Sunday, January 27, 2013

Books I Think You Should Read

I've read three books recently that I think you should read.

First, there was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I grabbed this on a whim, after receiving a nice iTunes gift card for Christmas. I bought a bit of music (Joni Mitchell's Hejira album, which I know by heart but only own as an record) and then looked for something to read over our Christmas holiday. I downloaded it to my iPad, began it right before we headed home from Ohio and could. not. stop. reading.

In fact, a few weeks later, when I suffered a torn retina, I felt so guilty; I was certain that six hours winding through the back roads of Pennsylvania and Virginia while staring at my iPad because I couldn't devour that book fast enough was the culprit. Full disclosure: the doctor said, "Absolutely not. It's just your nearsightedness and your age."

There we go with the age thing again...

Anyway, Gone Girl was a fascinating read. An interesting whodunit with a a huge twist and a tantalizing look at a marriage from the inside out, and back in again. I really, really enjoyed the read - can't say I'm a better person for spending a few hours with this book, but it was absolutely entertaining. Highly recommended for a beach or vacation read.

Next up: The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana. This book was completely unfamiliar to me; my mother-in-law handed it to me when we arrived in Cleveland. She mentioned something about Syria and the current political situation and said, "I think you might like this."

The thought of delving into Middle Eastern politics was, to be honest, not appealing. But I trusted her instincts, took the book home and picked it up early in January.

Oh, my.  This memoir traces Saldana's journey to study Arabic in Damascus, to explore her own spirituality, to dig into the pain of her past and the uncertainty of her future, all with an unapologetic and unglamorous tint. A realistic look at an Eat, Pray, Love journey without the sex and the Cosmo-girl style vibe I pulled out of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir - though I did admire Gilbert's journey and did enjoy her book. There's just something a bit earthier about Saldana's work; perhaps the spiritual exploration was more resonant for me. Perhaps the ending - which brought me to tears (actually, not the ending per se, but the acknowledgements - you must read the acknowledgements to get the full story) was so much more satisfying. Whatever. This book completely surprised me, which made me love it more. You will do well to read this book. Especially Lisa and Diane and Tammy and Donia and my mom; you will love this book.

Lastly, I dug into Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior. Let me share here that much of my reading material is courtesy of my mom; she uses the Chesterfield County Public Library book reservation system like her own personal reading valet. Every week, another wildly popular new book gets her name strapped to it with a rubber band; she gets the notice and in she goes to claim her prizes. I always get to read our favorite authors' newest works thanks to my mom and her system. I love that we share this. Anyway, the Kingsolver book came in thanks to mom's system, and she kindly let me read it first.

I can't say that it was a compelling read; it was, actually, a bit of a chore to get through. But two-thirds of the way in, there was no way I was giving up on the characters. I loved the way Barbara Kingsolver wraps the language into rich, authentic dialogue; the way her characters burrow into the day and somehow become part of the landscape. While reading, I wouldn't have said that I loved the book; but now, a week later, I still can't stop thinking about the characters. They are still out there, somewhere; very much real. Incredibly well-crafted, beautifully honed technique. I really admire Barbara Kingsolver and I'm very glad I read this book.

Next up on the list: Finishing Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow - it's a small book, but I'm reading slowly and letting it sink in - and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Not on the list, but still in process are a few books for work: re-reading The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. 

You? Anything on YOUR list worth reading?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bisquick, Stew & Brownies: The Art Of Creation

I live in a very digital world. Texting, email, Twitter and Facebook - along with Flipboard and OmniFocus online and Evernote and Hulu. I read more TIME magazine content online now than I do with the hard copy that comes in my mailbox every Saturday.

I get my news online, I communicate online.

I think I manage it well.

Or at least I thought I did.

To be honest, I think there was a time - not too long ago - when I did manage all these communication tools fairly easily. I multi-tasked, often all day long, and it worked.

But lately, not so much.

Okay, honestly? Not at all.

I forget more things than I remember. I have so many lists and plans and ideas and services and appointments in my head and on my various organizational tools that I live in some sort of vague, chaotic swirl. I get by just fine; I function, I show up, things get done...but I'm forgetting way too much content.

So all of you who said it's not possible to multi-task effectively? Well, I think you were wrong about me a few years ago.

But now? I think you're right.
What did they call this?
Tonight, dinner was a delicious pot of beef stew - cooked from scratch yesterday. No seasoning packets, no recipe; just browned meat and onions and garlic in a splash of olive oil, bits and pieces of seasonings - salt, pepper, red pepper, maybe something else (I DON'T REMEMBER!), then potatoes in generous hunks, skin still on. Carrots - the old-fashioned kind that come long and pointed and need peeling - chunked with my old Pampered Chef Crinkle Cutter thing (which used to have some other name, didn't it? Anybody remember what they called it in the 90's?) and celery, trimmed in tiny U-shaped bits of crunch. I created this meal, putting together ingredients that I know from experience will work together, trying a few new bits and pieces, judging the timing by eye and smell.

David came in to help make biscuits; not the delicious, frozen ones that Pillsbury has perfected, but the sticky mess you get mixing Bisquick and milk. Biscuits that come out ragged, with jagged edges and uneven browning, created with quirky personalities, big and small and every size in between, rolled between my thirteen-year-old's freshly washed hands that seem ten years bigger than they ought to be.

And brownies - this recipe, new to me, courtesy of my friend Brandee - no mix, no easy add-eggs-oil-and-water package, but assemble-all-the-ingredients-yourself work, digging out the butter and sugar and flour and baking powder and eggs and cocoa from the cupboards and whipping it all together to create chocolate.

And over it all, the voice of Garrison Keillor and his troupe of Prairie Home Companion actors and musicians. I think there is something so unique and beautiful about these stories and songs that have shaped my Saturday nights for years; the Lutheran love for Jesus mixed with a sly liberal leaning, stories that have history and private jokes and the rich, sonorous tone of this voice that strikes my ear and reminds me of something about my life that I too often forget.

The confidence I carry in my kitchen, focused on preparing food for the ones I love, is matched only by the comfort I feel sitting in front of my piano. These acts of creation are vibrant and wholly, completely tangible; they exist. I listen to stories and songs and move, timing my turns in the triangle between counter, oven and sink, and I make things.

The simplicity of this thing that brings me such joy, leaving me so content - it is speaking to me.

This is you.

Not Twitter or Facebook or email; not even blogging, not planning and uploading this and downloading that. That is not me.

This, here, now. Home. Simple acts of creation and love. A meal shared across a table with others who slog through the same hours. Hands held. Stories told.

Funny, the things you learn when you take a minute to listen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The God Who Wastes Nothing

I woke up at 6AM to drag myself out into the kitchen. David wanted French toast. Sometimes he gets what he wants; other times, I doze off on the couch while he gets ready, before waving him out the door with a kiss and another "Bad Mother of the Year" badge.

Today, I won another badge. My head was killing me. My nose was stuffy, my body ached, and my boy got nothing but a weak, "Have a good day..."

I had a day full of important meetings with important people. It kills me to call in sick, but for reasons a little less than honorable. See, I still think that the world will stop spinning without me. Sick days are an indictment of my mere humanity.

What a wretched soul I am.

Regardless, not much of a battle ensued. I felt terrible. I sent a quick email and a few texts, took a handful of aspirin and crawled back into bed.

As I type, the day is long over. I am still in my pajamas; my teeth have yet to be brushed, much less my hair. It was that kind of day - purely nothing.

But so much happened while I did nothing.

I slept and rested through the morning and awoke with a brighter demeanor and less of a headache. I recalled the words that lingered from last night, as my husband prayed over me. He asked for guidance, for help. The opportunity for an answer to that prayer was in front of me, so I read.

I journaled.

I cried.

I sat in stillness.

I listened.

I finished the first section of Anne Lamott's Help Thanks Wow and accepted the simple theology therein. I need so much help.

And then I picked up Rob Bell's Drops Like Stars and took in the delicious, abstract, beautiful truth that came with a lot of empty space and ridiculously opulent colors. A gift from friends, I'd treasured the card but set the thing aside; it's the size of a coffee table book and the heft discouraged me.

But it's what a sick day seems made for; "Oh, look, here's a book that's probably too long and wordy to read on a normal day let's just take a look."

And there was this page, here, with this photograph. And on the facing page, these words:
When I'm meeting with my counselor and I use words like "mistake" or "failure" or "waste", he stops me. 
He then reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out a sign and holds it up so I can read it - again.
And it is this, these words in the photo - Hebrew letters, first, and then the translation, which looks oddly sterile and somehow stripped of their power - but still ring true.
The God Who Wastes Nothing

And I burst into tears. Right then, right there, completely unbidden. Overtaken by surprise and sobs, holding my face in my hands. Sorrow.


What is this season I am in? For the past decade, I have been The Girl Who Wasted Everything - and yet found redemption and restoration. I was enveloped in grace and it moved me forward and into ministry and fueled my passion. Like some superwoman, "Grace Girl" - it was my calling card and my truth.

My identity.

A few days ago, I watched a bit of a message I delivered about 18 months ago; I was talking and preaching and singing and telling and the passion was real, the Biblical truth buttressing the experiential truth of my grace-filled life.

These days, I live in that grace, still. But.

There's more.

Or less.

Less drama, maybe. I am happily married, glad for the quiet moments in the company of my husband. Happy to be home in the evenings with my sons, content cooking soup and washing the dishes.

I have arrived someplace.

I'm not sure where I am.

And regardless of the fact that I feel I have "arrived", I still wrestle with my humanity, with my weaknesses and my failures and the million times each day I think I'm getting it wrong. I worry I'm getting it wrong. I don't know who I am trying to please, but daily, I feel as if I am coming up short.

And maybe that's it.

Maybe I've gotten it in my head that since I've arrived someplace, that I've now worn that SuperGraceGirl cloak long enough; that it's high time I ought to Have It All Together and be still and know he's God a good bit easier than I seem to.

Maybe I think I ought to be a little less broken by now.

Maybe I've forgotten that forward motion, new joy, security and real love don't really ever negate the need to ask for help. Anne Lamott says,
"There's freedom in hitting bottom...relief in admitting you've reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you're still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It's exhausting, crazy-making. 
Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through.  
It is the first great prayer."
I have forgotten this one thing, that the pivotal point in my life ten years ago secured me to a tether that held me upright while my help came. And the trajectory since then has been filled with other pivot points, thumbtacks in the map tacked to the wall of my life, stringing a path of ups and downs and all over the place moments of mistakes and disease and death and tears and joys and loss and gain.

That place of great unknowing can be my soul, every day. And God knows there is so much around me that needs fixing...starting with me.

Help. I need that tiny miracle.

Today, I got my hands on it, and it felt good. Soft and warm and taut with potential.

And my headache went away.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Top Ten Worship Songs At PCC In 2012

Inspired by my worship leading friend Chris Vacher, here's a look at the top worship songs sung at PCC in 2012. These stats reflect the total number of times a song was programmed for PCC services, which includes Worship Nights, special services and FOCUS. And because we're a multi-site campus, when a song was played at both campuses it moved up in the rankings.

#1 Your Love Never Fails - Jesus Culture
Great song, incredible message that suits our culture so beautifully. We've been singing this for a few years, and it shows. We played this song 21 times in 2012!

#2 I Am Set Free - All Sons & Daughters
Leslie Jordan and David Leonard are writing some excellent songs that resonate with our worship leaders and our church. Several of their tunes are in rotation, and we're introducing a new one this week. The lyrical theme of this song reflects so much truth for the people at PCC.

  #3 Like A Lion - David Bashta
We heard David Bashta and All Sons & Daughters at STORY in 2011, and both artists' work have had an impact on our church. We're partial to the original version, not the one that ended up getting a lot of airplay...

#4 Hosanna - Brooke Fraser
This feels like an "old" song at PCC. Most of our female singers have wrapped themselves around this song. The bridge remains one of the most powerful lyrics we sing in worship; God speaks to me in different ways through different words each time we sing it.

#5 Cornerstone - Reuben Morgan, et al
A mission team brought this song from NYC after visting Hillsong New York for an Easter service. We've done ever since - fourteen times since April!

#6 God Is Able - Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan
This was a theme song for a series earlier in the year, and it stuck. It's a powerful promise, very singable and easy to manage in a male or female key.

#7 Mighty To Save - Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan
The influence of two of the most prolific songwriters out of Australia's Hillsong church is obvious; this is an "old" song, but one that remains fresh, singable and true. Just last week Matthew introduced a new, reggae-tinged version!

#8 Our God - Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, et al
Another song with a powerful, Biblical bridge that I love to hear our church sing. We loved the mashup that Stephen Brewster's team did with this song for Christmas - mixed with "O Come All Ye Faithful" - and used it during December.

#9 You Are Good Israel Houghton
This song rocks. It's part of our DNA; integral to every celebration, and guaranteed to raise the roof. I can't imagine NOT doing this song at PCC!

#10 10,000 Reasons - Matt Redman & Jonas Myrin
We love this new "hymn". Matt Redman never fails to bring singable, relevant, melodic songs that are solid and sustainable. We're grateful for his influence.

 What was YOUR favorite?

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Eye Had It (Laser Surgery, That Is)

My eyesight is terrible. I'm a -8.0 in both eyes; corrective lenses are essential for me to function.

I've always been told that I was a prime candidate for Lasik surgery. I never even considered it; first of all, it's expensive. But secondly - and probably most importantly - I just couldn't stomach the thought of surgery on my eye. I know they numb it; I know you "don't feel a thing"; I know they know what they're doing. And I'm not generally squeamish about blood and surgical procedures. But here's the thing: You can't close your eyes. At least, you can't close ONE of your eyes while they work on it.

And that just freaks me out.

So I elected for no elective surgery on my eye. Ever.

Little did I know...

Today, I had surgery on my eye - pretty much non-elective. At least that's the impression I got when Dr. Astruc finished his exam and said, "Yeah. We've got to fix this today." No option, no choice - it was happening.

Friday night I had a brief episode of some flashing lights in the periphery of my left eye. I know that's not a good sign; I did a quick Google search and decided to call my eye doctor first thing Monday morning. Saturday afternoon, I suddenly saw what looked like (to me) a glob of petroleum in my eye. There was nothing obvious externally, but what I saw looked like remnants of the BP oil spill. I called my doctor, who abandoned her afternoon pantry-cleaning to meet me at her office. She took a look, said it needed attention but could wait until Monday morning, and she said she'd get me into a specialist. 

Sunday as I arrived home from church services, round two of the oil spill kicked into high gear. This time, my vision changed - it got quite cloudy, like I was looking through a screen. I began texting my doctor, who assured me that unless I started literally losing vision, I needed to just hang in there until Monday morning. I was a little freaked out...but I trust her, so I took a nap.

The rest is now part of my medical history: Appointment at the Retinal Institute of Virginia, copious information downloaded in a short amount of time, a lot of deep breathing and about six minutes of lasers shooting into my left eye. The problem was a torn retina, which is serious, but not as serious as a detached retina. The laser did not repair the tear, but seals up the area around it to prevent seepage of the vitreous gel. There's no immediate indication as to the "success" of today's surgery; we'll check back in a month, and be on the lookout for any signs of retinal detachment, which is a whole 'nother animal (and much more serious). My vision is still slightly compromised - very cloudy and fuzzy, as if I'm wearing the wrong contact. That's the remnants of the bleeding, which has to be absorbed over time.

So that's annoying.

And the cause? 

Welcome to middle-age, officially. The fact that I am terribly near-sighted makes me very susceptible to this sort of event. But the major contributing factor is simply "birthdays". Dr. Astruc said, "This is common in people from 50 to 80. You're getting a head start."

I can't say that I'm happy about this, but I am very grateful for three specific things:
  • Dr. Tonya Sylvia, the quintessential home-town optometrist, who dropped everything to see me and then followed up with text messages and phone calls to make sure I was okay. I'm impressed and I'm thankful.
  • Dr. Juan Astruc, who gave me incredibly professional, kind and courteous care. He'll get an A+ once we find out how well he aimed the laser.
  • Technology in general. As my mom pointed out, 10 years ago this might not have even been a possibility, and I could be sitting here right now dealing with a much different reality.
Lastly - but always above everything else - Tony took great care of me. He is kind and gentle and thoughtful and always willing to set aside everything for my good. I am so grateful for this good and patient man. We've made it through his basal cell sarcoma, my knee surgery and now this mess. 

Sickness and heath and the inevitable deterioration of our earthly bodies. I guess we'll make it.

Thank you for your prayers. They helped!

Friday, January 4, 2013



To quote David Bowie.

I've been on staff at PCC as the primary worship leader ever since I've started here, seven years ago. The church has grown, our team of musicians has grown.

And I've grown. Sideways, sometimes. But that counts, too. I've probably learned as much from my failures and mistakes as I have from things we'd say were successful.

When I came to PCC I was very broken, very unsure of myself in many ways. The one thing I knew was that worship was my lifeblood. I've been a musician all of my life. I am most myself when I am making music. The invitation to make music at PCC - and to carefully tend a leadership role - was a pivotal point in my life, not only professionally, but also spiritually and emotionally.

So I started singing and playing and leading. And growing.

And the church grew, too.

Growing things change.

It's been obvious that God has directed some incredibly talented people towards the creative arts team, and in order for them to grow and learn, we're shifting a few responsibilities around in our leadership structure. These changes won't make a huge difference in your Sunday morning experience, as you're accustomed to seeing these folks on stage already; but I thought I'd make an official introduction to you.

Matthew O'Donnell has been at PCC for about 18 months. He came with his family, started making music with us and basically never stopped. Matthew is talented, passionate and loves God. He has a unique mix of intelligence, musical ability and leadership gifting that presented us with an obvious responsibility: To help him grow and learn to use those gifts here at his home church. That's what we're doing. I'm glad to share the news that Matthew is the new Worship Coordinator at the Powhatan Campus.

Matt O'Rear came to PCC in the spring of 2012.  Matt and his family worshiped at the Westchester Campus for several months; we had a chance meeting at a local restaurant. Sammy introduced Matt to Lindsay and I and mentioned that he played music. We invited him to come play for us right then and there; he got directions, grabbed a guitar and came to the Powhatan Campus and played for us. Matt's background includes music business studies at NYU,  music production and engineering studies at Berklee College of Music and church music at Southeastern University. He loves God and is passionate about musical worship. Matt will be the Worship Coordinator at the Westchester Campus.

And although she's not named "Matthew", Laura Krzyston has joined the PCC staff as well. You might recall a blog post introducing Laura as our Artist In Residence - it's been wonderful to have her on board as part of our creative team. She's written some amazing songs and continued to grow as a part of our community, working with our musicians as well as student ministry. Laura feels strongly that God has called her to travel, but for this current season she is responding to a strong tug towards Fork Union. She will partner with Chauncey Starkey to build a team of musicians at Fork Union, and plans to be part of that community as a resident. Laura holds a degree in music from VCU, has a passionate love for God and is committed to the work of the local church.

I am thrilled to see these three talented individuals step out to invest their time, talent and resources in the work that God is doing in and through PCC. We are better for their presence among us, and as they continue to grow as leaders we will benefit from their imprint on our church. Nothing makes me prouder than to stand in the back of the room and worship under their leadership!

And that's what I'll be doing...on some days. Matt, Matthew and Laura will carry a large part of the scheduling and rehearsing for weekend services, and they'll be on the platform leading consistently. I'm still part of the worship team, and I'll still  play and sing - but, a lot of my energy will now be focused on equipping and encouraging these new leaders and helping them to be successful. I'll continue to lead our programming team as the Creative Director and serve on our senior leadership team as we develop strategy and systems for growth.

My friend Walter pointed out that I have a strong maternal streak; I want to protect people in our ministry. I want to see them soar, too. As I grow older, I am beginning to understand that this maternal instinct is a part of my leadership style. It might not be a good fit for a Fortune 500 company, but it's part of the unique wiring that God gave me. I think it's a good fit for His people, too.

I'm glad for it.

I hope you'll welcome Matthew, Matt and Laura - and I hope you'll prayerfully support and encourage all the leaders of PCC as we move into a new, exciting year of change!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On Coming Home

We were gone for a week, seven days of resting and relaxing. We were comfortable, hosted by a master of hospitality whose gentle combination of care and companionship left just enough time to be ourselves.

It snowed, and the world was washed in white, and I found part of myself that had been missing for many weeks.

I rested in grace, in the bonds of family and friendship that continue to grow and evolve into something beautiful. I sank into the love of a good man who continues to embrace every layer of self that I reveal, surprising me all the while.

When it came time to turn back toward the reality of life and work and all the responsibilities that come daily, I was reluctant. So much so, in fact, that I kept begging for one more day. Our four-day trip turned to five...and then six..and then seven. I tentatively suggested we stay until the very last minute, but wisdom prevailed and we came home in time to allow for a day of readjustment.

And this is the point, then, of all that: I walked into my house last night and was overwhelmed with a joy surprisingly deeper than I had experienced in the comfort of that other home for the past week. On the windowsill in the kitchen, three small poinsettias, still blushing red, splashing color into the space, singing "NOEL" with four wooden letters that have spoken into my Christmas for fifteen years now. Draped on the couch, the felt throw that Daniel tied together last year; through the hallway door, our bedroom and the deep blue paint of the walls that hold our affections. The cat, more like a dog, who comes running to meet Tony and nuzzle him affectionately. The long table, once a place to brainstorm creative ideas for work, now a place to do that and more, to hold our family together over a warm meal. The Christmas trees - not one, but two, because I wanted one for the kitchen and Tony wanted one for the living room, and the best part of compromise is not figuring out whose idea is better but finding a way for everybody to win.

Soft, warm light filled the house. I looked around and it was home.

I just needed a little perspective. Seven days was enough.

I am home.