Saturday, July 31, 2010


The view over my shoulder....
Sitting at a Starbucks in Johnstown, PA. Killing time, waiting for a wedding rehearsal to begin.

The clientele here is so different. It's fascinating, to consider the common denominator of a Starbucks; pretty much the same experience, wherever you are in America. Same products, same vibe. Same intentions.

But sitting here in Johnstown, PA, home of the world's steepest vehicular inclined plane, I'm eavesdropping on the conversation of two farmers talking about endangered animals and oyster beds and how they might be altering their plans for the animals they are raising. It's fascinating, truly.

And they ordered chai tea.

Life is interesting, all over the place. In these past few days we have done a great deal of traveling; and though we've gone to fairly familiar places, we've encountered new relationships and dialogue. I feel like I've spent 48 hours steeped in the rich, musky mess of people. It's been raw and open and difficult. And rewarding and deeply rewarding, a rich blessing.

One encounter I had involved a woman who had been anxiously awaiting my arrival. She had a story to tell. In broken but effective English, she unraveled a tale of a long-time relationship - 50+ years - a desperate mother, a faithful friend and a tiny crack in a broken heart that led to a crater of openness to faith and a mighty love from the Creator. I listened, and the hair on my arms rose more than once as she detailed her fervent prayers and a new relationship with this long-time friend.

I met another woman for the first time; an artist, she met every stereotypical expectation of "artsy". She talked of her art and her work and her gallery; clad in paint-spattered clothes, her short blonde hair and lithe physique camouflaged the fact that she was almost 60 years old. Facts and opinions spurted out of her mouth and then a pause would bring a question: "Now what do YOU do, dear?" I made mention of music and the church and we danced around that topic for a while. She remarked, "Your church sounds interesting..." I asked, "Are you a believer?"

"No. I'm Jewish."

And then she began to speak of Torah and her relationship with God. She mentioned her study of Kabbalah and referenced a scripture.

Towards the end of the conversation, she remarked, "Maybe God used you ladies to prompt me to get back to my Bible study. I have gotten too far away."

Life is so interesting.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I have never been in a season of life in which there was so much sorrow. So much sickness. So much heaviness of life.

Thursday night at a vocal ensemble rehearsal, someone mentioned that it's just that the church is big, my circle is bigger, there's more information floating around. I think there's some truth to that.

I am thinking this thought:  I am 47 years old. We all come to a time when those around us start to fall sick. We get older, the odds get slimmer. Maybe it's just time.

But that's not all it is. I just don't think that's the case. It is somehow so much more intimate.

And I am also thinking this thought: Perhaps I am at a time in my life when I truly understand what it means to love. I have landed in a safe place, I have quit playing games and wearing masks, and maybe this is the trade-off for honesty and authenticity. Sometimes, it hurts.

The circle of life and death, of illness and pain, of sorrow - it seems to be drawing closer. Everywhere I look, whatever direction, I see someone I love who is hurting, and not for some minor reason. Over something big, life-changing, seismic.

This is so not about me. It's about others who are walking much closer to the flame than I. Yet I'm called to walk alongside, and it's part of the fellowship to bear one another's burdens.

I don't really have anything more to say than this. Just putting it on the table.

Sorrow is heavy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Baby Beluga - AKA The Headless Mannequin

Sometimes, the things that happen in our house are just too complicated to explain.

Spontaneous Combustion

At rehearsal last night, we ran through a song that just didn't work. So we tried it again. I still didn't think it worked.

This thought was confirmed when the sound engineer pantomimed sticking his head in a noose to end his misery.

We ditched the song. I thought for a minute...waited for inspiration...only once since I've been in my current role at PCC have I pulled a song out of thin air. We plan pretty specifically and we generally stick to the plan.

But not this week.

An old song came roaring into my head that would fit the moment. I've got gratitude on my mind, which is odd, because these days are filled with sorrow (I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer.) But gratitude is the theme for this part of the worship set.

And so we improvised. I shouted out some chords, said, "Just follow me - you'll get it."

And they did.

It's moments like that when the joy and privilege of making music is most evident. Starting from scratch - no recording, no charts - nothing but our ears to hear and our imaginations to create.

It was a great band, and we had a great time. Because the song came out of the past - like I think the last time I played it was about a decade ago - and I don't have a recording, I made a scratch track. Which is me using a midi keyboard, wearing a cheap pair of headphones and yelling "PLEASE TURN IT DOWN!!! I'M TRYING TO RECORD SOMETHING!!!!" It's just past midnight and I just finished. I sent it off to the band so they'll feel more comfortable for Sunday.

And the magic will happen.

By the way, all this will take place at the Westchester Campus. I'm heading east this week for a little movie theatre church. Undoubtedly, the Powhatan band nailed the song that we killed and they'll have it all together. They're going to be awesome. At the movie theatre, we'll be making it up as we go along.

Well, not really. But it might be a very good day to check out Westchester...9:30 AM...comfortable seats...and great music...and YOU know the rest of the story!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You Make Us New

Been there, done that.

But some things are worth doing again. And again. And again. Because every morning brings a new day, and we need all the reminding we can get.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Watermelon Redemption

One of the best, most delicious things about summer is watermelon. I have yet to find the perfect 2010 watermelon, but it's out there...somewhere...

I ate half a watermelon tonight, in spite of its inferiority. Better than pretzels, a substitute for dinner.

Summer food makes me happy. Squash and zucchini and berries, fresh tomatoes.

I was raised in a farming community. The reality of my Food Lion shopping life is so very far from the days of my childhood, when we always had something growing in the garden and would fill our freezer with the meat of the cows that roamed the pastures for a year or so before they "disappeared". One of my sweetest memories is digging potatoes out of the ground, rubbing off the dirt and eating them raw. My mom canned tomatoes and green beans every year. We ate from our garden, and from my grandparents' and other relatives' bounty as well.

My kids have hardly experienced this reality, knowing the backstory of the food that finds its way to their plates. However, we have grown a handful of things in accidental gardens. Several years ago, while living in Ohio, we made jack o' lanterns, carving fat pumpkins on the front stoop and tossing the slimy, seed-filled innards into the 4' by 4' patch of soil by the front door. The next summer, we had huge, healthy pumpkins filling our "garden" - a springtime surprise from October.  When they were younger, the Easter bunny would often bring the kids seed packets (along with the requisite candy basket). We'd grow flowers, mostly.  We'd decorate the small terra cotta pots, fill them with rich, dark soil and each kid would plan their own seeds. Set out on the front steps of our suburban Ohio home, we'd hope for the best - but, in truth, we'd forget about them, ignore them and move on to other projects.

One year, when David was just beginning to toddle throughout the house and find interesting ways to amuse himself, he found the five little pots filled with dirt. Like any two-year old, he only had one reaction: dump the dirt. Come spring time, we had a crazy but fruitful patch of dirt by the front door. That was the year that tomatoes grew up in the cracks of the driveway pavement. Later that summer, David hid my cell phone out in the flower garden.

My kids know what it's like to bring in our own watermelon or pumpkins, to eat the bounty of fresh tomatoes growing (in the driveway, of all places). But we live like we have no idea - or interest - in the origin of our food.

One of my summer reads is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite authors). The book is well-written, a good read, but it is messing me up. I guess that's an expected outcome of good literature or truth - it worms its way into your soul, twists in like a fish hook and doesn't let go. This book disturbs me, because it illustrates how far we are from the honesty of knowing where our food comes from. It convicts me because I generally - to this point - don't think twice about simply driving to Food Lion to buy, and then eat, anything I crave. It bothers me because it makes me think about what I crave, and how far those cravings often are from "real" food.

I love that summer brings with it an opportunity to buy onions and squash with dirt still on them, to pick out the oddly misshapen squash from a bushel basket by the side of the road. Exchanging currency for the fruit of a local farmer's labor tastes good. It feels good. But it's not enough, not for the long term.

I see a patch of land in the place that we hope to call home in another year or so. I'd like to think that I would have the discipline and the passion for a garden in our future. Perhaps my kids don't know much more than driveway tomatoes, but there is a possibility of grandchildren somewhere down the road. Therein might lie my redemption.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Like It But I Should Have Put Some Cream On It

Oh my word.

Too funny.

Not LOL funny, but astounded, sort of. Appreciative. Clever.

Any woman of a certain age ought to feel something when they watch this.

It makes me PROUD!

HT to Darrell Elder!

Monday, July 12, 2010

You Make Beautiful Things Out Of Us

Several folks asked about the closing song for yesterday's PCC services. At Westchester, Lindsay sang; at Powhatan, Elijah and Travis did it.

It's from one of the most powerful albums I've listened to in several years. In it's entirety, Beautiful Things by The Michael Gungor Band is an incredible journey through humanity, our desperate love for God and his brilliant grace.

The title tune alone is masterful. You may have experienced it yesterday in one of our services. If not, catch a glimpse here of the artists' unique spin on an acoustic version.

And then try to get hold of the cd and experience the entire thing.

And thank God for moments of transcendental beauty.


Sunday, July 11, 2010


I was speaking with somebody last week. It started with a simple question; I provided the answer, and then asked a question in return that I knew would crack open the conversational door a bit further.

This person began to talk about a topic close to their heart. They are passionate and committed and excited about this topic. Lots of hopes and dreams and plans and ideas.

I was interested. But after about five sentences - which is EXACTLY how I saw it in my mind, I kid you not, I saw their voice as literal words and sentences streaming out of their mouth and hanging above their head - a clear thought came to my mind.

"I only wanted your status update."

I had to fight to pay attention to what this person was actually telling me. Now, to be fair, I actually was in the middle of some work, but it was a relatively minor interruption, all things considered. I had fifteen minutes to spare.

But then I couldn't get over the horrific realization that all I wanted was a status update. And it was just that clear to me, even as I sat face to face with this real, live human being. I was conditioned to want nothing more than a brief, pithy update. Nothing detailed.

Oh, man. Is social media influencing and impacting the world? Duh.

Is it impacting me? Duh.

It's time for a mindful intervention, I think.

God, forgive me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Men Versus Bird

This is some sort of "man vs. bird" game that the boys were playing....
see how they stealthily sneak up on the gulls, hiding furtively behind a bright neon green beach towel?
I believe the men won. Or at least they think they did.

Summer Days

Although we've been on vacation for about nine days, we're really feeling it now. The first few days were awesome, visiting with my brother and his family in Tallahassee. We had a great time.

But we usually spend our vacations with them at Emerald Isle. And now that we're enjoying some bona fide beach time, it doesn't feel quite right that they're not here...

But it still feels pretty good.

Who am I kidding? It feels REALLY good. I walk every evening, down to the pier and back. I walk to Food Lion for supplies. We grill on the deck. We drink a ton of Crystal Light lemonade. We sleep in piles, squished together like rats - but comfortable.

We have a great time.

As things continue to change, we are doing our best to deal with what leaves and what remains. Tony and Sarah left early with my parents. Eric and Shana aren't here. Travis is here, and my cousin's son Zach came down to visit for the first time. We watched two World Cup games this week, with requisite squealing and screaming.

Here's a few random shots of things that stay the same and some new stuff, too:

Travis and Daniel - I'm not sure what they were doing...


Shannon, after the Spain/Germany game. She was worn out.

My boys - my young men - listening to their mother. "PUT ON YOUR SUN SCREEN!"

Working on a drip castle
One of the things that NEVER changes; the view from the top of the stairs. Perhaps my favorite view in the world...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Being Here

Not much to say. I am simply breathing.

We have landed. Apparently the older I get, the more I crave home. Familiarity. Comfort. There is a marked difference in my soul when I am in a familiar environment. I feel at home. Not home, per se, but at our vacation home, the place that marks time for us every year, surrounded by sun and sand and sea.

Something is going on with me. I am guessing that it has much to do with changing circumstances; graduating, leaving-home children, a new marriage, a new identity for me.

Sometimes I feel like I'm not quite sure who I am.

But then I think that I think too much, which is precisely what my eldest child told me. "Mama, you analyze things too much."

Perhaps that is true.

Every day lately, I seize a moment and tell myself, pointedly, to be present. Live in this moment. Be here.

Today, I was standing waist-deep in the Atlantic ocean, taking in the panoramic view of water, water everywhere. Glorious sunlight. Rich, deep colors of blue and green, astounding in their fullness. Still, in a place of familiarity, and feeling safe: "Be here, now. Be in this moment."

And I was. And I am.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dripping Wet

We're leading worship at Eric's church tomorrow.

We practiced tonight.

There was something magical about it. Comfortable, familiar, but new and transformative.

I miss the part of making music that changes me. Leading - always leading - is hard, because the leadership always has to transcend the artistry. If there are other people on the stage with you, you have to lead, if you're the leader. There's no escape. Sometimes - most times - that's an awesome privilege. Sometimes - most times - it's also very heavy.

When somebody else is wearing that hat, the opportunity for pure joy arrives. And when you trust that person implicitly - on a personal level as well as a musician - say, for instance, that person is your brother - then heaven cracks open to give your soul a chance to sing.

Sometimes you don't know how dry you are until somebody pours a bucket of water on your head. Tonight, I'm soaked.

Friday, July 2, 2010

We travelled to St. George Island for the middle of our vacation tour across the southern states. It's interesting to absorb the flavor of this environment; for us, it's "beach vacation". For some, it's home.

We caught a quick shot of this guy as we cruised down Highway 319. Brought back memories of a coastal highway in the Dominican Republic that offered great views of the Caribbean coastline.

We're here with my brother and sister-in-law, their two kids and all of us. This is the extent of my immediate family - one brother. My parents are usually around for these summer reunions, but they're in North Carolina this year and not with us.

We divvy up our preparations, plan meals, eat well, experiment a bit. This year everyone got their own can of Pringles. Why? Well, just because. We only had two kids deviate from the original flavor. Kudos to Daniel and Levi for wanting something a little different.

We play games. We do puzzles. Daniel and Sydni are the king and queen of puzzle-doing.

We also play Bananagrams, an odd cousin of Scrabble that is infinitely more fun (in my opinion). We invented a new word; solo Bananagram playing is "wording". At any random time, you'll find somebody at the table, spelling words.

Yes. In our family, we spell for fun.

We also play a bizarre game called "Zombie Fluxx". It drives me insane; with every turn, all of the rules of the game can completely change. Completely. That's just too much change for me. In between groaning like a zombie (which is a rule - but not always a rule) I spend a lot of time whining about how I hate Zombie Fluxx. Too much change, all the time. It's a blessed event when the game ends.

Because it's rained so much, we decided to go out to Apalachicola (say that ten times fast. We did. And we've rhymed it with everything possible.) We checked out this quirky small town, a blend of southern hospitality, inventive artists and oystermen. It's quite unlike any place I've ever been. Lots of small shops, a very nice photography gallery and some pretty friendly people.

I met a fellow - a former architect - who bought a retirement house here at the coast and then decided to buy a building in downtown Apalachicola. He taught himself how to turn wooden bowls on a lathe and set up a shop with his crafts, along with some products from his friends. Interesting guy; he laughed as he told me about living in this small, coastal town. "The gene pool's pretty small, so the town leadership is...well.....interesting...." Looked like he was living his dream. I didn't buy anything, but I'm considering driving back into town today and picking up one of his creations.

Having lived in Texas, I know this to be true:  BLUE BELL IS THE BEST ICE CREAM IN THE COUNTRY. In Virginia, we can only find it at Carraba's Restaurant, where they fly it in to create desserts. We skipped the banana splits offered at this local joint, but we found a Piggly Wiggly (grocery store) and bought some Blue Bell deliciousness. Hope to take Tony out this afternoon (if he ever stops studying) and get him a treat.

There were many, many abandoned and empty buildings in the few blocks around the town center.  This was one; attached to a chocolate shop, this space was expansive, gritty and gorgeous.  David flitted through the photo like a ghost as Sarah and Emily talked.

David and Levi


Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Reading

For my entire family, vacation is about reading. Sometimes I think that the primary purpose of our vacation time is to devour books. Even as I type this, I see two of my own deeply engrossed in books. We all go to the library prior to our departure to pick up stacks of "something to read", and the first place we visit in a rented house is the bookshelf.

I was given a Barnes & Noble gift card a few weeks ago; I saved it to buy beach reading material. I have a stack - those books, plus several from the Powhatan library. I am a happy girl.

And here are my first beach reviews:

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White. I had high hopes for this book; it was the first one I cracked open. I'd read a review and the jacket blurb looked enticing. The story was potent - a white collar criminal sentenced for his federal offense at Carville, Louisiana - side by side with leprosy patients who made their home at Carville. The author detailed the humbling impact of the circumstances of his confinement and the resulting life changes. Great potential - but disappointingly written. I finished it, and I'm glad I read it, but I was disappointed.

Especially so after just a few pages of book choice #2: The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes, I've read Eat, Pray, Love. Loved it. Haven't read her new book yet. Haven't seen the movie. But just one taste of this literary morsel and my day was redeemed:
"So these are Eustace Conway's first memories: the cosmic scope of the woods; the stipple of sunlight slanting through a verdant natural awning; the elightening voice of the father; the loveliness of the words locust, birch, and tulip poplar; the new intellectual pleasure of study enhanced by the distinct physical sensation of his wobbly toddler's head tilting so far back that he might have toppled over from the effort of looking up so hard at so many trees for such a long time."
Ahhhh....good writing literally tastes good as you take it in.

I think so, anyway.

So I'm on book #2, and it's still raining, and we're listening to each others' playlists on iTunes and reading the worst ever break-up letters on the internet, playing hours of Bananagrams and Connect Four.

And reading. We're reading. And it's good.