

I respect Donald Miller.

When I read a bit of criticism online, especially if it’s some kind of theological attack, my mind immediately assumes it’s been written by a white young man in his early twenties. And I’m normally right. Last night we were at a show, and before the show somebody tweeted that “Donald Miller better not mess up this show for me or there will be hell to pay.” The twitter profile offered no picture, but I knew it was a white kid in his twenties, and it turned out I was right. I was on the road with Derek Webb, Robbie Seay and Sandra McCracken, and we wrote the kids name down on pieces of paper, then put them all into a hat, then did a drawing from the stage where he thought he’d won something, and was invited up to be interviewed. I asked him what he did, and he wrote a blog espousing a certain theological position, and then we put his tweet up on screen. He was a great sport about the whole thing. I’d share his blog but to be honest I never read it. He’d unfortunately lost my respect. He claimed to not know me or have read my books, but had no problem issuing a threat like some kind of religious cop.


But I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed that a little bit of truth in the hands of the immature turns immediately into a sense of superiority, and usually an attack on whatever position is seen as contradictory.


What is really happening here is a young man who is struggling for an identity, to tell the world that he is right and smart, uses some bit of theology as a flag for his identity, skipping the part where the truth about God he has learned humbles him and brings him to his knees, and makes his heart tender and broken for those who are suffering outside the unconditional love of Christ. It’s a disgusting trick, and it isn’t from God.


When we are young or immature, right theology makes us feel superior, but when we are older and more mature, a study of theology makes us feel inferior and unworthy, undeserved, and grateful.

"A little bit of truth in the hands of the immature turns immediately into a sense of superiority..."

Been there, done that. I have been that immature person more times that I care to admit - and it wasn't always twenty-odd years ago. Immaturity rages at inopportune times, and getting older doesn't guarantee consistent wisdom and the ability to keep your mouth shut.

But I am older now. Old enough now to look back and recognize the woman I have been, and old enough now to know better. And to embrace the woman that I am.

There are some things that do get better with age.

From Miller's blog, here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"I Kicked The Fire On Him"

An important update on a story I blogged about a few months ago.

Because I know you're just dying to know. (Added emphasis mine, because - well, you know. Some things just ought to be in bold.)

Steven Y. Bowles will serve three years in prison for lighting his friend on fire.


The victim, Robert L. Cashion, was sleeping in Bowles’ backyard after he and Bowles had gotten “out of their heads” on moonshine, according Bowles’ lawyer, Randy B. Rowlett.


Bowles, 28, was frustrated that he couldn’t wake the victim, “so I set [him] on fire,” Bowles told a sheriff’s deputy in March. “What was I supposed to do? He wouldn’t leave.”


Deputies were called to Bowles’ residence in March, located in the 2400 block of Pocahontas Road, on a report of shots fired.


According to testimony from Deputy Haislip of the Powhatan Sheriff’s Office, Bowles said he first tried cutting Cashion to wake him. When that failed, Bowles fired two shots into the ground near where the victim lay.


Finally, Bowles told the deputy, “I kicked the fire on him.”


The deputy said there was no evidence of a fire in the backyard.


“I can’t think of a more outrageous act,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Beasley. “He simply set the victim on fire because he couldn’t wake him up.”


“It was an accident,” Bowles said before being sentenced. “I don’t remember what happened that night.”


Judge James F. D’Alton sentenced Bowles on a charge of malicious wounding to 20 years in prison, but suspended 17 years of the sentence.


Bowles was earlier convicted of assault and battery and reckless handling of a firearm.


“I’m still stunned that this actually happened,” said Beasley. “It’s one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen.”


The victim continues to undergo skin graphs, Beasley said, and Rowlett admitted during argument that the injuries are “life altering.”
People. You gotta love 'em.

The Dangers Of Cooking

Remember the awesome ribs I blogged about?

The deliciousness did not come without a price. A nasty, throbbing, bright red guesswhatitsinfected sort of price.

I gotta go to the doctor.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Like Change

I'm really into this idea of fresh starts, second chances, new beginnings. Change stimulates my creativity, makes me feel solid and centered.

As a kid, I rearranged my bedroom furniture. A lot.

I do it as an adult, as well; not so frequently anymore (these days, I'd rather sleep in a chair than reposition it).

So, today? Lots of change.

First of all, we had our normal Wednesday staff devotional time in silence. Twenty minutes, in the auditorium, silently connecting with God. It was powerful and extremely intimate, which is somewhat curious. We did something in silence, and yet felt so connected when we finished. Very cool. An incredible time with my co-workers / friends.

Then Lindsay, Anna and I worked hard to swap offices. Lindsay and I work together, and we spend a lot of our office hours together in my office, working at a big table. Anna shares space with Lindsay but has been longing for something a little more intimate. So we decided to switch. Lindsay and I moved in together and Anna got somewhat settled in her own space.

New walls, new arrangements, books in new (somewhat random) order on the shelves. A new view.

A fresh season, an untraveled path.

I like it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Yum Delicious Ribs

I really love cooking for my family.

Pork ribs are on sale at Food Lion.

I bought a package and came home looking for a new recipe; I've never been happy with "ungrilled" ribs.

Found the recipe. Made some adjustments. Cooked the ribs. Pronounced them DELICIOUS.

You will, too. If you try this, let me know how it goes.



1/3 cup brown sugar
a little less than 1/4 cup kosher salt
paprika to taste (I used about a teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 300. Mix together sugar, salt and paprika in a bowl. Cut ribs into pieces. Roll 'em around in the sugar mixture.

Place in a large pan. Add water, about one inch high (or come borrow my red cup, which had just enough to fit perfectly). Bake one hour at 300. Remove ribs and turn them over. Bake another hour.

Remove pan; turn oven up to 400. Spoon barbecue sauce over each rib (I used some store-bought brand, don't even remember what kind...) Put them back in the oven for 30 minutes.

Take 'em out. Don't burn yourself on the pan (I did. Ouch.)

Eat.

Yum.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Day Off

I need to do a better job making room in my life for....well, for my life.

I don't do Sabbath well. I think we've already discussed that here on this blog.

I don't do "a day off" well, either. My boss called me out on that this week. Let me say that any job where your boss pushes you hard to "please, just take a day off! I mean it!" is a pretty good job.

There are a lot of issues here, for sure. I let my work define me. I actually do, quite simply, have a lot to do, and it's hard to get it done in 40 hours. I work flexible time, so often it seems like I'm always working, when in fact, I'm...well....okay....

I also have control issues, like I think the world will stop if I stop.

Oddly enough, in the middle of all this I sometimes have trouble returning phone calls and keeping up with messages. Work is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, I guess; I'll get to the end of the day and say, "Finally, I'm done!" and realize the next day that I let fifteen people languish because they expected some communication from me.

Oops.

I am rambling, because it's 1:00 AM and I am supposed to be talking about my day off.

I took one. Lounged around the house for most of the morning with my husband. Went to lunch with my husband, which included great conversation. Visited a music store with my husband and found out what a small, small world it is, after all; the store owner is from the same county I lived in back in Ohio.

Came home, had to work. Too many unexpected things popping up for the weekend that could not wait.

Took my youngest son for a haircut. Went to Target. Saw my eldest son march in a home football game. Came home and watched a movie (Shooter with Mark Wahlberg, who does a fine job capping off a day of rest for me) with my husband. Ate Ben & Jerry's for dinner (Chocolate Fudge Brownie). Snuggled with my daughters.

My day off. It's over.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Study Break 2010 - The Churning Within

Part of my study break has included spending less time online, and thinking about the time I DO spend online and giving it some purpose. Which explains why I haven't been blogging much this time around.

I am still processing my experiences this week. It has not always been easy, although the time I spent at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art - with my mom, no less - was well spent and filled with grace all around.

Things are still churning within me, though. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is - probably by necessity - a difficult thing.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen, and I have no doubt that any present discomfort is for a greater good. In the meantime, I pray for my family members to have the endurance to tolerate me in these days, and thank God for a husband whose greatest gift seems to be patience and a deep understanding of the parts of me that I have yet to figure out.

One interesting thing that I have learned and put into practice this week concerns prayer - specifically, the notion of praying for others. Intercessory prayer.

Many, many requests for prayer come across my purview every day, often from the PCC Care team, often from church friends, family, folks all over the world. I confess that too many times these requests go unmet on my part, because I never feel like I can give them the time properly due. Because what could be more important, more deserving of intentional, dedicated time that something taken to God himself? Shouldn't I treat such a thing with the highest respect?

Of course. And, to me, that means time, dedicated, thought-out, free of distractions. Time like this is rare. It requires discipline and quiet. I struggle to make that happen, so I line up the requests on my task list and hope to set aside time to pray properly for each one...when I finish everything else on my task list.

And the likelihood of that happening?

Right.

But what if I just prayed, then and there, in the moment - nothing "proper", no flowery words, no over-thinking or over-analyzing, just a simple, "God, please...."

This "aha" moment came courtesy of my time at Richmond Hill and thanks to my small group friends, who have called me out more than once on my control issues. A prayer does not require a sermon. A prayer does not require complete understanding on my part.

It's a simple request. When done in it's purest form, it reminds me of who God is (God) and who I am not (God).

Funny, just when I think I really know something about life - just when I think I've gotten somewhere in this journey with God, I get knocked on my butt and reminded of just how little I understand anything.

For which I am grateful.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Study Break Day Two

I will spend my day here.

I am excited and a little anxious. In some ways, I feel as if I have an appointment to meet with the governor, or the president, or Bono.

It's an interesting feeling, this. It is definitely different than my usual approach to the day. It feels more momentous, more important.

I am deliberately planning an encounter with God.

The mere fact that it seems outrageously exciting gives me pause for thought. I am planning out what to where, carefully mapping the route, organizing myself so that I won't be late. Going to great lengths to prepare to be alone. With God. I'm nervous and excited.

And it makes me wonder why every day doesn't feel like this? Should it?

Can it?


Richmond Hill is an ecumenical Christian fellowship and Residential Community who serve as stewards of an urban retreat center within the setting of a historic monastery. Our Mission is to advance God’s healing of Metropolitan Richmond through prayer, hospitality, racial reconciliation and spiritual development.


Richmond Hill is located on the hill where Richmond began in the former Monte Maria Monastery overlooking downtown Richmond. The Richmond Hill community is drawn from varied denominational and racial backgrounds. Richmond Hill is open to all who are drawn by the Spirit to seek God's renewal and peace in a place of silence and support. 

Find out more here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Survey Says...

As our church continues to grow, we are carefully considering the implications for the future. One area we are investigating is service times.

We'd love to hear from you, so we put together a quick survey for your input. If you attended this week's service at the Powhatan campus, you had a chance to fill out the survey; but if you missed it and would like to weigh in, you can!

Click here and follow the directions. The survey will only be open for a few days, so don't delay!

And thanks -your input is very helpful!

Study Break 2010

This year has been ridiculous in terms of scheduling. The summer flew by, our vacation was out of the ordinary and unusual. The typical, tradition summer rhythm was abandoned in favor of just getting through it all.

One of the losses for me was my study break. Part of my work life includes standard vacation time and study break, which is a strategic and intentional block of time that allows me to focus in depth on an area of study, planning or anything else related to my job responsibilities. Scheduling it last summer was impossible, and I felt the pressure of too much stuff going on at church and was reluctant to break away.

It hurt me. I have felt it in the past few months; I've been on the edge in terms of emotional and physical exhaustion. I'm not as healthy as I should be.

We're in a season now that offered a window of time, and I've grabbed it. This week is my study break - a bit unusual, in that I'll be staying close to home. I have a plan and a schedule and I intend to lean into it.

I'll be better for it.

I wrote about previous study breaks here and here and here. One of my favorites was this trip, which I also wrote about here. I'll update later with this week's experiences. But so far, just a few hours in, this is what study break 2010 looks like:

I need a shower...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Always Expect A Train

So, today I went to driving school.

I was stopped for speeding a few months ago here in Powhatan County. I was distractedly following the guy in front of me in the right lane, not intentionally speeding. I wasn't in a hurry. I just wasn't paying attention to my speed.

Which, I learned today, is the number one cause of speeding. Inattention.

So, today I went to driving school. And paid attention.

It was an interesting seven hours. Sort of a brief look into American culture that I found somewhat reassuring and a little bit disturbing, and extremely interesting.

There were four adults - "old people", as one of my kids said - and four teens / early twenty-somethings. All of us seemed to be appropriately humbled by the mere fact that we were enduring the punitive effects of our choice - whether that be the choice to willfully disobey the law or just be lost in space somewhere while driving. Or, in the case of one young man, to be there voluntarily. Go figure.

Anyway, due to court order or DMV requirements, there we were, at Saturday driving school. I'm not yet certain whether the value lies in the punishment or the education; a little of both, no doubt. I felt duly punished - it was a gorgeous day, and I did not get to spend it with my family. Plus I had to sit in a hard metal chair.

On the educational side, there were a few things I learned or observed. I wrote them down, and here I will list them for you; some are direct quotes from the instructor or other class members:
  • "Why do pencils have erasers? Because they make mistakes. Humans are like pencils."
  • Q: "Why should you not stop to pick up an injured animal on the road?" A: "It may not be fully dead."
  • Regarding the apparent ease of talking on a cell phone while driving: "Most people say, 'I'm not a Polack. I can talk on the phone and drive at the same time.' "
  • "If your car gets stuck on the train tracks, what should you do?" "Uh....run?" "Which way?" "Uh....away from the train?"
  • Movie number one:  "The Final Factor", with theme music lifted straight from The Exorcist. Movie number two: "Die Hard If You're Dumb: Railroad Motion Tips". 
  • "Always expect a train."
  • "Blind people cannot drive. You will need to know this on the quiz."
  • "Blue signs tell you about services and information. For example, if I am visiting in a new town, I need to know where the KFC is."
  • "Not everybody that runs over their husband with a car gets away with it."
I missed two questions on the quiz, graduated and came home.

I carefully watched my speed the entire way.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It Was A Good Day

 We did something really unusual at church today - church in the round. We left the platform bare and moved to the floor, set up platforms and a separate sound a lighting system and did our service from a completely different perspective - all in order to challenge the cage of assumptions.

I am showing my bias here, but I have to say that it was, by far, the most transcendental worship experience I have had in that building. Ever.

And how that happens when you kick off a service with a David Bowie tune, I just can't understand. But God is, indeed, the God of the impossible...

Anyway, it was incredible. And it was apparent that those of us engaged in the service from a leadership vantage point were not the only ones who were impacted. Hands were raised; eyes were teary; hearts were touched. It was remarkable, and one of those things that remind us that we serve a supernatural God who does supernatural things. I can only imagine what happened in people's hearts today.

We continually strive to create services that are free from distractions, making room for those in the room to have an authentic encounter with God. Your feedback can help us. If you were at PCC's Powhatan campus today, we'd love to know:
  • Did you have a different worship experience than usual?
  • Did you like it? 
  • Why or why not? 
  • What worked? 
  • What didn't work?

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. It matters.

Part of the team that made today happen...

Friday, October 15, 2010

A New Normal

This evening as I was helping David prepare some materials for a project, we came across this photo.

It's hard to catch a picture of this kid smiling and not putting on some goofy face. I think it comes with the territory - he's the youngest, he's always acting silly.

But somehow, we caught him in an authentic moment and got his glorious smile.

This is from an incredible day - my wedding in December. He's an incredible kid. We had to crop out his cousins, and he worried that it wasn't particularly nice to cut them out of the photo.

I think it's okay.
And here are a couple more incredible kids. Monday was a school holiday, so we took a quick trip to the "Metro Richmond Zoo". It's not really much of a zoo, but it's not bad, for being in the middle of nowhere.

David and I had been talking on Sunday about what he liked, what his passions were and how he wanted to spend his time. He's not into sports; he isn't a huge social butterfly. We talked about a few things, and when I pressed him for what it was that made him happy, he said, "Anytime we're all together." He said it didn't matter what we did, but he was happy when we were all doing it together.

Interesting take on life from his vantage point, as the fifth of five.

So off we went to the zoo. It was fun, but in all honesty, it was somewhat bittersweet. I'm starting to adjust and adapt to the fact that rather than a rarity, it is normal now to only have three - or two, or just one - of the kids in tow. It just feels so...strange. Everybody's trying to figure out how to be, where we all fit, without the two oldest girls in the mix. It's not bad, but there is a sense of loss, and it tinges everything just a bit. Sort of a melancholy.

I wonder - does that ever go away? Or does it just get deeper and deeper as each one heads out the door?

But then, there's this other part of life. I'm still adjusting to being married again, to having a partner. It's a great blessing but it's required a bit of negotiation at times - with myself and with him. The past several years have been hard-fought, and to release the "I gotta do this on my own" attitude has been a bit more challenging than I anticipated.

But every bit of the challenge is worth it.

I'm learning a new way to do "family". There is loss and love and the crumbling of some old structures and the building of the new. I watch my eldest son grow into a man, looking more and more like his father every day, with a solidity and a focus that sets my heart towards his future with great expectation. I see a beautiful young woman who continues to learn about limitations - her own and of those around her - and who strives to adapt and adjust in order to soar. She is tackling a challenging school schedule with guts, working hard, dealing with her own loss (stolen iPad, still missing), learning to drive, growing up.

And there's David, who is learning, finally, to smile.