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?


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?" "" "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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It This Is What It Takes...

I've been still now for the better part of 30 hours. Mostly still, anyway.

I've been sick, which is not fun.

But the interesting part is that as I crawl out of the sick hole, I am realizing that all the resting/sleeping/be-ing still-ing has led to something else.

I feel sort of....human. Real. Not so stressed.

I think I've lost myself over the past few weeks. I have woken up a few times lately and longed to just pull the covers over my head and hide. I have felt the fingers of something dark creeping around the edges of my sanity and pushed back hard to stay safe.

It's not so much where I am or what's going on in my life. It's how I'm doing it.

Or maybe it's a combination of both. Who knows.

I do know this: there is restoration in being still, with or without the illness. It's probably not safe to think that I can opt out of life for 48 hours once a month and just stay in my pajamas and sleep.

But this time, it's working.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jesus, Please Come, Please Come Today

At small group last night we talked a bit about expectations. One friend commented that she made a decision to live as a Christian when her life was a mess - and that it had only gotten worse from that point on. It wasn't exactly what she expected.

And yet, she'd do it again. There's something about hope and a renewed spirit that can make the worst of circumstances bearable.

My friends John and Katherine pointed me (separately) towards a song called "Hallelujah" by Heather Williams. I gave it a quick listen and, frankly, wasn't really struck by anything unusual. Honestly, it sounded a good bit like most of what I'm hearing these days. Nothing really stuck out.

"You gotta watch the video," said John. "You gotta hear this girl's story."

So I dug around, found the video and checked it out.

She tells her story. She sings her song, woven around the story. And I was completely captivated.

Williams shares an incredibly difficult, painful moment - one of the worst things I can imagine happening. The worst of circumstances. And then she says this:

"I kind of consider that day the day that I really became a Christian."

I remember telling a room full of musicians just a week ago that their stories were what really mattered. More than singing, more than being on a platform playing, more than leading. Underneath all the music is the story. My quick judgment of a radio-ready song was replaced when I heard this girl's story - and then listened to her worship.

How about you?

Bonus: she's a blogger!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bullet Points And A Song Worm

A few random Monday thoughts:
  • I woke up with a headache. What's up with that? 
  • Well, in hindsight, I started a book last night at 11:30PM and didn't put it down until I'd read the entire thing. John Sandford, crime novel, brand new...a nice diversion. I guess my four-hour nap screwed up the entire day's schedule. I don't know what time I went to sleep, but I guess that might be part of the headache problem.
  • Speaking of books, my mom is my library. She gets on the waiting list for every book by her favorite authors. She brings home about four books a week. She passes them on to me. It's kind of like the old-fashioned BookMobile, except it's my mom, which makes it better. My mom is awesome.
  • The kids are out of school today. We're going to the zoo. All morning, I've been thinking of the song I used to teach my kindergarteners: "We're going to the zoo-zoo-zoo / How about you-you-you? / You can come too-too-too / We're going to the zoo-zoo-zoo".  It's rather annoying.
  • I am feeling very insecure today. Probably gonna do some navel-gazing and try to figure this one out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Goodbye iPad

Syd got an iPad for her 16th birthday gift.

She got permission from her teachers to use it in school; she took notes, downloaded books like The Scarlett Letter, did research. She used it for fun, too; Netflix movies and Facebook. But it was a great study aid for school.

She always kept it close to her, but today in art class the teacher asked the students to move their backpacks and purses to a table at at the front of the classroom. It was art - no need for the iPad. It went, inside her purse, to the table with everybody else's stuff.

And when Syd picked up her purse to leave the classroom, it was gone.

This just makes me sick. It's not so much the loss of the device; it's that somebody in that class betrayed trust and basic human decency and took something that didn't belong to them. It's that my daughter has been violated. She's a victim of crime, although it's simple theft - but there's something about this that just tears at the fabric of trust that every kid ought to be able to have while they're in school.

I realize I'm naive; stuff like this happens all the time, I suppose. I've already heard stories of iPods and phones stolen from the locker room. I hate that for anybody. But somehow, this is disgusting.

Because Monday afternoon, Syd will sit in a classroom with someone who violated her. We may never know who did it, but for the rest of this school year, at least, Syd will have to look around that classroom and wonder.

And the perpetrator? They'll have to look at her and bear the guilt. It might not feel like guilt to them, but it's there.

Not a good day for my daughter. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

The Wall? Stayin' Alive? You Decide

This ought to mess you up. Just a bit.

Found at, of all places, a blog on theology, which I read daily because the author challenges me and makes me think. It's the prologue to my seminary education.

But I doubt this would be part of the curriculum.

HT to Daniel Kirk

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In The Dark

It's been a week of new stuff.

And the past few weeks of preparing for the new stuff have paid off.

It's been stressful. I am comfortable on the fly, which is a great skill to have except that sometimes it makes people hate you. On your own, spontaneity is awesome. When you drag other people with you, not so much. During the past year, I've really tried to work on my lack of appreciation of the fact that others aren't wired like me, and that to expect them to just deal with that and come along for the ride is patently unfair.

So I'm trying to do better at planning.

Launching some new stuff at work has meant LOTS of planning. And I'm trying to do better, but that doesn't mean it's easy.  But I've dug in. I asked for help, and ended up working alongside some awesome, high capacity folks. We've shared the load, and things are moving along. I've invested time over the past several weeks in preparation, paperwork, planning, scheduling, etc. - all the stuff I detest, to put it mildly. It has NOT been easy, and my temper and time have both been short.

But this week, three new initiatives launched: a new leadership class on Sunday, a brand new small group on Monday and a new group called Worship Leaders Workshop tonight.

And my stress level this week? Here's the bonus:  Pretty much non-existent. 

Planning pays off, and I really enjoyed myself this week - which is usual when I am leading. I'm comfortable in that role. But this week was even sweeter, because all the prep work allowed me and those around me to be completely at ease. It made things go very smoothly. It made me better.

Best of all was the way everything culminated this evening; our worship leaders' gathering was fascinating, as we shared stories about our life journeys and got to know each other a bit. We dimmed the lights and had a few moments of worship, just singing together. It was intimate and powerful, familiar songs and melodies ringing through the room, harmonies pieced together naturally, hands lifted and tears flowing.

Makes me grateful for every part of my life. I cling to the scripture that acknowledges we are continually "working out our salvation with fear and trembling". Sometimes, it seems like every step I take is tentative and shaky. Even if I planned ahead.

But that's not really such a bad place to be. Especially if you can sing in the dark for a while.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Groups of people develop defining characteristics based on their belief system, their structure and their culture. As a church, PCC is no different. Obviously we stake our claim on some definitive, foundational truths that we hold in high regard; they form the basis of our theology and drive our actions.

Icons, symbols and other experiences flow out of those actions and create a culture rich with shared experiences. Our corporate gatherings often hold moments that capture us, become part of our history and shape us as well.

Although we have a certain rhythm to our worship times, we try to avoid creative ruts that would cause us to tune out, turn on autopilot and disconnect. That drives us to continually look for fresh music and new ideas.

However, some things have stuck. There are a few songs that seem to have become an indelible part of our culture. If you've been around PCC for a few years, you know "You Are Good". If you were there when Kevin and Brian sang "Give Me Jesus", you'll never forget that moment. If you witnessed the service when Kevin preached the message and began to sing "God of This City" for the first time as he closed, you'll never forget it. If you've heard Lindsay Harris lead "Revelation Song", you probably get goosebumps. If you were around in the day when Jeff Harrison sang "I Thank You" and put a spin on the lyrics, you'll never forget it.

We have those moments and so many more. Many folks are impacted by their first experience or some other powerful moment; it's part of what we believe the Holy Spirit does through the arts, when are hearts are softened and we are moved.

Last night at small group, a friend commented on the fact that her first Sunday at PCC included the song "He Is Yahweh". She said that one of her questions about Christianity had always been "What's with all the names of God?" It was a stumbling block for her; and when she came to PCC that first day, she did not believe in Jesus.

Last night, she shared that after she left that first day, she believed. Her experience in that 60 minutes was that God revealed enough about Himself to her that she came to faith, simple as that. Now, she's on a journey to discover more about her faith and about herself - but that first day marked her. And she loves the song.

"Creator God, He is Yahweh
The great I Am, He is Yahweh
The Lord of all, He is Yahweh
Rose of Sharon, He is Yahweh
The Righteous Son, He is Yahweh
The three in One, He is Yahweh"

I continue to get requests, every time we do this song: "What was that song? Where can I find it?" Last Saturday, Bob and Jeannie Pino chose "Yahweh" to end their marriage renewal service, and it prompted a new round of questions. (And it's curious that almost every time, "Yahweh" is misspelled. A name so familiar to so many is so foreign to us today.)

"He Is Yahweh" has become an integral part of who we are as a worshiping community. It is part of our culture - the djembe beat, the a cappella bridge, the power of the vocal line. I think it's important that we know a little bit more about what we're singing (including how to spell "Yahweh"!)

First of all, here's some background, courtesy of Wikipedia:

"Yahweh is the personal name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible. The form Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew יהוה, YHWH.

The Torah describes Yahweh as the God of Israel who revealed himself to Abraham and Jacob as El Shaddai, and to Moses as Malakh, and who delivered Israel from Egypt and gave the Ten Commandments."

And you can find the song, by Dean Salyn, on iTunes here.

He is Yahweh.

I'm also curious - I listed a few moments here, but what are some of your most powerful worship moments?