Monday, February 28, 2011

Knees, Soup and Such

Monday morning bullets (so what if it's already Monday afternoon):
  • So thankful today for the flexibility of a job that allows me to work from home when necessary. It's a good day for that, as the rain has just begun; according to the radar reports, we'll have a wet few hours this afternoon.
  • I'm working, trying to catch up and plan ahead. But it's slow going.
  • Started the day with a terrific early meeting with huge implications for the future of the Worship Arts team at PCC. Had one of those "duh" moments that relate to the whole "I know the plans I have for you. - God" parts of our faith. Looking forward to what happens next.
  • Still basking a bit in the glow of last night's service. The band was incredible. I enjoyed every minute. It was really, really cool. And my parents sat with me in the front row; Mom, Dad and my husband, all of us together. That meant so much to me. It was a good night.
  • My three girls sang together as part of the service last night. They were awesome. I was proud, but they were just awesome as worship leaders, regardless of my maternal pride. Daniel was right behind them playing percussion. How cool is that?
  • Potato soup on the stove. Yum. Thanks to a mom who believes in handing down good books, magazines and ham bones.
  • My daughter Shannon is safely back in Harrisonburg after a great weekend at home. I appreciate that she was here for the ordination service. She brought friends with her; they are extremely cool. They got themselves up and left for JMU at 5AM this morning.
  • Saw the ortho doctor this morning; surgery scheduled for next Wednesday to repair a torn medial meniscus. Looks pretty basic and uncomplicated, but it requires general anesthesia. Recover is dependent upon each individual; I could be on crutches one day and ready to paint the house the next, or I could be in severe pain and on crutches for two weeks. We'll see.
That's all, that's it. It's Monday and spring is on its way.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Chauncey and his wife Christine
Tomorrow afternoon, I'm going to a service at PCC. I helped plan it, but I won't be on the stage. Along with my friend and co-worker Chauncey Starkey, I'll be the center of attention in an odd and uncomfortable way. Both of us have commiserated about our distaste for having a fuss made about us, which is exactly what we'll be getting tomorrow.

I blog about my life; if you read and think I'm self-absorbed and disturbingly introspective, you probably have grounds to make that claim. But I write to process, and I do it here, probably because I'm heard, and that matters. So be it.

I am on a stage in front of a lot of people almost every week. I enjoy it; I am extremely comfortable in that venue. Maybe that's an indicator of a big ego or a desire for the spotlight. I don't know. You could make that argument, I suppose.

But here's the thing: I like to blog and I like to be on the platform on Sundays. I'm wired that way. It is what it is, which is good, because it's my life. It's good. But I really, really don't like being the center of attention. It makes me so uncomfortable and I feel terribly awkward. Don't sing to me in a restaurant for my birthday. Don't take my picture. Don't make a fuss over me. I actually have a lot of introverted tendencies, and they are surprisingly strong.

Chauncey feels the same way. But tomorrow, he and I are both stepping out of our comfort zones and sitting down for something that feels a bit awkward, but will undoubtedly be one of the most meaningful moments of each of our lives. We have each sensed that God has called us to full-time vocational ministry, to serve Him (currently through the local church) and we've accepted that call. We both sat through separate ordination councils, after working through written answers to a battery of questions about our faith and its practice. We defended our positions to the members of the councils and answered any questions they had.

And they ordained us. We are each "official" ministers; we have the right to be called "Reverend". (Which is sort of weird. Because I don't feel "reverend"...but then again, I sort of do....) The ordination itself is done, confirmed, over. But the cool part (at least for the ones I've attended before) is in the service, where the entire church is invited to participate in "setting apart" an individual for ministry. The way it works at PCC is we have some singing (my kids, in this case, along with Lindsay Harris and other awesome worship leaders) and a little scripture reading and praying, and a short explanation from Brian...and then all who are so inclined are invited to speak to or pray for the ordainee. Chauncey and I will sit in chairs in the front of the room, and the people will line up and they'll speak words of wisdom. Or encouragement. Or whatever they are led to share.

It is a humbling honor to consider being given such a gift. I am not quite sure what to do with it. I received an email today in which a friend wrote,  
"Tomorrow, you are being set aside in God's service. He has taken you on an incredible personal and spiritual journey, unlocking greater leadership gifts along the way.  Your continued obedience and daily choice to serve Him through challenges and blessings has brought you to this point. God has called you to something New. It is a story that is still being written. But your calling has been confirmed by others who recognize that new calling, and agree that this calling requires your being set apart in such a way that the world will recognize it."
Later, my friend included this statement: "Tomorrow, when it's time to lay on hands and speak words of encouragement, I may just hug you and cry tears of joy, and maybe whisper a little 'I love you.'  Please know that behind those words are these prayed over and carefully chosen words that I have written here today."

I was so moved by the words in that email. I mean really, profoundly moved. And I began to consider that as much as I've joked about dreading being the center of attention tomorrow, maybe this is going to be an incredibly encouraging, transformative experience.
Of course it will.
I've been part of ordination services for others, and they are all profoundly moving. So I don't doubt tomorrow will be, as well.

I'm going to take a deep breath, and enter into the day waiting to see what new things God is going to unveil. My parents will be there; my girls are going to sing together. My friend Lisa is here from Ohio, my husband will be beside me. Friends and co-workers and fellow musicians who have become family to me will be there. I will be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both here on earth and above (I've NO DOUBT that Bob Pino has set aside time to join in; however thin that veil may be, I know that his presence will be felt. Bob was one of my biggest cheerleaders and encouragers. He and Jeannie helped me get to this place.)

It's going to be a good day. My ordination service is tomorrow, and I'm finally excited.

Don't call me 'reverend'.
It's at 6PM at PCC's Powhatan Campus, 4480 Anderson Highway. You're all invited. :-)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maida Vale: Signs of Life

With Signs of Life, Maida Vale sets the nail for their claim as a Great American Band. This sophomore release reflects a maturity and a commitment to making good music regardless of market trends. From the gritty opening of Jordan to the raw blues of Walk Resurrection, this is a group of men exploring and executing the primal instinct of making music.

And their instincts are true. The lyrics on this record are personal, thoughtful, honest. The recurring theme of falling short and brokenness, driven home in the repetitive, unrelenting hook of Never Been Good, meets a consistent counterbalance of grace and hope; it's not always overt, but it's there. The overall message of this record resonates with the title track - it shows signs of life, tinged with a hope that is keenly aware of the human condition.

The instrumental layers on each track offer tasty tidbits of bluesy rock and roll. From harmonica fills to luscious guitar fills, the band creates sound washes with rhythmic accents that set the stage for each story. The banjo - yes, banjo! - links an undeniable appreciation for deep country roots that gives each song a sense of history.

Maida Vale makes music that is fresh and clean, yet firmly planted in the raw roots of all that is good about American music. To listen to this record is to trace some history; songwriters for years have offered up their hearts to the world as they work out their salvation within the context of four minutes of rhythm and melody. This band enjoys the benefit of great chemistry, superior talent and applied skill and effort, and it shines through in this record. You'll listen again and again, uncovering each layer of applicable meaning. And maybe dance a little, too.

Great record from an excellent band.

The record is currently only available as a digital download. Check it out here; the best $10 you'll spend today. Promise.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Blog Post About Dennis Green

These are two of my favorite men, ever. Both of these guys have had a profound impact on my life.

Brian, on the left, is my pastor. He played the role of counselor for me during a few difficult years of transition in my life, and he did it well. He's my co-worker. He makes me crazy sometimes, but it's all good because I make him furious sometimes. We get over it. Working with Brian has taught me a lot about a lot of stuff, and it's made me a better person - a better minister, a better woman. I'm a better wife to Tony because of Brian's influence.

And we're friends.

Dennis, on the right, is our executive pastor. He has been a good friend with a listening ear on more than one occasion. He's been a good supervisor and boss, and though my relationship with him is not full of fireworks (like with Brian), it's proven to be just as influential. During Dennis' ordination council, I told him that he was one of a handful of people that I trusted, absolutely and completely, with no reservation. Dennis is a unique individual. He is steady and wise, tried and true. He's transparent without being all gooey about it. I'm a better employee and minister because of his guidance. He's surprisingly funny. And he sings. Sort of.

Two weeks ago, Brian asked Dennis to deliver the message to kick off our Be Mine series. It was intentional - it gave Brian a little breathing room and allowed him to be at Westchester on Sunday morning. Dennis did a great job; he collaborated with Brian on the content and delivered it very well.

And then Brian got sick this week, and although he kept thinking he'd be able to pull it together, by Friday morning it was obvious that he'd be out. Dennis got the call Friday morning; he had two days to put together a message.

Two days. If you preach a lot, that's probably not a big deal. But Dennis is our Executive Pastor - not a regular teaching pastor. Two days to prep a message would put most normal people into panic mode.

But I never saw signs of panic. Brian asked Dennis to do the message, and he had two days to do it. And here's the thing: he did it. It was a good message, with strong content and some very funny, memorable moments - the kind of things that stick with you, the stuff that God uses to remind you of Biblical precepts later in the week. Yay Dennis.

And here's the other thing: in spite of the fact that his schedule was already booked with requirements of his "real" responsibilities at PCC, which included parking lot work and gravel hauling and who knows what else, he did it. And I never heard one complaint. Not once did he even remark that he felt overwhelmed or even that he was tired. He just did it. No comments, no questions, no whining.

The message today included a discussion of submission in marriage; Dennis had to unpack a somewhat controversial section of the Bible and make it relevant (if you missed the service, you can see it in it's entirety here). And as I watched him deliver this talk about how submission and humility and service can reap rewards in relationships, it occurred to me that he was a walking, talking, living example of what he spoke. Dennis does "whatever it takes", he shrugs off any personal inconvenience and he simply moves forward. With an attitude of grace and a total lack of ego. He simply submitted to the call, regardless of how it impacted his plans or needs, and he did what was required.

We're better for it. Not only because of the message he delivered today, but because on a daily basis, this man of character and integrity is leading our church, making hard decisions about important matters.

Dennis Green is a godly man of good character. He may not be that complicated, and he may simply need a sandwich and a Big Gulp to make him wag his tail, but he's exactly the kind of man I want leading my church and influencing our community.

*By the way, I titled this "A Blog Post About Dennis Green" because he's always giving me grief about being all creative. I decided to keep things simple and plain, just so he'd appreciate it. :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The (Short) Season Of My Discontent

Whine alert; read no further if you are looking for something inspirational.

And now for a bullet list of my discontent:
  • I slept on the couch the past two nights. My husband is sick. He kept me awake, I kept him awake. So we slept apart. He is better, enough that he got a good day's work in; but he's back to a horizontal position again and I know he's not 100%. 
  • I am not a fan of sleeping on the couch.
  • I like sleeping with my husband.
  • I'm a little grouchy about items two and three.
  • I think I'm starting the get this crud, or at least some personalized version. Head hurts, congestion creeping in. Throat burns. Eyes hurt. Of course, these may just be symptoms of sleeping on the couch.
  • I have no time to be sick.
  • I don't want to be sick on Sunday; I love the songs we have planned for church and I actually get to sing two of them. I don't want to be sick.
  • I don't know what we're having for dinner tonight.
  • My knee hurts like crazy. I have an order for an MRI, but the doc (and any educated person I ask) seems to think it's a torn meniscus. I see surgery (EEK!), crutches and hobbling around in my future. I don't like that.
  • My right knee is the one that is injured, which is my stomping knee. Hmmm...
On the bright side, the weather was gorgeous today. The windows are open, the bright sky gives a promise of spring.

That is all.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

Steven Furtick pastors Elevation Church in Charlotte, one of the fastest-growing churches in America.

He's passionate, effective and completely committed. With Sun Stand Still, he's managed to put a slight, somewhat mystifying snippet of scripture into the common lexicon of contemporary churches. The concept is tantalizing, this idea that audacious prayers are not only possible but essential to engaging in a full relationship with God. Furtick advocates a bold, active faith in arguments that sometimes seem grounded in the rejection of the perceived passivity and inaction found in North American churches.

It's a great concept, scripturally sound and personally challenging - and I bet it was a terrific sermon series. But as a book, littered with phrases like, "If you'll do the believing, he'll do the achieving", it's a difficult read. Furtick describes two individuals who are "accomplishing ridiculously amazing things for God's glory....their faith seems to be turbocharged from some source that the average Christian never quite taps into."  When he goes on to declare "by the time you finish this book, the same faith that pulses in Michael's and Tonia's everyday life will be pumping through your veins too", I just want to smile gently, take him aside and ask him to reconsider whether or not he might be jumping the gun. It's a bit harder to take a reader on a journey towards discovery when your starting point leans towards a preconceived notion that borders on insult.

I'm all for Furtick's work with Elevation, and thrilled about the success the church is having in North Carolina. I'd like to hear him preach. And I look forward to the book he might write ten years from now, with a bit more experience under his belt.

By the way of full disclosure, I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Book Review: Lit by Mary Karr

"Well, drinking is like the butcher knife. You have to put it down before you can let God in. It's like you have to break up with the guy who's beating the crap out of you before you can scan the room and find the nice guy who's got a crush on you."

That's Mary Karr, author of Lit, quoting a friend's argument as Karr pinwheeled her way through alcoholism towards health. Lit is the third installment of Karr's self-examination, but my first foray into her work.

Well-written, insightful, gripping and engaging, Karr weaves a great story with a unique style. I found the story itself a bit flat through the first quarter of the book, but the intimacy of the dialogue and descriptions of her flirtation with alcohol captured me. And thank God I hung on, because by the time Karr quits flirting and crashes headlong into a full-bore affair with booze, I couldn't look away. My heart was completely engaged. Lit weaves a story that, at its core, is so honest about the human condition that there are no villains or heroes, no winners or losers running amuck in and out of her life story. There are only humans, fraught with frailty, honest and true. Good and bad, both / and. This memoir resonates with aromatic truth. I felt like I knew these people; they were my own uncles and aunts, friends and neighbors.

To my surprise, the story amps up as Karr begins to detail her self-described "journey from blackbelt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic". I did not pick this book up because of any anticipated spiritual impact or the jolt of confirming joy I feel when I dig into a typical come-to-Jesus story. I had no idea that Karr ended her journey embracing Jesus, and the fact that it caught me off-guard made it that much more powerful.

I found myself unexpectedly, profoundly moved,  as it unfolded; Karr depicts her struggle with letting go, with relinquishing control, accepting herself and those around her as they are. Her journey rings of truth, and of a deeply personal faith journey with more resonance than the stuff I often read in "Christian" circles. Here is a woman who was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the cross - and chose to stand up and fall into the arms of Jesus. Still cursing, wrestling, running - but there.

This is a real book, powerful and pivotal. I saw much of myself in Mary Karr's honest self-discovery. Highly recommended, for anyone who has struggled with addiction, and for any female who finds herself wondering sometimes who she really is, and what it might take to find out.

I Have My Kids

This morning, I have been thinking about from whence I have come, and I remember this day - not too long ago, only five years, in fact. Five years.

A lifetime.

From junior high to college; from kindergarten to middle school. From bicycles to cars.

The time, it does fly. And things do change, in radical ways. Just look at that photograph...

For my own sense of motion and for anyone who longs to be reminded that the future unfolds and that joy does indeed come in the morning; here's where I was mid-February, just five (short) years ago:

I'm sitting at a cluttered dining room table (mine), surrounded by the debris of A Day. Fifty cupcakes, packed up and ready for the morning commute to the hands of friends as they honor St. Valentine with a rush of sugar, made carefully and lovingly by the Girls themselves. At this point, they only need me to drive to the store for ingredients; their independence in the kitchen is astonishing.

Back to the is my own laptop, side by side with the ancient Dell with the missing '9' key. FirstSon entertained himself (and me) by belting out "No Woman, No Cry" as it surged from the headphones of the old Dell. "Mom - why don't we do this song at church?" Grin.

A copy of "Simon Burch", with the little fellow asking of the priest, 'Do you think God has a purpose for my life?'. The religious leader stumbles and fumbles and scorns the faith of a child, who believes that God will, indeed, use him as His instrument.

CD's - music choices that will serve to lead the people in my community in worship for the next four weeks. It's harrowing, at times, to make these decisions; as we gather in community, they sing what I suggest. I need to listen well as I work; it's no small responsibility.

Valentine cards - YoungSon has chosen a Disney motif to notify his dear friends and acquaintances of his affections. The box and the leftovers await the trash.

More stuff - fake yellow flowers of some type...a jar of banana peppers with nothing but yellow-tinged vinegar swilling inside...a piece of green felt with a triangle cut from one corner...a bread bag with one piece of whole wheat keys....a crumpled, discarded cupcake paper...

The dog is asleep in my lap. The house is quiet.

Tomorrow is Valentines' Day. I have no man to squire me to an expensive dinner, shower me with chocolate and shiny jewelry. I have no role to play, no airs to put on, nothing to show that I fit in with the masses on this over-hyped day of demonstration. I will receive no $2.95 Hallmark card with "For My Beloved Wife" and a Victorian rose pasted on the cover. No special lingerie, no new momentos to mark the passing years of love....

I have a dirty dining room table, and I have my kids, who are not-so-furtively planning Something Special For Mom tomorrow; instructions have been given that I am not to return home until 5:00 at the earliest. Last year they had a hot bath with bubbles AND rose petals waiting - soft music, candlelight and gentle, solicitous behaviour. It was a blessing. I anticipate the same generous intentions tomorrow.

I have my kids. They are safe upstairs, sweetly dreaming or tending to the remains of the day. My five, who were once as cherubic as the little icon of love that floats around on February 14th. My cherubs have grown into young girls and boys who have laughed and cried through the best and worst life has thrown at them. They are authentic humans whose love is sometimes dirty, forgetful and even injurious. My children's selfishness is unparalleled, as is their capacity for forgiveness. The ability they possess to take up the servant's towel and love one another, or me, or a friend, or a newcomer, or a family member, or their far-off is love. It is the best love, the truest love, the love that spreads through the very human aches and pains of community.

I have my kids. They are upstairs, asleep, and tomorrow they will get up and go to school with the same combination of chaos and responsibility that tore through the house this morning. They will welcome the day and embrace their future, and they'll love their mom and one another fiercely.

I have my kids.

Happy Valentine's Day.

"On a night like this/I could fall in love/I could fall in love with you."

In The Middle Of The Night

I slipped out of bed tonight, unable to sleep. There is a strange, settled peace about this; sleep is far from me, and yet I am rested. It indicates that I am better tonight than I was in more recent times, when I yanked on the door of slumber when I needed it or not, longing to escape. I've been begging for sleep lately. Tonight, I let it wait for me.

I sat on the top step in a dark house for the first time ever, in this house. I listened to the dark, sensed the rise and fall of my childrens' breaths, heard the clicking of the kitchen clock as the seconds slipped by.

I prayed, recognizing that the rhythm of the daily office I've come to embrace had been lost in the chaos of the past week. There is a new comfort in an old wandering; other times, when I knew that I'd slipped out of a disciplined routine, I'd be lost - disconnected, off track and always carrying some degree of guilt and shame. Neglect never feels good, whichever end you're on.

Tonight, though, I realized that the chaos robbed me of discipline - and nothing more. Nothing has changed. The daily ritual is there, unaltered, unhindered. I can step back into the routine and relax into that same rhythm. It is even more comforting to sense the legacy, the history of the daily office - the ritual of the common prayer book. This is an ancient rhythm, and I am not alone, regardless of where I step into the tune. The past week has required a different sort of discipline, and it handed back to me a paradigm shift and several questions.

I prayed tonight for people I care for. I prayed for my husband, my hand resting on his arm as he tossed and turned, restless, his mind and his head congested. I prayed for Lisa, and for John, for Debbie and Keith, for Kelley and Anjie, for Jeannie.

And I sat on the top stair and contemplated, here in the middle of the night, what a gift we are given when we are born. Life. I remember nights of fitful sleep, nursing babies at too-close intervals, days trudging through all that children required and endless hours of wondering when I'd ever come up for air. Not long ago, most of my nights were like this: late, contemplative, with the promise of days following that would see me zombie-like, sleep-walking through sunlight.

Sometimes I feel like I slept-walk through an entire decade, with five kids born over nine years.

And yet here I am today, seemingly catapulted - but not really - into a new season, one that grew and bloomed out of all that was planted in those late nights of nursing and nurturing my children. Now I'm up for myself, chasing my own hunger. It seems to have happened quickly, but that's only because I never had time to notice what was changing. In fact, it's a slow ebb and flow of time, of the changing seasons, of shoe sizes and hair cuts and candles on cakes, of hash marks on a door frame and children who can literally look you in the eye. Before they grab the keys and drive the car by themselves.

I am so thankful tonight, just to be alive. To be part of the human race. To feel a sense of purpose, hemmed in by my family and a deep, true, good love.

Strange and unexpected thoughts for a sleepless night. I'll take it.

(And I am laughing a bit, at myself, because I just heard the scratchy sound of gravel in the driveway, the muffled booming of the car stereo faintly through the window. My eldest just got home from a friend's house, and I realized that deep down inside, I was probably awake because I knew she would be driving home maybe some things never change, regardless of whether or not I feel like I've gotten past the kids being the primary reason for sleepless nights in my life...)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day 2011

As much as possible, I tried to disengage today. Brian said, "Take a day off. Take two days off. You need it."

My gut reaction was to wave him off, dig in and plow through...

But then I changed my mind.

So today was a quiet day, with a few interruptions and some last minute panic as I tried to get some Valentine's stuff together (want to know where my kids' come by their tendency to procrastinate? Just look at me...) I did laundry. I did dishes. I moved slowly. I got some extra sleep.

Tony took possession today of The Thing That Will Change Our Lives Forever (more on that later). He said, "Meet me here at 4:30. I made reservations for us." So I put on a little black dress and a little polka dot sweater and met him (albeit 10 minutes late...)

To my surprise, our friends showed up, too. Apparently the men in our lives had cooked up a special treat for us. And then, again to our surprise, a limousine pulled up!

If I've ridden in a limo before, I don't remember. This was a great treat - we had balloons and chocolate and beads (?) and a copy of the Globe, in case we needed something to read. Ha.

And then we had a tremendous dinner at Carrabas, a place where all four of us had shared meals with Bob and Jeannie Pino in the past. We raised our bread to Bob.

My husband never fails to surprise me, in unforgettable ways. He does the unexpected. He goes the extra mile. He is generous and kind. And tons of fun. And tonight, I felt special.

Which goes a LONG way to easing me out of the valley and back into the light.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Of Gnomes And Crowns

So I wonder what THAT brainstorming session was like....

"What if we made a movie about gnomes...fighting gnomes....and called it 'Gnomeo and Juliet'....and had a pink flamingo...and Dolly Parton!!!!...and got Elton John to do the music....and created a giant lawnmower that destroyed everything...and called the lawnmower the 'Terrafirminator'....and maybe Hulk Hogan would be in the movie, too....and let's call Ozzy Osbourne....and make it all in 3D!...."

What an idea. Encouraged me to think with a bit more imagination about what I do every week! It was a good movie, a nice way to end this very long day on a pleasant note. Escape to a world of red and blue gnomes and happy-ever-after. Pretty mindless, but a few great moments and authentic laughter. Loved being there with Tony, Syd and Daniel.

Highly recommended, safe for kids, funny for adults. Not a bad diversion.

That's what I needed this evening, after an hour of very deep sleep after returning home. I am exhausted, and my well is close to dry tonight.

I will say that Bob's service today was powerful, all that it could have been. I enjoyed the service and the music and the tributes. I loved the opportunity to spend some time with Bob and Jeannie's family and to meet finally have the honor of meeting Janet. I felt such a strong connection with all of them and I am hoping that those relationships might continue. I was SO proud of Sherry and Winston and Rachel, and especially my husband.

I am proud of our band, who held it together and played their hearts out. Proud of Todd for playing a right-handed kit - no small thing for a left-handed drummer - in order to minimize distraction. So proud of Paul Myers for leading us in a beautiful hymn. I am in awe of Eli Tiller and his ability to bring about an incredible moment of glory with his voice. I am so proud of my pastor, Bob's friend, who not only spoke but sang, and did so very well.

And isn't it just like Bob, to put all of us in places where we would shine, where he could affirm and encourage us? He orchestrated everything today so that we could lift one another up, fill the room with hope.

The chorus in the song Bob requested for Brian was the one I couldn't get through this week. I sat at my piano here in the house singing and playing, negotiating a new key, and I choked every time I got to that part of the chorus:

And when my life's complete / I'll place my crown at Your feet
And I will worship You on bended knee

But this morning, I never hesitated. As we worshiped together, I had this very real understanding that all was at it should be. Bob got his crown, and I've no doubt that as all of the angels and those of us still on earth lifted our voices together, that crown was in its rightful place.

And so is our friend.

As I write these words, I hear my husband upstairs practicing for tomorrow's service. Ironically, he's playing the same song that I heard a little over a week ago, when all these events began to snowball, leading us to today.

You stay the same through the ages / Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night / but joy comes in the morning

Amen, and amen.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15.13

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Time For Everything, Including Some Photos

I kind of, sort of, just don't know what to think today.

I know I wanted to just stay in bed. And that's after crawling into bed about 9:30 last night. I didn't even change clothes...just left a mess in the kitchen, told the kids goodnight and got under the covers.

But staying in bed is boring. And pointless. There is much to do, in spite of the fact that I really don't want to do anything. So: here we go.

After spending some time with Bob Pino's family last night, we have a service order for tomorrow. Bob left some very precise instructions about what he wanted for this day. It's been good to work through how to honor his requests and honor the process. I'm going to spend some time today making sure everything is ready for tomorrow (11:00AM Saturday, February 12, at Powhatan Community Church, 4480 Anderson Highway). It's actually really cool to be executing his planning; feels like a really cool project that we're working on together. We did the same in October for Bob and Jeannie's renewal of their vows, and it was a great service.

And I also have to spend time this morning learning Vince Gill's "Go Rest High On That Mountain", because another family lost a loved one and will gather to mourn his loss this afternoon.  That is their song request. I didn't know this gentleman, but I do know the family, and so Brian and I will be with them this afternoon.

That's really messing with my head today - trying to disassociate from the particulars and simply play my part in what the grief process requires. Working on two separate services for two different men; completely separate experiences, and yet the same loss, the same process. Really reminds me today of the scripture - and the hard reality - that "there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die".

We all meet the same end. And those left behind will mourn. And then carry on. These next 48 hours, I am going to learn new things about how to mourn and carry on. Bottom line, that's a lesson worth learning.

And even thought I didn't want to get out of bed today, I'm up for it. I'm gonna get over myself and get it done. 

Following are a few photos from my files; I know that some of Bob and Jeannie's friends and family are landing on this blog. Just thought you might like to share in some of our memories. These are for you.

With my daughter Sarah; he gave her the privilege of calling him "Poppy", and he called her his Princess.

Sarah had a great photo session with Bob and Jeannie. Love this...

At our wedding in December 2010

Watching our friend Dick take off his belt at our wedding. We laughed about that for a long time; the expression on his face was exactly what he asked later. "What the heck was THAT about?"

Making a toast...

How most of us at PCC remember meeting Bob

Worshiping at PCC in the high school...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fulfilling My Vows

Listening to the new Jesus Culture cd. It is just what I need today. This passion, the mood, the lyric - everything about it suits me.

God meets us where we are, and gives us what we need.
Here I will bow down / say that I need You
Here I will worship / say how I love You
"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. For you, God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. Increase the days of the (my) life, (my) years for many generations. May (I) be enthroned in God's presence forever; appoint your love and faithfulness to protect (me). Then I will ever sing in praise of your name and fulfill my vows day after day." - Psalm 61
I want to know You / let Your spirit overwhelm me
Let Your presence overtake my heart

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Know Someday I Will Be Free

Wow, huh?

If you knew Bob, you know that this is Bob. My friend Connie Kottman sketched this last week. One artist inspiring another; she says it's white on black to symbolize him as a light in the darkness.

This sketch brought back memories for a lot of us. Bob's first appearance on the PCC stage was to sit in this position and share a song. We wanted him to share his testimony, too, but he wouldn't do it.

He did, however, let me do it. We walked out together and he sat down. I introduced him and then shared a few remarks (approved by him, of course) that shed light on his past.

Because he had a past. Bob Pino was living proof of repentance, redemption and restoration.

And then he sang. Bob was always resurrecting these old tunes that carried incredible weight and truth. This was one.
I know someday I will be free
The weight of sin shall be released
But for now He covers me
And though the trials never end
I've learned to take them as my friend
For each day He covers me
-Steve Camp, "He Covers Me"
Oh, yeah, brother. The weight of sin is now released. You are free! I can only imagine...

It's not the same, but you can hear the song here...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Not Church As Usual

I am finding that the best way for me to work through grief is to cry and write, cry and write, play the piano (which makes me cry more), cry and write.

I write here.

So many things, so many emotions. Memories. Thoughts. Under it all, this sense that I almost have no right to be feeling such pain. So many people loved Bob Pino so deeply. His beautiful wife, his sons and daughters, his grandchildren. I almost feel that I am robbing them of their rights and privileges to mourn his loss, should I indulge mine too greatly.

I have no idea how to do this. I look back at other times I have grieved over a death, and I realize that I have never let this sorrow reach into my soul. Which indicates to me that I'm growing. Which is further indication of all that God still has to teach me. Which helps me to see more of what I learned because I was a friend of Bob.

Many months ago, after we knew the cancer was not going to leave, he waved his very detailed plan for his memorial service at me. I ran. Not literally, but close enough. We were in the living room, and I said, "Put that away! I'm not looking at that! You're crazy! I'm not going there!" He emailed it to me later, and I responded with some lame joke about not knowing they had email in heaven because he wasn't dead yet so stop already with the service planning.

He knew that I struggled with my grandmother's passing, that I had regrets about being unable to walk through those last days with her. As much as he could, he coaxed me into places that gently broke those chains. I'm not sure he was always cognizant of what he was doing - if it was deliberate - but he smoothed the way for me. God worked in our relationship to make that happen.

And so I am here; I have opened my heart to the sort of love and honesty and acceptance that makes the resulting loss so unbelievably painful. I think of the Joni Mitchell tune, quoted here some years back:  "Maybe I've never really loved / I guess that is the truth / I've spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes"

But I have loved, and the ice is melting. So I cry and cry, and I let the emotions push in like the tide when they appear, and I do not try to push them away.

I struggled this morning with doing "church as usual". I wanted to be authentic. I wanted to change the service and program songs that would give voice to my / our grief. I wanted to cry together, to sing his favorite songs, to say together on a Sunday morning, "We miss Bob!" My heart longed for that. As Tony drove us into church early today, I found myself reading through the book of Job, identifying in some minor but very real way with his suffering and loss. I was swimming in that emotional place this morning.

But there is a time to mourn, and we have set that aside for Saturday. We will not be distracted on Saturday; we will not be bound by time. We will focus celebrating a life well-lived, on airing our grief, on joining our sorrow together and trading it all in for beauty. We will make room for our sadness and honor our grief on Saturday. It would not be today.

I made peace with that before service started, but I carried my sadness with me. I reluctantly accepted that we should do "church as usual".

But then....

....then it was 9:30 and we kicked into gear and the music started and, like always, I just wanted to worship our God. And something amazing happened; for the first time in my life, I experienced the strength of worship carried on the wings of sorrow. It was like the Psalms sang out of my body. It was unreal.

We sang "Lord, You are good and your mercy endureth forever....we worship You for who You are....You are good." And we sang "We give You the highest praise, for You are worthy to be lifted up." 

And I lived in that moment, absolutely sure that above and below and beside all my sorrow, God is good. And He can live and move and breathe life into that sorrow. We believe that.  Death does not steal what we believe to be true. Jesus wins. Through our tears, through the pain of loss and the sorrow we feel, He is good.

I sing some version of that every week - every day, often. I believe it. But I knew this morning as I worshiped, that I have been irrevocably, forever changed.

I looked up several times during worship. I feel the presence of God during worship; I am interacting with Him. That's normal for me. Several times today, I felt so close, so connected. And I'm not sure it's theologically correct, but listen:  
every time I looked up, I saw Bob Pino's face
Right beside Jesus, smiling, singing, dancing, and cheering us on like he did every week, whether in the room or watching online.

Today I came to believe something that I cannot prove, cannot argue. I believe it. My faith has changed, my spiritual foundation has shifted slightly. There is something new there that did not exist before.

I believe that the veil between heaven and earth is a lot thinner than I once thought. I believe Bob came to church today.

I don't have to believe this; it is enough to know that he was a good man, that he was a Christ-follower. It is enough to know that he is in heaven, that I will see him again. I do not feel the need to make up something to suit my needs.

I just know that I know that I know that I know.

I know.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Blessed Be Your Name

Roaming through some old emails today, and I found this one. Dated January 8, 2009 - a little over two years ago - here's some typical Bob Pino. This is an excerpt from a note he wrote for no particular reason except to lift me up:
Hey Lady......I was finished up praying this morning...and had prayed for you and the staff and God put this scripture in front of me.

"I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, He set my feet on solid ground, He has given me a new song to sing" (Psalm 40:1-3, NLT).

I just know when I get to Heaven the music is going to be off the hook! 
No kidding. You know it's even better today, now that Pino's in the choir.

I have scores of emails like this one; reminders of who I was, that I was loved, that he was my friend, that God loved me....

I have never known anyone with a gift of encouragement (and the willingness to use it) like Bob Pino.

Feeling so wonderfully blessed today. Carried on the strength of strong sorrow that is founded in hope, I am blessed.

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Friday, February 4, 2011

Soon And Very Soon

10:20 PM, home after a long day. I drove to Harrisonburg to pick up my beautiful red-head, who cried at the thought of a lost opportunity to hug her friend Bob Pino. The four-hour round trip went quickly.

We got to the hospital in time for hugs and tears - all our own - and a beautiful time of singing and prayers.

And memories - new ones made, old stories told.

Family circled, the ones who have been part of Bob for long years, who have lived the history that is just the back story of the man that I know. Daughters and sons, grandchildren, in-laws.

And a sweet, unmistakable redemption underneath it all. Brian spoke of restoration and grace, and all agreed.

We sang.

When peace like a river attendeth my way 
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say 
It is well, it is well with my soul

We spoke of the great encouragement, the gift that is the best of Bob.

We spoke of his passion for being on time, every time.

The words filled the room. His breath filled the room.

His eyes never opened, but he was oh-so-with-us.

I am home. When I left, he was still with-us.

And soon - and very soon - he will be with Jesus. It is impossible to imagine, the moment that is so near for him, in which he'll cross that threshold and be.....there. Sarah sang this song tonight, a beautiful melody that still rings in my ears.

As we stood outside of his room tonight, Brian and I agreed: Bob taught us every step of the way. And he teaches us still.

I will be with the One I love / with unveiled face I'll see
There my soul will be satisfied / soon and very soon
Though I have not seen Him / my heart knows Him well
Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Am A Friend Of Bob

I spent most of today in the ER waiting room at Johnston Willis Hospital.

My friend Bob..........................


I find it difficult to finish that sentence. It's incomplete.

And yet it's full of life and potent and memorable, larger than you can imagine, clever and profound.

My friend Bob is amazingly funny.

My friend Bob has an awesome wife, and together they have a marriage that inspires and encourages me.

My friend Bob is the best friend my husband Tony has in this town.

My friend Bob turned me on to some awesome Bruce Hornsby music. And then my friend Bob and I went with our spouses to see Hornsby in concert. And it was brilliant.

My friend Bob has a voice that calls down angels, even when he is simply speaking.

My friend Bob plays and sings like a man who's been to hell and came back to tell us about the grace that brought him home. 'Cause that's what happened.

My friend Bob loves me, and he tells me so.

My friend Bob prays for me every single day.

My friend Bob introduced me to my friend Bobby and his beautiful wife Kathleen. 

My friend Bob is the connecting point for more people than I can count, most of whom are fascinating in their own right.

And today, in that waiting room, the traffic pattern ebbed and flowed but it stayed constant. We were friends of Bob, and if we didn't know each other to start with, we did within moments. And we were friends of Bob and friends of one another.

My friend Bob rode in an ambulance to the hospital today. The cancer that seized his body is roaming freely now, and there's little anyone can do to contain its appetite.

(I hate cancer.)

But what is intended for evil can be turned to good. We gather, the friends of Bob, whether together in person or in spirit, and we see how great the power of love can be.

It's amazing.

Even now, as I write to process my thoughts and feelings, I hear my husband in another room, playing his guitar. He is processing his thoughts and feelings, too.

I hear the chord changes and the words, though unsung, ring through my head and my heart. I know this song. I hear him.

You stay the same through the ages / Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
And when the oceans rage / I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that you love me
Your love never fails
You make all things work together for my good
You make all things work together for my good
You make all things work together for my good 
You make.....

Over and over, the bridge lyric resounds. All things for good.

I believe it. In the midst of the tears, and the sobs that choke in my throat and the grief that hovers like a cloud around my boots, I believe it. It spite of what's coming, I believe it. In the face of certain sorrow, I believe it. I know this is true.

Brian and I were with Bob early this afternoon. Wrapped in a flimsy hospital gown, oxygen flowing through his nostrils, blood caked around his lips and the tumor in his mouth, he grimaced.

"You're not feeling too good, are you?" Brian asked

Bob looked up at us and said two words.

"I'm ready."

(all things work together for my good)

Brian took a breath. "But what if we're not ready, Bob?"

He looked up again. I expected tears, a moment of power, a quote from scripture. His chapped, cracked lips parted and Bob spoke to us.

"Then you need to get over yourself."

(all things work together for my good)

I am sad, my heart is heavy. This day, combined with other sorrows that I know of that bring difficult days and nights to friends far and near - the burden of life itself feels overwhelming. I shook my fist at the sky today and said, "Dear God, if this is ministry - if this is what I have signed up for - I. DON'T. LIKE. IT. This is HARD!"

All things work together for my good. Life is hard. And it is, exactly and perfectly, what I am called to.


All things work together. For our good.

And I need to get over myself.

I love you, Bob Pino.