Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas, 2014, Over

It's over.

Another Christmas in the books; 2014 is inching to a close, and the house is a mess and the kids are swirling all around me and I can't keep up.

I'm exhausted.

We had a funeral this morning, the church peeling back the trappings of celebration and the holiday shine, making space to honor a woman of faith and integrity. Her family crowded into the room, spacious and dim, carrying one another's grief, pushing through that cloud of days that hang between Christmas and New Year's with a sad purpose.

I came in early. We stood together, the two pastors and me, also a pastor, in that oddly shaped place where we thrum just outside the circle of grief, but yet fully inhabit a deep sense of mourning and loss. My friend tells me that as a pastor, at most and at best, we represent the presence of God.

I was there to provide music, and so I made my way to the piano. Just last night my fingers had flown all over the keys, swilling and storming joy and praise and even the deep, resonant blue-tinged search for Emmylou's Deeper Well. Surrounded by musicians of the highest caliber, last night's offering was poured out in exuberant joy.

Just five nights ago, we'd spent the better part of a day taking thousands of people through a joyous, poignant exercise in faith and story and tradition. The Christmas Eve service wove its way through angels and Mary and Joseph and belief, settling down at the end with an emphatic O come let us adore Him! and the gentle, candle-lit harmonies of Silent Night.

And then today, I sat at the piano in a dimly-lit room of visceral silence. Flowers circled the casket. Empty chairs waited for the collection of family, friends, mourners.

In my head and my heart reside the text and scores of hymns, the songs we grow up with when we grow up in church. The old songs; the four verses, the refrain, the four-part structure.

I sat at the piano and resurrected those melodies, the ones filled with sorrow and hope, the ones that give us this definitive sense of place and space and time. The ones that remind us of what was, and what will be, and the many have gone before us, walking this well-worn road.

One of the pastors quoted the 23rd Psalm.

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil

"Not that we do not fear death," he said. "We fear no evil. We believe that although evil tries to snatch us and take us, even at that last moment, Jesus intervenes. Jesus claims us. We fear no evil."

"But all of us have healthy fear of death."

blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
o what a foretaste of glory divine

and when i think that God, his son not sparing
sent him to die, i scarce can take it in

come home, come home
ye who are weary, come home

We all sang Amazing Grace together, and their voices hardly carried; it was more a resignation, more silence than song. There is nothing that feels amazing about a funeral. There is grace, but that song requires energy, to save a wretch like ME, and it was difficult to find such this morning.

But we were there, together, and four verses later that song was sung. The family had asked for another, so that they could simply listen: The Old Rugged Cross, and I can't manage that song without hearing my own grandmother's reedy alto, so my own personal grief slipped into an empty cavern in the space of this morning. And there we were.

then he'll call me some day to my home far away
where his glory forever i'll share

so i'll cherish the old rugged cross
till my trophies at last i lay down...

I cobbled together a key that my voice could manage and let the raw yearning take over and I sang, for me and for all of us in the room. For my grandmother and the empty days that hang over the end of December. For the futility, too often, of the bright lights and shiny paper that end up in a heap, in the corner, surrounded by dust and pine needles.

I began this week, one promised to be empty of work, with an offering of what is, really, all I have to give. I lay down my own trophies; I cling to the daily doings that keep me in motion.

I look around in wonder, stumbling in grace, grasping at what needs to be remembered.

It's over, and things end and begin again and the seasons, they go round and round, until one day we exchange it all. I am soaking all this and more into my skin today, longing for rest and yet grateful that what I often believe I need most, eludes me; and so I sit and watch and wait and remember. I pray, thankfully, gratefully; nothing more than the simplest thing I can find.

Thank you.

I whisper, just under my breath.

Thank you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I Squealed And Shrieked. Just A Little.

Timing is everything.

And I do believe that people play an incredible part in God's plan for us to bless and encourage one another, mostly when we don't even know the half of what's going on.

Old wooden sign...anybody else
remember these?
A few weeks ago, my friend and coworker Karen posted a photo on Facebook, showing off a cool piece of home decor that she'd put on her wall. I was instantly intrigued; it was a brilliant combination of the power of nostalgia and the appeal of contemporary worship music. I recognized the format - an old wooden church attendance sign, just like the ones I have seen in Franklin, Pennsylvania, and in Grand Prairie, and in Tolar, and Hico, Texas. The numbers are compelling; they tell of smaller, more intimate gatherings than the ones I'm accustomed to these days. It makes me thing wistfully of 'good old days' (that were probably not all good); it's a nice memory.

You know how sometimes you see something and it just feels right? That's how my heart beat when I saw that sign in the photo Karen posted. It just fit me, so perfectly, in ways that I cannot name. History and memory and nostalgia and my love for the church and where it all started. The blonde wood of Nicklin United Methodist Church. The deep burgundy and dark, rich stained pews and walls of First United Methodist. The tiny Baptist churches, and the baby grand that sat underneath a sign just like this one.

I thought this wall hanging thing was brilliant!

I got excited and checked out the online catalog Karen referenced. I got REALLY excited when I noted that it was only EIGHTEEN DOLLARS!!! 

Then I looked again and realized that $18 would buy the song lyric boards; the sign itself required a more substantial investment. It was more than I could part with at the moment. However, I directed my husband to check out the catalog, sharing with as much persuasion that I could muster that he could definitely find my Christmas gift inside. On that specific page.

Then I let it go, fairly certain that I'd probably never have one of those old-style church attendance boards on the wall of my house...but that would be okay. There are more important things to invest in, and that's okay. I've got three kids in college, and that's our substantial investment. Home decor can come later.

Cut to this afternoon, when I arrived at the office after several hours of meetings and a nagging sense of loss that I still hadn't quite shaken. A box sat by my desk; an envelope with my name on the front rested on my chair.

I blew by them both and headed down the hallway for a few more meetings. When I finally returned to my office, I opened the envelope. Written inside of the card were several phrases of encouragement; words that meant a great deal, indicating that someone really sees me. They were affirming and kind.

The card was not signed; there was simply a small heart sketched out after the last sentence.

I opened the box, perplexed.

I found the lyrics to In Christ Alone on boards slipped inside the notches of an old-style church attendance board.

I squealed and shrieked just a little and ran out in the hall asking, "Who did this? Who brought this in? Did you see who was here?" Apparently nobody saw anything, or if they did, they're not telling. I was left to gaze in awe and wonder at this incredibly extravagant gift.

To you, whose kindness prompted this generosity: Thank you. I'm not sure I have words to express how deep and wide you impacted me with this gift. Thank you for surprising me. Thank you for being anonymous, leaving me in child-like wonder. Thank you for giving me a gift that will remind me, daily, of the great grace of God and the people who follow his lead. Thank you for naming my presence and affirming it. Thank you for caring.

My step is lighter, my attitude is better, my soul is stilled. I have done my best, in the three hours since I discovered this gift, to pay it forward. I will continue to do so.

Go do something nice for someone today. It matters.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


If you read this blog regularly, or you're a friend in real life, you know that my primary job is at my church. I have a new role there, one that has me finding my footing from a bird's-eye view of the weekend experiences at all three physical campuses. It's Big Picture stuff, and it's vision and long-range thinking as well as environments and all sorts of stuff I can't even remember right now.

Plus, I still get to play music. Which I did today, at the Powhatan Campus, as Elijah led the band. It's a funny thing, this leading / managing / mentoring.  Eight years ago, Elijah was a kid with obvious talent, running around in ketchup t-shirts, honing his musical chops in the percussion section of the band. He went off, grew up, got an education and further developed those skills, and then came home. We promptly hired him, and he effectively has taken on the mantle of worship and musical leadership at this campus.

I've let it go.

So today, I played in the band behind Elijah as we kicked off our Christmas season with worship music and a few fun songs. During planning we decided we should start the series with a silly medley of common Christmas songs, and Elijah took that idea and ran hard with it. We all donned goofy hats and sang our silly hearts out, in the midst of several more meaningful songs. He did very well, and I am extremely proud of him.

It was a beautiful thing, both in the sense of the musical expression and for me personally, as well. I spent the morning playing music, watching this organization unfold and execute a plan designed for those who would be walking through the doors in search of a wide variety of things; comfort, hope, assurance, friendships, community.


We plan and we communicate and we fuss at ourselves for all the ways in which we fall short. We evaluate each day's work and determine how we can do better. We celebrate the wins and are thrilled when people draw closer to God because they've found space to do so through our work.

It's a beautiful thing.

And yet, sometimes, it's a hard thing, too.

And I'm not sure this post is really about my job.

/ / /

I was grumpy, all morning. I didn't feel prepared, and a last minute change left me with a bigger role than I envisioned, and I was a little bit stressed. I wasn't feeling completely well, either. And it showed. I wrote it off to stress, but when the morning was over, I didn't feel any better. We shared lunch with two of my daughters and headed back for the evening service; we arrive at church at 6:30AM, so by the 4PM call to set up chairs, it's already been a long day. I was tired.

Someone said, "How do you feel?" and I said, "Better..." They replied, "It's a good thing you don't play poker."

I agreed. I was still grumpy.

I chewed on it, after the singing ended and we settled down to hear an excellent message. I worried it, this discontent, this heavy feeling.

This grief.

There is a hole in me, a jagged, broken piece.

My nephew died.

And it begins there, the torn edges of confusion.  Do I say, "former" nephew, since he is my ex-husband's brother's son, part of an extended family that no longer claims me? He was a Brawley, and my kids are Brawleys, and I was a Brawley until I traded that name for another, but he's part of the tattered fabric of those early years; also a son of divorce, a brilliant life of promise that rose up out of the ashes of abuse and denial and dysfunction and the curse of general human brokenness that besets us all. He is in our photos and wrapped within our memories, and so I claim him, still; I have refused to jettison any of those family members up to this point, so I will not start now. My nephew died in a tragic car accident that was just that - an accident - and it cracked open vulnerable places in my heart in unexpected ways.

My nephew died, and there is grief for the road his father must walk now; always my favorite, the softest spot in my heart tender for the wildest child of the bunch, and now he owns that awful thing that no parent ever wants to claim for his own. His boy died.

There is grief for my nephew's mom, divorced from the family but clear and crisp in my memory, because she became my sister-in-law for a time but she was first my student at the local high school, and she was a young mom blessed with strong sons and a good life.

There is such deep sorrow for so many, for the parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and friends and those who knew much more of Michael than I ever did.

And I think the grief settled in me in a deep, dark place, winnowing down below the awful awareness that I cannot protect my children from the fear that grips us when we lose one of our own. Their cousin is gone, and they will not know him any better than they did but by the stories they hear and the history they read and see in snapshots and Facebook statuses. The grief rests in a place that reminds me, again, of the awful trauma of divorce, because where family would draw in close to mourn this loss, we are separated and struggle to find footing, and I am in a place once removed, where I must find a place to weep for the death of a young man I hardly knew, who belonged to a family I left behind. A funeral I did not attend, surrounded by strangers I would hardly know.

And yet I feel so connected.

I am not sure what to make of this, except to acknowledge, again, that divorce rips and tears and wounds, and while all things are made new again and mercies renew what our sin and stubbornness destroys, we are not so easily torn apart.

/ / /

I am making way, in my job, for Elijah to move ahead; he will find his own voice and his calling and his leadership. My job is to guide him; to coach and encourage, steer and direct.

And to get out of the way. And in this movement, there is something I leave behind when I move aside; the slight yearning to wear the banner of 'leader', the privilege of making the decisions. Sometimes just the simple thing of playing the music, singing the songs. I leave all these things behind, and press on, knowing that no new life can come while the old refuses to make room for growth. We change and move and adjust. The light is different on this side of the room.

But the grief is real, whether for small matters we leave behind, or for a death that still seems like a certain mistake, a bad dream, a Thing That Cannot Be.

And when we must, we grieve, no matter where we stand.

Sarah and Michael, circa 1994

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sex And Marriage

Sex is awesome.
This is a donut. Some people think
donuts are better than sex.

Sex is simple.

Sex is natural.

All true. And yet…

I'm guest-posting today on Brian's blog, and it's all about that sex stuff. To read the rest of it, click on over here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gracious Words

Every Tuesday morning our staff meets together. It's called "Devo", and it takes various forms; occasionally it's mostly prayer requests and time praying. Sometimes there are tears and vulnerability. Sometimes there are powerful teaching moments.

Sometimes I get to be in charge, and there's singing! And art! And creative things! Today was one of those days, and I thought I'd share it here.

I'd been thinking about a few things: The power of words, and the closeness of our staff, and the hectic nature of the holiday season, and the impending chaos of travel and all the things church folk do from Thanksgiving until Christmas, when the angels sing and we all collapse and take a week off. A plan began to formulate, and I set a few things in motion.

I contacted a few of our artists and asked for help; I distributed 5 x 7 canvasses and the names of our staff members and asked for a simple color wash and this text across the top:

I thank my God when I remember ___________

The blank space would hold the name of one of the staff members, so that each person would have their own pretty canvas.

The artists were awesome - one of them revealed some very ambitious skills and did a bit more decorating than we expected, which was impressive and extremely special. It did force me to explain that their was nothing personal in the fact that eight people got fancy trees and flowers and such, while the others got a color wash and ONLY a color wash - but it ended up absolutely perfect in every way, and I'm so grateful for Amy and Connie and Mary contributing their time and talent to honor these folks in this way.

It was good.

I read a verse, from Proverbs, and talked about the power of words. We often say, "Words matter" around our workplace, and it's true. Even for those who are not, by nature, "words people", the power of a well-timed word of encouragements and affirmation can carry weight beyond our understanding. As we approach the time of year that will leave us all with too much to do and too little time, it will be easy to lose sight of the fact that we are bound in unity with one another, in our calling and our sharing and the way we do life together, as we work together.

Ministry is hard work. You often find yourself offering things that people aren't sure they want. Humility is a requirement, and it's not always easy to access. Somebody is always disappointed, or mad, or hurt, and managing healthy compassion with honest self-differentiation is a challenge. The culture has shifted, and acceptance of spiritual leaders is often tinged with resentment, disinterest or worse.

But here we are, and off we go to do our work each day, and one of the greatest benefits is the family that we've become. So, today we took the time to share our words and our thoughts, to let one another know why each one mattered. It was a beautiful thing to me, and afterwards, as I read over each canvas, the world looked just a bit brighter.

My friend Kriston often says, "Be kind". I agree. Be kind. Be gracious. Kindness would go a long way to ease suffering, bring understanding and begin healing.

Start with yourself today, and then let it spill over into your family - even the challenging members - through this holiday. This much is true:

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul 
and healing to the bones. - Proverbs 16.24

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Coming Out

I can't sleep because I have a blog post churning in my head. It's too many words; it's not enough words.

Something needs to come out of my head and heart.

There was a huge buzz about our church services yesterday. You can see the message online here, and I encourage you to do so; but the point is that our pastor "came out". He made two critical statements in his message:

"Sex is a sacred gift from God only when it exists within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman. All other sexual expression outside of marriage between one man and one woman is less than the sacred blessing God had in mind for us."

And then:

"To our LGBT friends, I want you to know that God loves you, this church loves you, and I love you as your pastor. I want you to know that you are welcome here. We will embrace you, love you, and do life with you."

On one hand, we took a stand of sorts; PCC will not affirm same-sex marriages, because we cannot see Biblical support for it, or for any sexual intimacy outside of marriage between a man and a woman. 

That also means that we don't believe anybody - gay or straight - should be sexually intimate outside of marriage. And we believe God establishes marriage as a covenant between male and female partners.

On the other hand, we affirmed that there are people seeking to know more about God and have a relationship with Jesus who currently attend PCC and are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. There are more who are outside the doors. My pastor looked up and said, "You are welcome here. We love you." He acknowledged the existence of LGBT people in our faith community and affirmed their presence.

This is the crux of who we are as a church: Welcoming broken people, guiding them to follow Jesus.

Lest this sound like all sorts of awesome - well, it's not, not completely. We haven't always done this well. We've lacked clarity. We haven't always loved and accepted gay people who have come through our doors. People have been hurt - not just by Christians as a group, or by political parties or protesters, but specifically by PCC. 

We're sorry. We're seeking a better way.

How can we do this? On one hand, draw a line around marriage that excludes same-sex couples who believe God is leading them in that direction; on the other, say that LGBT men and women are welcome to live and do church among us. Isn't that messy?

Heck, yeah, it's messy.

It's hard. It's a lot of tears. It's been years of reading and praying and listening and talking. It's fighting and frustration and fear and a lot of prayer and sleepless nights. It's wishing for the easy way, for the freedom to pick one side or the other and fall hard into that camp and feel safe. It's the paradox of scriptural teaching that has endured centuries alongside the very real lives of my uncle, and my cousin, and Rhonda, and Melissa, and Chris, and Ryan, and Carrie, and Rob, and Wendell, and Sarah, and Kim, and Brenn, and Ashley, and Josh, and Judy, and Austin, and Jennifer, and Dawn, and Zach, and Catherine.

It would be so much easier to pick a side, believe we're right - which, by default, makes everybody else wrong - and then comfortably live in our righteousness. And defend it, as needed.

But that's not the direction God is calling us. Quite frankly, it's not at all the example Jesus set as he lived his life (and did that whole death and resurrection thing, where he forgave a criminal and let him into heaven and all that).

Brian ended the message with a powerful challenge that we drop our stones. It resonated - literally, as we dropped heavy stones into trash cans. It was a powerful symbol of Jesus's teaching, of our call to love and rebuild and repair.

But in these 24 hours since the trash cans filled with rocks, I've been thinking a lot about holiness

My own.

See, I can - we all can - easily stand there, surrounded by all the stones we dropped, feeling good about not being judgemental. Standing.




And yet...

The text for the message centered on Jesus's encounter with a woman caught in adultery. He blasted the religious folk who wanted to stone her and they all dropped their stones and went away. He told her that he wouldn't condemn her, either. And there they stood, surrounded by stones. Still.

But not for long.

Jesus said, "Go."

He set her feet moving with a command and a challenge. "Go and sin no more."

"Go, and avoid the sins that plague you."

"Go on your way; from now on, don't sin."

"Don't sin anymore."

Here's the thing: We can get all jacked up with shouts of praise and excitement about the power of our tribe refusing to judge. We can affirm our pastor's wisdom. We can get on board with the call to live in the messiness of doing life with broken people. We can declare I LOVE MY CHURCH! for all to hear - and it's all good. It's important. It's meaningful and true.

But if any of us ignores the challenge to 'go and sin no more', we miss half the story.

Drop the stone, for sure.

But pursue holiness. Strive to find God's best for your life. Confess your sins to him, and do what you can to avoid them.

Just as we all have rocks, we all have sins. And the hardest work we do happens inside, in private.

Let's become a holy people, all of us together. Let our stones, piled up, become a symbol of our desire to follow Jesus with all of our soul and mind and strength. Let us do business with God, make our own lives right. Let's forge our identity out of who we are in Christ - and let's figure out how to do that by dealing with our own junk.

My favorite scripture is this: Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2.12

How do you need to do that today? What's his purpose for you?

Drop the stone. And get to work.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tom Magliozzi And The Downhill Slope

"I know I'm fully entrenched in middle age. I have six pair of reading glasses. And I can't find any of them."

I made this declaration in the middle of a senior staff meeting this morning.

It's true. It's snuck up on me, with the gray hair and the weird skin and the weight gain and the creaky knees and achy joints.

The vision thing is the most frustrating, because my eyes are already ridiculously weak. My contact prescription is a -9.0 I'm so nearsighted that contacts or glasses are absolutely essential to living; I literally could not function without them.

And now, even with the glasses or contacts, I can't read anything without the help of the El Cheapo reading glasses that clutter the various places in my life where Things Get Lost.

There are worse things, I'm sure. This is a nuisance and an annoyance.

But it's also a reminder that there is a finite nature to this life. I am, for the first time, looking daily at the downhill slope; the perspective from which things (and body parts) wear out. Where much maintenance is required.

Tom Magliozzi died this week. Half of the Car Talk duo, his voice was familiar to me. Every Saturday morning, NPR carries his show (in reruns for the past two years) and the jokes and the car advice and the puzzlers and the laughter always echo in my kitchen as the weekend begins. It's a constant rhythm to my life. The common sense doled out by Tom and his brother Ray reminds me of my dad and his wealth of knowledge about cars.

His laugh was contagious.

I've listened to Tom and Ray for years. I know their voices. I'd never seen their faces.

Upon the sad news of Tom's death this week, I explored the web to learn a bit more about his life. And I saw his face.

Terry Gross interviewed Doug Berman, who produced Car Talk. He talked about the infectious nature of Tom's laugh.

"It was almost a force, almost separate from him," Berman says. "It was always lurking, trying to come out. And he would see something funny coming a few sentences away, and he would start to laugh while he was talking, and he'd kind of be laughing and it would almost overtake him like a wave."

Tom Magliozzi died at 77, of complications from Alzheimer's disease. The downhill slope, for him and his family, was undoubtedly a difficult loss of place and time and memories. Maintenance wasn't really an option, I suppose; the disease takes what it pleases and leaves a sort of emptiness.

But not completely. In his interview, Berman said he had seen Tom a week or so before he died, and that they made funny faces at one another and then Tom laughed, the same laugh.

It matters, what we leave behind. They are gifts, memories, treasures.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Collision

I spent a good part of the workday engaged in an online conference called The Nines. The subheading, Culture Crash: When Church and Culture Collide, gave a good indicator of the topics of
conversation that the organizers planned.

I've participated in this online event in years past, and it's been a positive experience. Essentially, it's a group of evangelical "names" talking to each other, about each other and about the church - specifically, leadership in the evangelical church. The bulk of the content is delivered in short, nine-ish minute prerecorded video segments by folks who are generally considered to be current ministry successes; the folks who are doing it right.

So we heard today from several mega church pastors; we heard from a few folks who are doing things well. There were women (but not too many). There were a lot of inside jokes and an abundance of beards.

I engaged online primarily because of the topic; as the culture around us changes (as they are wont to do), a church like ours has to pay attention. We have to respond; it is essential. Why?

The point of focus of our church is to reach people who are turned off by the traditional churches available to them, and we do so by leaning hard into authenticity and brokenness. We try to meet people where they are, and then walk with them to where they need to be; from disease to wholeness, from dysfunction to relational health, from confusion to clarity. We believe in Jesus and we believe in the power of God; we are connected to the historical doctrine and creeds of the Christian faith, and impacted and influenced by the very real transformational power and experiences we see in our community. We believe everybody is broken.

So broken people show up at our church, which is what we want. And we welcome them with arms wide open, and it gets messy, and sometimes it goes sideways. But overall, we cling - sometimes desperately - to the hope we have in the kind, generous grace of Jesus, and broken things become whole.

But the conversation is changing, in regards to how we frame what is broken and what is not. Cultural views on sexual ethics and relative truth morph as the world speeds up and technology changes and generations ebb and flow. The Nines sought, ostensibly, to have a conversation that mattered about such things.

And, to some degree, they succeeded. They gave airtime to an atheist, who presented a valuable and insightful perspective from outside of the evangelical Christian bubble looking in. They talked about LGBTQ issues (although, to their discredit, they only talked about rather than with). Christian civility got a lot of air time (because Lord knows, that's not really something Christians are known for). Tomorrow's agenda includes social justice, immigration, and changing sexual norms.

At least they - we - are talking. The church and current western culture is colliding, and people are being hurt. We do not have all the answers, and it is simply not enough to say, "Well, Jesus IS the answer!" because, quite frankly, it's not working. People walk away and I'm not enough of a Calvinist to think that we are off the hook when they do so because we aren't willing to hold up our end of the conversation.

At least we are talking.

/ / /

With crashing cultures coursing through my thoughts, as the workday ended I got ready for the satisfaction of a birthday promise I'd made to my youngest daughter, the theater student. I've heard tons of great press about The Book of Mormon - lots of awards, lots of positive comments. I saw it was coming to Richmond last spring; tickets weren't available in July, but I promised Syd I'd take her as a birthday gift. Between her schedule and mine, we were thrilled to discover - at the last minute - that we could make opening night tonight. Yesterday, I bought tickets for Syd, me and my mom - carefully choosing not to invite my mother-in-law, as I had heard that the show might be a tiny bit offensive.

Thoroughly corrupted.
Some of you, familiar with the show, might be laughing right now. At the least, you are rolling your eyes and smirking.

Incredibly entertaining, very funny and powerfully produced, The Book of Mormon is, without a doubt, the most offensive, vulgar production I've ever seen.

The fourth musical number has a made-up, tribal language title that is translated in the course of the song. It means (supposedly), "F**k you, God", and is used by the Uganda villagers to relate the despair of their circumstances. The phrase is repeated.

A lot.

Mormon prophets are mocked, as is Jesus, who has LED lights in his robe and calls Elder Price a d*ck in a dream sequence.

The crisis of faith encountered by the lead character reveals a perspective on belief - especially the more fantastical, supernatural parts - that makes it all seem utterly ridiculous.

The entire show mocks faith in general, not just Mormons.

And there were mock penises and F-words galore and and a few other choice expletives; all sung in perfect harmony with great dance moves.

Now, one might ask just what the heck I was doing there, as someone who serves as a pastor and leader at a Christian church. Quite honestly, I really didn't know what I was getting into. I knew it was a little risque - but I had no idea (frankly, I didn't even know you could do stuff like that on a public stage!)


But here's the deal; as I sat and watched - and found myself offended and slightly uncomfortable - I decided to let the story unfurl. I laughed, because some parts were really, really funny. I considered the immense talent on the stage. I empathized with the loss of innocence of Elder Price, who really thought that Heavenly Father would grant him his desire to serve his mission in the most perfect place in the universe: Orlando. And I looked for some truth and grace.

And as the tale unfolded, I saw it. Clearly connected to the monologues and conversations of the earlier evangelical conference I participated in:

This is the culture we live in.

It's a world that sees little value in the church. It's a world desensitized to vulgar language and sexual references. It's a world that doesn't shy away from mocking people revered by others.

And yet it's a world that can laugh at itself while clinging to a little bit of hope that we could and should be nicer to one another.

A world that knows that acceptance has to be found inside of ourselves

A world that recognizes that not everything is what it seems, but that sometimes it's worth it to push on through.

A world that recognizes the immense power of partnerships and community.

I could have done without the F-words. The fourth song quite literally, seriously hurt my heart and - to use old religious parlance - grieved my soul. I was offended by the vulgarity.

But the story rang true and clear.

It was the most compelling cultural collision 
I could have witnessed. 

We walked out of the theater and headed towards the parking garage. Right across the street, where the drummers always play, stood eight young men.

Black pants. White shirts and ties. Name badges.

At first glance, I thought they'd walked off the stage in costume and out into the street.

But they were the real deal; they were Mormons, on mission, and they were engaging with folks coming out of the theater. They were smiling. They were complimentary of the talent on the show and the commitment of the creators.

"Read the book," he said. "It's even better. And it's really true."

I wasn't up for that discussion, but I walked away impressed. When church and culture collide, we can condemn it, talk about it, or get up in disgust and walk out (a consideration during that fourth musical number, I confess.)

Or we can witness the ever-glorious beauty of our frail humanity as we struggle to make sense out of all that is broken in us and around us, and rejoice for the bits of grace that leak out.

And then wait on the corner for the chance to talk through it, with anyone who's got an ear to hear, who might want to wade towards clarity with a friendly face.

We are all more connected than we realized; when we collide, it might feel rough, but it can always be a good thing if we look for the light. Collisions always result in bruises and bumps. but I do believe that we are compelled to get up, shake it off and keep moving forward. That's where grace gets to live.

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Songs: Back Home Again

As a teenager, I joining the Columbia Record Club - unbeknownst to my parents. I slipped a ragged
$1 bill into an envelope, agonized over my selections and used my signature to make my first financial commitment.

All day, every day, I waited anxiously for those 13 records to show up, all the while trying to figure out how to explain it to my folks. As I recall, this is where I first learned to "act first; apologize later".

This is not necessarily a good thing. When I look at my kids and hope they behave better than I did, the Columbia Record Club comes to mind.

That, and the Dillard's credit card I signed up for at 18.

(I didn't really understand that I'd have to actually pay for those clothes.)

(Common sense - not my forte.)

Anyway, I sent off my little envelope. It seemed like a lifetime, but finally the box arrived.

Honky Tonk Chateau
The Eagles Greatest Hits
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

And two John Denver records; Greatest Hits, Volume 1 and Back Home Again.

I had the sheet music to Sunshine On My Shoulders and Annie. I loved Poems, Prayers and Promises.

/ / /

And this memory just came back like a sucker punch, as I researched the track list for John Denver's Greatest Hits on Wikipedia.

I sang 'For Baby (For Bobbie)' as a duet with my dad.

I had completely forgotten that until this moment, as I write.

/ / /

Just a few days ago, my uncle (Dad's brother) gave me a few old photos. I saw my dad, in a way that my husband never knew - before the stroke. I was reminded of that big personality, the sense of humor, the flashing, charismatic smile. The big hugs and the gentle teasing.

I visited my mom and dad tonight and recognized, again, that time is moving rapidly. The hemorrhagic stroke changed my dad; tears come more quickly. Words are slower.

The impact of the brain bleed is still obvious. My dad is a different man now, in some ways. Different.

But still my dad.

And I have this memory, sparked tonight by a list of song titles; clear, classic harmony - the centered place where I learned to sing harmony. With my dad, it was simply there. You sought out the harmony because the melody was too safe, too simple. In church, standing side by side, we sang the first verse by the book. Verses 2, 3 and 4 were for experimenting. We alternated -  alto, tenor and bass; we sang strong and loud and, too often, irreverently.

My dad sang in the church choir most weeks. Looking out at the congregation in his robe and stole, he would stick out his tongue and make faces at me when the choir director wasn't looking.

My mom would sigh and roll her eyes.

These days, at 74, dad sits back in his recliner and explores the past. Just tonight, he showed me photographs and genealogies of his maternal ancestors. Sometimes he looks at a photograph and chokes up.

He doesn't sing much anymore.

But there is harmony in the way he points to the photo of his mom - my grandmother. There is resonance when he laughs, that particular sound that is as much a sob as a chuckle, when I say, "Dad, your brother spoke highly of you..."

There is everything in me that was grounded in the deepest, heart-and-soul connection with music. It lived in my dad, too; and it bloomed in my brother and in me because of my mom's determination to water it.

My dad loved John Denver. I know that I chose two Denver records from Columbia Record House because it would appeal to (and maybe appease) him.

We sang all these songs. In harmony.

I started this post thinking of Back Home Again, but it has obviously spiraled into something different. But I am glad that these lyrics are true:

...hey, it's good to be back home again...

I felt it tonight, in my parents' home. I felt it in my own home, with my little family. And I feel it settled in my soul, in the dwelling place of my spirit. So it's an appropriate title.

But the song singing in my memory tonight is the one that I hear with the strong, clear tenor voice of my father beside me.

I'll walk in the rain by your side
I'll cling to the warmth of your hand
I'll do anything to help you understand
And I'll love you more than anybody can

And the wind will whisper your name to me
Little birds will sing along in time
Leaves will bow down when you walk by 
And morning bells will chime

Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days: I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

We're home, after two weeks of driving a gazillion miles.

No, wait.

Three-thousand six-hundred twenty-nine miles.

Seriously; 3,629 miles.

So that's a lot of miles.

And we're home now, and the bonus of home, sweet home and our own bed and familiar places is maximized by the presence of my eldest son and two of his friends. They're hanging in the kitchen and this song is pulsing through their computer speakers.

I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more...

I'm glad I'm home.

PS - Now they're listening to Sleeping At Last's cover of "Safety Dance" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart". Music is an incredible thing; it transcends trends and decades and speaks the same language in fresh ways. 

This is a cool album. Check it out.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Songs: Things Left Undone

The last few days of our life together as a couple and as individuals have been remarkable. There's been a theme, of sorts. It's centered on family, mostly, along with a few unique friendships.

Some of those friendships have been, until recently, little more than memories of the good ol' days.

In the past week, those friendships have been resurrected. And the impact is remarkable - not just on the major players, but those of us who are watching from the sidelines.

My husband reconnected with three men that he hadn't seen for over 30 years. I stood back and watched as they embraced one another with a unique affection and power, a masculine expression of love that I'm not sure I've ever seen before. The words flowed back and forth, with inside jokes and nicknames flying, along with the occasional high five and fist bump. I saw a side of my husband that I've never known - through new eyes - in the way a few of his oldest friends appreciate and love him.

And then today I connected with a friend I've "known" for a few years - whom I've never met in person. We moved quickly toward one another in the parking lot and when we hugged, I didn't want to let go. Words and pictures and videos and status updates and blog posts can go a long ways towards getting to know someone when authenticity is highly valued and expected - but only so far. At some point, you have to look into someone's eyes and hug them and hold their hands and marvel at what almost feels like creation, right there in front of you.

It is, I guess; the creation of a reality, flesh and bones, life and substance.

Life and substance.

It's been created on a daily basis during these travels. And deep in my soul, I know that it matters; that there is something important about this time that goes beyond a short vacation or a road trip.

Over pizza and beer today, one of my husband's old friends talked about people who have moved on, those no longer with us. In the course of the conversation he mentioned - twice - a song by Paul Thorn. I didn't know it; but now I do. And I won't forget it.

Life and substance.

It matters.

And we sleep well tonight, knowing that the list of things left undone - and people who deserve our attention - got a little shorter in these past two days.

When your life is over, you're reaching the end
And the river of Jordan is around the bend
Will you be counting all the trophies you've won
Or will you look back on things left undone

When a stranger came knocking did you let him in
Was there food on your table for a down and out friend
Did you hide in the shadows, did you walk in the sun
Or do you regret the things left undone

Somebody you cared for broke your heart
You let foolish pride keep you apart
Why didn't you learn how to forgive someone
So many years passed with things left undone

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Songs: That's The Way Love Goes

We climbed up in the pickup truck and rode, all three in the front bench seat, through the creek crossover and up the hill. The scrubby mesquites and the oaks stretched their gnarly branches towards the sky; cactus grew wild, scattered everywhere.

The road was little more than a cleaning, a scattering of rocks and gullies dug into the dirt from the last good rain.

Which has been a while.

We saddled up two horses; well, they saddled them up. I watched. And then I climbed aboard, some 20 years since I'd been on a horse.

I remembered galloping through the fields outside of Tolar, Texas, with Dawn Tanner, proud and excited to show me her horse and the wild land she rode.

I remembered little more; I couldn't recall the last time I'd been on a horse since that time with Dawn.

It was hot - not for Texas, of course, but for this girl whose Virginia and Ohio climate conditioning has led to mild expectations for October. It was hot, and it was beautiful.

The horses were strong and sure, and at the top of the bluff there was no sound; nothing but the breathing of the horses and the rocks as the scattered past their hooves.

Utter quiet. No cars, no noise, no phones, no music.

Silence and stillness.

Such a great gift.

When we got in the truck, a Buddy Miller tune was on the radio. It's only fitting; he just oozes Texas to me, and one of the most powerful songs I know came out of time in Texas, when he and his wife Julie sang Is there any way you could say 'no' to this man?

I am seeing Texas with fresh eyes.

I am grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Songs: Best Of Friends

I am perched on a wooden bench facing the front door of a house nestled into the rise overlooking a creek that flows into Lake Travis. This house sits in the heart of the Hill Country of Texas.

There is a fire burning hot and smokey in what once was a propane tank; converted to a useful object by the owner of this house with its wide front porch littered with rocking chairs and wicker.

We ate outside this evening, ribs smoked on the homemade grill. The scent of mesquite and the sound of the frogs and crickets made the atmosphere thick; the chocolate lab ran up and down the creek bank chasing a golf ball that we threw again and again and again.

This home and everything around it and in it grew out of a vision for the way life could be lived. Scavenged materials became walls and doors and sinks and floors. Sweat and labor laid stone. Rain water collects on the roof to serve the house. There is an art and a craft to the way everything within my line of sight has become house and home.

Flesh and blood here; ministry happens, people are loved, children are raised.

I have held these friends in my heart for 20 years now. We lived first as neighbors, right across the railroad tracks from one another in a little Texas town where religion raised us up and broke our hearts. We met again, seeking Jesus, and spent time in one another's homes. Our kids spent a few years of their lives together and our boys, promised of God, are the same age.

Live has dealt difficult cards at times and we have moved in and out of contact with one another. We've moved all around the country.

And now I've come to visit, with a major fault line in my life and a new introduction into the long line of our friendship.

After the dinner, after the fire and the laughter, I mentioned to Diane that I needed to go write my blog post.

"What's your blog about?" she asked. "Well," I replied, "It's about me. My life. My perspective. My stuff."


"Sometimes I write about parenting. About ministry stuff. About God..."

"I'm going to write a book someday."

I'm going to write a book someday.

I've never said that out loud before, but it came easily tonight. It was natural. This quiet, calm space and time with friends who have known me over many, many years made room for that still truth to slip out.

Billy Crockett has long been one of my favorite singer / songwriters; his music is exquisite. Unfortunately, some of the old stuff - including tonight's song - is out of print. I have the cd somewhere at home, but it's tough to find the song online.

But I remember the words, and I have the song hidden in my heart. We share beginnings...we share the's worth it all, in these days to be best of friends....

Hide and seek, snakes and ladders
I remember when
You and me and all that matters
Best of times, best of friends

These days of sunshine, these days of rain
We pull together in days of pain
We share beginnings. we share the ends
It's worth it all in these days to be best of friends

Stand and fall, hurt and healing
Say goodbye again
Through it all, the gift of feeling
Worst of times, still best of friends

Here and now, make a promise to take it to the end
Heart to heart, God is in us
All this time, still best of friends...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Songs: The Power Of Two

So we're in Texas, and I could go all sorts of ways with the blog tonight.

Such as: I've been singing the opening lines of this song - loudly - at random times throughout the day, just because; I remember Dad singing it and I remember doing a little swing dancing to it and who doesn't love a little Texas swing and the master of it, Mr. George Strait?

But other than blurting out the first four lines at random, there's not much resonance here. I suppose I do have a few exes that live in Texas, but I'm not very concerned with them. In fact, now that I think about it, I ought to delete this and start over, because talking or thinking about exes is not a direction I was interested in going. At all.

The other possibility is this tune from the 70's; it was playing at IHOP tonight and I mouthed all of the lyrics - with great dramatic flair - to my partner, over pancakes. It was a moment, for sure.

He rolled his eyes at me; and then Olivia Newton-John started singing "Have to believe we are magic..." and we decided it was time to leave this land of maple syrup and bad pop music...

Here's what I really wanted to write about tonight; follow my short rabbit trail.

Cruising the flat land between Little Rock and Texarkana at 6pm, I did my usual Saturday night routine; I found an NPR station. Prairie Home Companion is one of the most rewarding, stimulating, entertaining and engaging two hours of my week. I love the whole premise of a variety show; I am a big fan of Garrison Keillor's story-telling, and I just get the humor. It's my happy place.

I also discover a tremendous amount of good music - there's the thrill of turning on the radio and finding out that Chris Thile is with Garrison, or somebody like Emmylou Harris. Chet Atkins was always a favorite, and I'm quite partial to Rich Dworsky's mad B3 and piano skills.

I love this show.

Tonight, we heard a new-to-us singer/songwriter, Lera Lynn. Her voice was magical, and I made note of her record and intend to buy it and listen deeply in the next week. The songs - and the singer - made me think of The Indigo Girls, a band I discovered in college and rediscovered in the late 80's.

But here's the point, for this post; I remember, with amazing clarity, hearing their tune The Power of Two for the first time. I was in a dressing room at JC Penneys at Chesterfield Town Center. My ear caught the rhythmic pulse of the acoustic groove; I recognized the voice and knew the band, but hadn't heard the song, although it dated back to the mid 1990's. I stopped trying on clothes and stood still to listen.

So we're okay, we're fine 
Baby I'm here to stop your crying 
Chase all the ghosts from your head 
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed 
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart 
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart 
Adding up the total of a love that's true 
Multiply life by the Power Of Two

At the moment I was standing in that dressing room I was working through the possibility of new love in my life; love and partnership that would be permanent and steady.

I was skittish. Not because of him, but because of me. One of the things I had learned in counseling after the end of my marriage to my kids' dad was that I'd likely take the same baggage and the same issues into any new relationship - and end up with the same problems.

(That statement provided motivation to continue counseling and get better...for sure. Because it was true.) 

I knew there were tremendous risks. But I also knew that there was something significantly different about this man and this relationship.

Standing in the dressing room in Penneys, trying on clothes, I had a powerful moment. This became - for me - "our song". We have other songs, thank the Lord, because he never connected with this song the way I did. But, for me, the lyric encapsulated almost everything I was feeling about the great, grand step of faith into a future that included him, and included us, together.

You know the things that I am afraid of I'm not afraid to tell 
And if we ever leave a legacy it's that we loved each other well 
'Cause I've seen the shadows of so many people trying on the treasures of youth 
But a road that's fancy and fast ends in a fatal crash 
And I'm glad we got off to tell you the truth

So today, flying down the highway on a road we'd never travelled together, I heard Lera Lynn and thought of The Indigo Girls and had a moment of deep gratitude for the man in the driver's seat. Now my husband, he is the necessary halve of the power of two that works in my life. The closer we are bound in love, the closer I am to free; and I believe that I am privileged, in this coupling, to sense the grace and glory of all that God promised when he created us and said, It is not good for man to be alone. I love this man, and I am grateful.

We left IHOP and walked the short journey on broken pavement to the Motel 6. We were laughing about something ridiculous; a swimming pool that had been filled in with dirt (Motel 6 is apparently giving up on outdoor recreation). I grabbed his hand and leaned into his shoulder.

"I love you. I can't imagine being anywhere else, with anybody else but you." 

Nothing like a road trip to make you fall in love all over again.

Now the parking lot is empty 
Everyone's gone someplace 
I pick you up and in the trunk I've packed 
A cooler and a two day suitcase 
'Cause there's a place we like to drive 
Way out in the country 
Five miles out of the city limit we're singing and your hand's upon my knee 

'Cause we're okay, we're fine 
Baby, I'm here to stop your crying 
Chase all the ghosts from your head 
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed 
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart 
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart 
Adding up the total of a love that's true 
Multiply life by the Power Of Two 

All the shiny little trinkets of temptation, something new instead of something old  
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface and it's fools gold 

Now we're talking about a difficult thing and your eyes are getting wet 
I took us for better and I took us for worse 
Don't you ever forget it 
 The steel bars between me and a promise 
Suddenly bend with ease 
The closer I'm bound in love to you 
The closer I am to free

31 Songs: On The Road Again

So, we started a road trip with a fairly well-thought-out plan. A wedding, a short time with family, a quick stop to see a newborn baby and his parents, touching base with some friends along our route in multiple states, eventually ending up in the Lone Star State, where we'd revisit old haunts, hang out with some church people and eat as much Mexican food and chicken fried steak as possible before returning to Virginia.
Headed southwest...

That's how we thought it would go.

And it did, up to the point when we left our first stop, drove three miles down the road and realized that the request that we stay "Just a few more days...." came from a place and a person worth listening to.

And so we did.

Already packed, already headed south - we turned the car around.

"We came back. We decided you were right; we need a few more days."

There was much rejoicing.

/ / /

But today, we did leave, for reals, and we went to visit that little miracle of a 2 pound 7 ounce baby. I cupped my hand over his tiny little head and his heart rate accelerated. He squirmed. I cupped his bottom instead and he calmed; I felt the fragile body underneath my suddenly ginormous hand. I sensed the tremendous gift of life, of that I knew you before you were born line that always seemed to refer to something prior to conception, before time, within the heavens. That word shifted for me this afternoon, in the rapid breathing and the determined passion for life I sensed in little Elliot. Born at 27 weeks, by all rights his little body should have been nestled within his mama, still; but here he was, wide-eyed, greeting the world. Tiny. Fighting.

Holy and sacred.


/ / /

And so now we point the big red Suburban south and roll down the interstates in relative ease, thankful for the gifts we've been given. The car runs well. The company is good. We have Malley's chocolate and fresh brownies in the back seat.

Nothing like a road trip to remind yourselves of why
you love one another. #wearethebestoffriends
I've run up and down this road many times; when my family moved from western Pennsylvania to Texas in the 1970's, we drove back home about once a year. Columbus, Cincy, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock....then miles and miles of Texas. I remember the sheer joy of navigating - when I was old enough to read a map - while Dad drove us homeward. I loved the heavy atlas, the way the bigger states would get two pages and the big cities got their own cut-away section. I loved to see where we'd been, where we were going, and then calculate - with the little triangle markers on the highways - how long it might take to get there.

(Will anyone born after GPS and smart phones ever know this joy? I suppose not)

(Sigh. Feeling old...)

The intrigue of the surrounding towns fascinated me, whether on the map or through the window as we passed by. All my life, I have found myself drawn to the idea that an entirely new life was possible - if only we lived in this other place. I have easily - maybe too easily - imagined what life might look like in pretty much any town I've ever visited. Or driven through.

The world is full of possibility, and I am drawn - always - to what is possible.

What I know for sure, halfway through this trip, is this: Sometimes it's good to turn around and stick with what's familiar, at least for a few days. We forfeited a good bit of our intended adventures, and there are several friends' faces we will miss seeing this time around. But I am confident that we will never, ever find ourselves in a place where we regret spending just a little bit more time with those whose blood we share.

The road was waiting for us all along. We're on it, again; and richer for the delay.

And the song is more than just a phrase; it's three minutes of melody and harmony that I learned, driving up and down these interstates with my dad. Willie and Waylon and The Eagles Greatest Hits and the Beach Boys and my dad imagined his own possibilities, back when he was younger than I am today, the trickle-down of the songs he loved engaged and shaped my own soul.

No regrets.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

31 Songs: Autumn Leaves

My mom.

She's the one who said, "You haven't posted. For two days."

At least I know who is paying attention. And isn't it great - that's it my mom?

Moms rock. Always.

Within a 24-hour span, I talked to all five of my kids on the phone. I'm away from even the youngest at the moment; but we can connect on the phone, and it means more than I can say, to know these young people, to have a glimpse of their lives as they broaden and swell with possibility. And to know that it matters to them, too, that we talk.

And then my mom calls and says You haven't posted on your blog. Are you okay?

My mom has always been in the periphery of our musical adventures. My brother, my dad, the kids - we all explore our emotional landscapes with music. Family gatherings almost always include bursts of music at some point.

Mom is usually there, but one step back. She might sing a little bit, but she's never carried on with us in a loud or extravagant fashion.

But she loves music; and of a certain type. Mention Doris Day or Barbra Streisand, maybe a little Louis Prima and Tony Bennet, and her eyes light up; somewhere in her generous heart flickers the passion of a young woman whose soul stirred with melody. She likes the great voices, mostly those of the past, because there aren't many of them singing their songs in our current musical landscape.

So here's a little Doris Day, for my mom; and for the season. I am surrounded by the red and gold of summer's farewell, and it will indeed be time for winter's song.

Monday, October 13, 2014

31 Songs: Poison And Wine

Is it possible to see your life in two very separate but closely aligned places?

Is it possible to feel so at home and settled in two different towns - at the same time?

Is it possible to believe that you belong in one place and yet belong, just as much, in another?

The truth is this: There is ego, and it longs to be satisfied. There is affirmation that seems a necessary thing. We lie to ourselves, all the time.

But in the midst of the selfishness is a resounding truth that cannot be ignored.

Many truths, in fact.

There is family, the tug from all directions.

There is the arc of memory, the feel of the road and the knowledge of every curve.

There is the sweet sticking point of moments that marked turning points, points of no return, the very place the paradigm shifted.

There is the sense that the soul was knit together in certain surroundings, and that it truly and finally came to life when it returned.

I'm reading and living in the midst of a book called Yes, And these days, and though I find great comfort in the theological context of what leaks into my soul out of Rohr's writing, it seems to be causing more consternation in the tangible circumstances of my own life.

So the song, the one singing itself, is a definitive pronouncement of what is. And what is not. And the strange, compelling dissonance of what, in this moment, seems to be tugging at my heart.

I don't love you but I always will
I don't love you but I always will
I don't love you but I always will
I don't love you but I always will

Have you ever wanted to be in two places at the same time?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

31 Songs: So Tired

It's a song I made up in my head. 

I'm too tired. 

I can't dig deep enough to write anything meaningful. 

It's been an awesome day. 

I'll reboot tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

31 Songs: Grace Has Called My Name

We all harbor a unique story. Our pain and our joy, the regrets and the things we got right; they combine and fuse together to create life. It is a gift, a privilege.

Sometimes, it is just day to day, one sunrise at a time.

Sometimes it hurts.

To live in the tenuous truth that indeed, all things work together for good; to believe, in spite of evidence otherwise, that we can and will endure, that things will get better, that a change is going to come - this is the tremolo that quivers within the most beautiful among us.

And often, those that radiate beauty, that leak the steadiest grace - they are also the ones who carry the most pain. I am thinking, tonight, of the great privilege of seeing that pain in the eyes of those who are willing to show it.

/ / /

My day peaked with an unexpected, take-my-breath-away commingling of past and present. I played music on a platform I never thought I'd walk upon. I led worship in a room that had held many of my tears, my regret, my apologies and remorse, but never my solo offering. Voices that I knew from a decade ago sang words of praise and worship and the harmony was sweet, the melody was true, and a sincere layer of resurrection lay underneath our voices.

It was a wedding, and it was not about me, but at the end, in an empty room, it was my moment. Tears leaked out of my eyes and I tried to find the words to tell Tony, in his own place of grace, but I just sobbed and sat in the mad swell of emotions and feelings, a strange and brittle mix of sorrow and joy that funneled down into a sense of something surreal.

I wiped my face off and whispered, "It feels like we have unfinished business here."

/ / /

I walked, alone, towards the car, and I stopped short. A moment slipped into my mind, one eleven years ago, when my pastor and I stood in that very spot, right there in the driveway. I remembered,
and it was all grace.

He stood before me and said, "God isn't finished with you yet."

He spoke sincerely, but I received  those words as little more than niceties, general encouragement, a pithy statement of hope that we Christians tend to throw around like pieces of candy when we've nothing else to offer.

But I was wrong. Today his words echoed in my mind, as the One who really spoke those words reminded me of His faithfulness. It has always been true, but today it became real.

Throughout the day, I tried to open myself to what other things I might need to hear, and they came. A story of a clutched hand and broken hearts and tears shed throughout an entire service - an occasion I remembered, but one I never understood, because I never knew the back story - until tonight. Honest words that became a blessing and a balm.

There were others; broken words from a broken heart that I have known and loved for all these years, and a reminder that my prayers matter and my listening ears matter. The general sense that all will be well, and the gentle statement from a solid man of God: It's good to see you smile.

Today's song, for me, is not from the wedding, and probably not one you know. But it has resounded and circled around my brain throughout the day, as the truth of the lyric came to life over and over and over and over again.

We all need a fair measure of grace in our lives; some times more than others. But we are all in need.

/ / /

Peace as elusive as a shadow dancing on the wall 
Life swallowed by the pain of yesterday 
Left broken by the shame of things that I had done 
No freedom from the choices that I'd made 
But with one touch, You made me clean 
You met me in my deepest need 

Grace has called my name 
When all that I had left were just filthy stains 
Grace has called my name 
When hope had all but faded far away Grace called my name
Wounded by words that left their mark upon my soul 
Dreams overturned by empty promises 
Well intentioned things I'd heard a million times before 
Just left my heart to grieve alone again 
But with one touch You set me free 
You met me in my deepest need 

Friday, October 10, 2014

31Songs: Here I Am To Worship

Out of town and blogging from my phone, which I find challenging. So - short and sweet.

"Here I Am To Worship" - powerful song that has stood the test of time. I'm singing it tomorrow, at a place where I lead worship weekly. Until I could no longer. 

It will be a powerful moment. It will be true. 

I'll never know how much it cost...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

31 Songs: She's Life

Things are really busy around here, so I don't plan that this post will be wordy. Of course, I've said that before, and it never really works out...

But I think I'll leave you with this:

I have a brother.

He is profoundly talented.

Musically: He is an exceptional guitarist and vocalist; he can lead worship from a powerful place and play rock and roll like he was born that way. Because he was. Even though he needed me to teach him his first three chords on the guitar.

Brainwise: He is so stinking smart. He's on this whole other level, and his philosophical / ethical / theological wanderings give us a fascinating, insightful and educational rabbit trail of wisdom. (Read all about it here.)

Personal stuff: He's an excellent, loving father. He is half of one of the strongest, most real marriages I have ever seen. A good uncle to my kids, he is a very constant male presence in their lives. He's a good brother, too.

Writing stuff: Oh, he has a gift there. He can string together some awesome sentences. His sermons are killer. And his songwriting - his work with his band Maida Vale still and always will be some of my favorite of ALL songs. "Down In the Valley"  - about my grandparents and our hometown - makes me cry, even right now, this very minute, as I listen....

He's honest and authentic. He's not perfect.

He's my brother. I love him, and I'm proud of him, and he makes my life better. He makes this world a better place.

And he's just released a new song. So today, my post is about my brother and his gift for mixing his passion for the church and the Creator with the tangled mess of artistic yearning and his commitment to strive for excellence in his craft.

I would be honored, if you would read my words and listen to his song.

Go ahead. It's got a groove....