Sunday, August 30, 2009


Several folks have asked about the closing song from today's service. "Overcome" by New Life Worship is a powerful song that grew out of the challenges they faced at their church. It's a great reminder of who and what we believe to be true. (Purchase the original here.)

Sometimes a piece of music comes on that just seizes you and won't let go - because of the truth of what it says or where it comes from. Often, we have emotional responses to particular songs that have a lot to do with our own circumstances. However, from time to time, a song comes along that seems to have an immediate connection, a lasting impact and an effect on an entire group of people. Songs like "Amazing Grace" and "Holy, Holy, Holy" have endured through the years in houses of worship, while countless other hymns have fallen away and been forgotten. I believe that certain songs are anointed - literally "dedicated to the service of God", no matter when or how they are used.

Songwriters today still find new, fresh ways to express praise and thanksgiving to God. Songs are still born that seem to connect and put words to that which is unspoken and in our heart.

I'd love to hear from you - is there a song that you believe is anointed with an inexplicable something that makes it powerful for worship?

Here's the link from New Life, with an amazing demonstration of heart-felt worship. If you don't know the story behind the challenges faced by their church, you can check that out here; maybe then you'll have even greater appreciation for the power of these words they sing.

RSS and Facebook readers - there is a video here. Go to the original post to see it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

All The Single Ladies (And Guys)

I'm single. And I serve a large church, where a lot of other single people find themselves. We continue to work to find effective ways get single people connected in service and small groups, to find ways to help process and work through the very difficult challenges that men and women face as they recover from divorce or deal with singleness that goes past the age of 30, when it appears that society expects you to be married. Getting connecting, meeting and trusting people? Not always easy. When you have issues stemming from divorce, it can be extremely complicated.

It's tough. People want to find God, to learn more about serving and growing. But people also want healing, and help, and partnership and connection. Often, single folks just want something to do. Being alone can be very lonely.

It's a struggle for me, in a position of leadership at church, to know exactly how to best serve folks like me.

I read something today on Kathy Guy's blog that really helped me understand how a church can best serve single people. Here's what she has to say to the single folks at their church:

It's likely that 90% - or at least a bunch of you - are here with the hope of meeting someone of the opposite sex. That's not an insult or a judgement. It's understandable and nothing wrong with it. It's reality.

At the same time, the intent of our group environments is not to provide a dating service.
Our hope is for you to discover more fully how much you matter to God, and we believe that this happens best as you build relationships with each other.

If inside of meeting others, you happen to meet the person of your dreams, well that's just a big touchdown for you! If you measure your experience based on that, however, you'll be disappointed. You will have an opportunity to get to know some people, and you'll start seeing them when you come to church. You'll feel like you know some people, and it just makes it better."

Our hope is for you to discover more fully how much you matter to God.

Anything else is a bonus.

That's a great way to do church.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

For Those Who Are Creative (Or Not)

"Is it logical or normal that we should be afraid of the work we were created to do?"

My friend Brandee directed me to this video of Elizabeth Gilbert's talk at a recent TED conference.


About 19 minutes, but it will fly by. I promise. I turned on the English subtitles; it helps me focus. Try it.

It's a big statement, but I believe this is mandatory for any creative person, particularly those striving to be creative in a ministry or non-profit setting. It is a vision of inspiration worth as much as any registration fee you've paid for the latest and greatest high impact conference. Gilbert acknowledges just how excruciatingly difficult it can be to keep creative juices flowing - and offers up for consideration a remarkable and different (for me, anyway) perspective on the process.

I hope you'll watch it, especially you - Kim and Jan and Terrace and Cynthia and Brian and Angie and Connie and Katie and Jenn and Sarah and Annie and Lisa and Scott and Eric and Mary Elizabeth and Nancy....

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Creme Filled

When I was hired for the job I currently hold, which is something along the lines of creative arts director/minister of music/worship leader/experience coordinator (DON'T LABEL ME!!!!), my boss offered what seemed to be an incredible gift. He said, "You'll get a few weeks each year of study break. You're creative; you need to protect and care for that part of your life so that you can be here for the long haul." (Or something like that; it's a loose paraphrase.)

I was excited and sort of honored. With a background in teaching, it sounded at the time like he was handing me a mini summer vacation to keep me healthy. While it's not a vacation, it's at least a change in routine, time to read and reflect and think and pursue something other than cranking out another worship set for Sunday.

In the past four years I have worked in and around this idea of a study break. It's awkward at times, because, frankly, I know that some folks wonder what it is, why I get it and what the heck I'm doing. What makes me special as a staff member, to get three extra weeks "off"? It's a little embarrassing. 'Cause I'm all about making other people happy.

I've wrestled with this, along with trying to figure out the ebb and flow of my productivity.

And here's what I've discovered: my boss was right. I need this. And rather as a gift to me, in the long run it is all about the end result for the investment made in me by the folks who make it possible for me to pay the bills.

How do I know?

Because after two weeks away from being creative and productive (and, frankly, feeling dry and empty) - one week of study break paired with a real vacation week - I am full to overflowing with the creative energy necessary to meet my weekly responsibilities. I'm better spiritually, too; but simply based on what I am paid to do each week, I feel like a Krispy Kreme donut that just got a shot of the most delicious creme filling. I woke up this morning - early, way before the alarm - with a song floating through my head, something we needed for an upcoming service. I spent hours yesterday in planning for our next series and was thrilled with the collaborative efforts with my friend and partner and the outcome. A meeting with our missionaries resulted in the bones of an incredible service designed to honor their work, reflect the mercy of God and inspire others.

I feel like singing again. And, being an artsy sort, I can't make that happen on my own.

The bottom line is this: my boss was right. I am grateful. God is good.

And I can't wait for band rehearsal tonight!!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Good Times

This week has been entirely too much good stuff.

Good conversation.

Good sleep.

Good laughter.

Good movie (well...maybe. Have you seen Hamlet 2?)

Good weather.

Good sun (meaning NO SUNBURNS).

Good games - hello, Bananagrams! I love you!

Good coffee.

Good morning conversations.

Good homemade ice cream.

Good walks - four miles every day with my sister-in-law.

Good meals - again, my sister-in-law, who has created some memorable meals. Vegetarian enchiladas. Rice bowls. Grilled tilapia. And, of course, my mom's famous ribs. I haven't done much cooking, but I made this cake...

This has been a wonderful vacation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

South Of Broad

This was my vacation book; probably only the first, as we are all a family of readers and there's plenty more where this one came from. It's unthinkable that we don't have our noses in a book while on the beach, on the couch, over solitary lunches, hidden away at nap-time. So this was the first, but probably not the last of the week.

What a glorious story. There are some books that I finish that leave me with a strong compulsion to pick up a pen and begin my own story. The power of our human-ness, retold with compassion and insight, gives some anchor to life that awes me and inspires, at times, an aching jealousy. This book did just that.

I always wanted to be a writer. That's been a longing of my heart since I was young - probably since I first began to read. I love to have my imagination captured by the arc of a great story. When I read something that moves me powerfully, I inevitably am captured by this thought: I want to do that!

The Prince of Tides was a powerful book. I believe I read Beach Music and The Great Santini, but I don't recall their impact. South of Broad is a rich and robust book, with a cast of characters almost impossible to capture. It's like The Big Chill for Southerners, a story in which the city of Charleston, with it's distinctive personality, plays as major a role as any human.

It inspired me. As I walked up from the beach, where I'd read almost to the end, saving the final pages of the book for a quiet moment back at the house, I contemplated the wide range of personalities and interactions in the characters. Fictional life, described with such vivid detail and emotion, takes on a hue of reality that I don't appreciate in real life.

But thought occured to me, as I walked, that if I took the time to savor and appreciate the web of relationships connected to my day-to-day life, I'd be fascinated and inspired by the same sort of life that I absorbed in Conroy's book. Just looking at my extended family, I see a wide range of fundamentalists and agnostics, minor criminals and mental illnesses, short tempers and long fuses, utter kindness and sloppy, angry drunks, glimpses of greatness and falls from grace, redemption, loss and love, potential and hope mixed with wasted years and botched marriages, abuse and scorn and denial and recovery. This is life - real life.

Perhaps the truth of the power of such inspiration is in the provocation to look around and reocognize the depth and breadth of energy pulsating within our own families and friends. Someone like Pat Conroy has a unique talent and skill that enables him to craft a story of that weaves fictional characters together in a rich, compelling tale.

As those characters fade from memory, someone like me gets to reflect on the way that a shred of insight can tie together the same sort of human mess into a story that weaves together something that is real. Something that becomes a part of who I am and who I hope to be.

This was an extraordinarily good book.

Monday, August 17, 2009


We are on vacation.

Me, my five kids, my mom and dad, my brother and sister-in-law and their two kids.

And other assorted cousins, aunts and uncles as they appear.

We have done this every year for as long as I can remember. It is the one deal-breaker in our family: We do vacation together. Every year. We have outgrown the tents and trailers that held us many years ago and have moved on to rented condos or houses. This year, we are living together for a week in a large second-row house. With a pool. It took a lot of pennies pinched together to make this one happen.

But it's well worth it. It's a touchstone for the cousins and siblings, who are growing older in ways that we don't claim to understand. As are we.

It's messy sometimes. But it is our family, it is our committment, and it matters. Probably more than most anything else I do the other twelve months of the year.

Feeling blessed today, with room to breathe and arms full of grace.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Do You Roll Your Eyes At This?

At the risk of accusations of being a Puritan, a hypocrite or worse, I'm going to post here a few statements made in answer to the question, "If there was one thing you would want to tell women about dressing modestly, what would it be?" (Excerpts from a post by Anne Jackson)

They impacted me strongly, as they should have.

What do you think? Do most women even think about stuff like this when they are choosing their clothing?

“I know that women probably roll their eyes a lot when they hear to dress modestly, but seriously, its a huge help. A. Huge. Help. Look, if you are an attractive woman, you are right, you cant control where guys' thoughts go. But you dont have to help them get there quicker. A lot of us are really trying, and small skirts or deep cleavage just sets us back, no matter how strong we are."

“Cover the cleavage. It’s intoxicating, they’re wonderful but I should really concentrate on my wife’s and not yours.”

“My sister, when it comes to being tempted visually, I am your much weaker brother. I would humbly ask, as you exercise your wonderful freedom in Christ, you would demonstrate grace and help me in my quest to live a life that honors our great God. YOU can help ME in my weakness.”

“If women knew the devastation that their immodesty could cause a man who is struggling with porn/lust (and his family), I think they might reconsider. ESPECIALLY in church….which should be a safe place for men to not have to dart their eyes every 2 seconds.”

“I would tell them about my husband’s former struggles with pornography and fantasy, about how much we underestimate the power we have over helping or hindering our brother’s walks with God, and the marriages of our sisters and how much a glance at another woman’s cleavage is heartbreaking to a wife."

“You don’t understand the intensity with which men are compelled in and battle these things…not giving us more to mentally work with does not win our battle (nor does dressing provocatively lose it) but simply being thoughtful in how you dress and doing your best to help us see who you are instead of how your body looks is greatly appreciated.”

“If you are a Christ-follower, please understand the lust issues that men face. It is difficult enough for us to stay mentally pure.”

You can find the full posting here. Props to Anne Jackson for addressing issues like this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Some Thoughts

A few things:

I'm too much in my own head. It takes me two days just to unwind, to shake off the adrenaline, to quit the mad brain-race of ten different projects open at once. It's been fascinating to watch myself, to have an awareness of how my mind functions in what have become normal circumstances. I see it now because I've seen it unravel in the past two days.

It's as if my brain - the actual INSIDE OF MY HEAD - is a file cabinet, and allthethingsIgottado are manila folders. And most every day, my energy goes to this mad thrashing and flailing, flipping through one folder after another, glancing at one, sorting out a project, getting derailed, grabbing for another folder, looking for information, getting off track, grabbing yet ANOTHER folder, trying to make a decision...etc. CRAZINESS, PEOPLE. CRAZINESS.

I watched this process all day Sunday, as if from outside my body. One by one, I either took care of things (dealt with the content of the folders) and was able to put them away, or gave myself permission to come back later. All this going on in my brain, now. Giving myself a chance to focus on one thing, or to focus on nothing.

Focusing on nothing? Sounds rather NON-PRODUCTIVE, doesn't it?

Ah, but no. That FOCUSING ON NOTHING looks and feels a lot like prayer. Like peace. Like being able to hear a still small voice. Like getting out of my head and opening up my eyes to the world around me.

It seems to have become a pattern, and I wonder: Is it just that this particular season of life - five kids, single mom, full-time mom, full-time job - is one that requires such mental gymnastics? Should I just be thankful that I have opportunities like this to get away, to sort things out, to calm down?

Maybe so. I guess that's okay.

But honestly, I'd rather find a bit of balance and live like this more consistently.

Maybe I should move to the beach?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kiva - No Small Thing

Those of us at the Leadership Summit last week had the privilege of hearing Jessica Jackley share an incredible and inspiring story. When Jessica learned that Jesus said, "What you do for the least of these, you do for me", she took it seriously.

Five years ago, she quit her job and went to Africa to learn about micro-finance. The result is Kiva, which has raised over $61 million in just three years - all going to assist entrepenuers in the developing world. Investors with as little as $25 are able to connect with across the globe, giving sacrifically in order to change lives all around the world.

On a personal note, my family has been involved with Kiva since last year. As we gathered at Thanksgiving, my mom gave everyone in the family a $20 bill and a mission: "Use this to help somebody else - and report back at Christmas." The Brawley family pooled some of our funds together and created a $50 loan to a group of mothers in Bolivia who are creating small retail businesses to provide a better life for their children. That loan has already been repaid, and our $50 has been re-invested into two businesses in the Dominican Republic.

Kiva is a way for anyone with internet access to invest as little as $25 to better the lives of people who have far less access to financial stability than any of us here. Brian often says that even the poorest American is considered rich in the eyes of the developing world - and it's true. One look at some of the photos of these hard-working entrepenuers in third-world countries show that although our resources are different, we are the same in our desire to work hard and provide a better life for our families.

Several folks who were at the Leadership Summit have already set up Kiva accounts and started a new journey of giving. In fact, we've created a 'Powhatan Community Church' lending team that will allow us to track how we, as a small community of believers, are able to pool our resources to assist those in other countries. Through our lending team, it's possible to focus our giving on one group, country or region.

Please take the time to investigate Kiva and consider participating. Seriously - what we do for the least of these, we do for Jesus.

And that's no small thing.

To learn more about Kiva, click here.
To see the Powhatan Community Church lending team, click here.
To create a Kiva account, click here.
For overview notes on Jessica Jackley's Summit presentation, click here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

This Is What Study Break Looks Like

Yes, I know it's a mess - yes, Mom - I KNOW!

But it makes perfect sense to me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Self Portrait

I'm on my second round of study break; abbreviated, but still necessary and, I expect, incredibly profitable.

Last time (April) I did a lot of reading.

This time, planning. Thinking. Praying.

And silence.

Starting with beauty all around me, a little Derek Webb in my ears and a lot to process from the Leadership Summit.

I'm not sure how much I'll blog this break, but if I have something to say, it'll likely be dumped here...


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Random Bits And Pieces

One-minute update:
  • Cramming a week's worth of work into two days, as we are helping host a Willow Creek Leadership Summit satellite location here in Richmond later this week. Interested in going? You can. Let me know. Extra pumped because my sister-in-law is the manager of the satellite production for this event. I've always been proud of her, but now she's bossing me around. It's kind of cool.
  • Sarah will be home in EIGHT DAYS. Where the heck did the summer go? I can't wait to see her again.
  • Had some funky health things going on, but apparently I'm fine. I just have a very special heart that walks to the beat of its own drummer.
  • Still processing a Sunday worship experience that was weird - even awkward - for some of us on the platform, yet apparently mind-blowing for folks in the room. It's crazy how that happens - I'm thankful. And reminded of how it is SO not about me...
  • Super excited about our next series at PCC - digging hard into the book of Colossians and getting ready to end the summer on a fun note!
  • Walked through the new PCC building last week and got pumped about the future there!
  • Thinking about some crazy options for reaching people who are outside of the church and AMAZED at how God is lining things up. Can't wait to see what He's going to do next.
  • Got to talk, IRL, on the phone to my blogging buddy Kim Bontrager. She's the coolest.
  • Getting some serious beach time soon. Can't come soon enough.
  • I love my job. It's not a job, it's an adventure. And I love it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Stuff That Made Me Think

We've had some interesting discussions at PCC and at small group lately. How do we reconcile a God who offers love, grace and forgiveness to everyone with our human desire for fairness, revenge and justice?

God is love.

It's easy to say. Some of us learned it with flannel-graph images in musty Sunday School rooms. Others picked it up from Oprah, or New Age teachings, or just general random-acts-of-kindness concepts.

He loves everyone.

It's easy to say. But when it's in our face - when those who God loves are different from us, perhaps radically opposed to things that we hold dear, or even offensive - the words choke us.

God is love. God is good. And He loves everyone.

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2.1-4

Thanks to Andy Sikora for this link, and thanks to folks like Michael Gungor - who writes amazing worship music - and Goodwin Films for being creative.