Thursday, December 31, 2009


I had the most remarkable day of my life last weekend.

I got married. Obviously that’s a big day in anyone’s life. But at this point in my journey, in my mid-forties, with five kids, a wedding takes on a completely different meaning. Of course there’s the basic premise - a commitment to a man, the beginning of doing life together as a couple, incorporating another adult into our family dynamic. The general stuff that comes with getting married remains the same.

But we had a wedding - a celebration, a party, an event - and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

When we began to talk about actually moving forward, taking this step, having a ceremony, I approached our discussion thinking that we’d do something very simple. After all, I’d obviously done this before. So had he. We had kids in the mix. We were adults. The need to celebrate ourselves seemed a bit superfluous. I thought we’d do something small, intimate - maybe even just take a trip to the county courthouse and avoid all the pomp completely.

There’s so much to process after a failed marriage; so many things that a mother feels like she owes her children, because so much was taken from them. It seems pretentious and self-serving to think about celebrating a new marriage. I couldn’t help but think about the kids and how a big party to celebrate this new union might impact or hurt them.

I think, actually, that I felt as though we should just hide, just sneak a little wedding ceremony under the radar.

But he had different ideas. He encouraged me to think big, to dream a bit, and after some discussion and releasing my inhibitions about something so self-centered, I began to explore the idea of having a party. And I realized that I really wanted to do just that - to celebrate, to rejoice, to stand up and loudly declare that something amazing had happened in my life, to forcefully declare my intentions. I wanted to create a beautiful, memorable day.

The past eight years have been so much about my choices - right or wrong, I have deliberately chosen one path or another, and I’ve dealt with the consequences. Having looked back over the last 40+ years of my life, I’d have to say that I finally grew up over the past eight years. I know who I am, and I’ve realized - finally - that I don’t have to apologize for that. My calling is to “walk straight, act right and tell the truth”.

And so, a few phone calls were made, a date was chosen, and things began to miraculously fall into place. In three months’ time, we planned a wedding - a party - and all that came with it.

I thought the day would never arrive - and then, when it did, it flew by way too fast. I can truthfully say that I enjoyed every single moment. About 30 minutes before we were to begin, all the girls were gathered in our dressing room - a mad mess of underwear and flowers and curling irons and hairspray, with my veil hanging off the light fixture - and I found myself in an amazing state of calm. No anxiety, no worries, no stress at all. I was, in a word, ready.

We have relived the day over and over, relished the mental pictures, tried to describe how we felt and what we experienced. It was remarkable and memorable. But three specific things stick out for me, because they were so unexpected. And the unexpected moments, I know, are the ones that really matter.

See, to some degree, I plan events for a living. Each week, I work to put together a Sunday experience that is scripted to honor a unique process with the intention of creating a memorable and important spiritual result. A wedding is sort of like that as well. We had scripted everything as best we could - we had a “felt need” (Tony and Beth want to get married!) and a “desired outcome” (Tony and Beth get married and all their guests have a wonderful time!) and we’d included some elements that we believed would make it memorable and sacred. The right people were in place - our families, who played important roles in everything that happened. We had a timeline and an order, and everything went according to plan.

But just like in the weekly gatherings that we plan when we seek to encounter the holy and divine in corporate worship, God showed up. I had a very specific, personal experience, and undoubtedly others experienced something completely different. But for me, there were three moments that took my breath away. Unscripted, they were reminders for me of how life itself can take you by surprise when you simply make space and time to notice.

First, I came down the aisle alone. This was deliberate, reflective of my choice and my decision, a statement of intention and independence. I entered into this marriage as a choice for me, rather than any desire to please or placate anyone else or any other expectations. I came to meet this man on my own. When I arrived, however, I found myself surrounded by men - five men whose impact on my life has been undeniable and irreplaceable.

As I reached the front row, I took the arm of my father, and my eldest son came to stand beside me as well. Supported on each side by the two men whose blood I shared, I stood before Brian, who has been my pastor, my friend, a creative partner, a counselor, an accountability partner, and a man who has allowed me to grow to a place of trust and understanding. Beside Brian stood my brother, whose lifelong presence in my life has brought friendship, inspiration, and the simplest, most definitive unconditional love I have ever given or received. My father on my left, who loves Tony like a son. Daniel on my right, my young man, almost as tall as me - my first son, the one promised and named by God’s whisper in my heart. And on the other side of Daniel stood Tony, the man to whom I would pledge my faithfulness and love.

There we stood. Most of us were crying. And I felt so surrounded and supported by these men, whose lives I have seen into to the degree that I understand and appreciate both their strengths and their weaknesses. I am a better person - so much closer to the woman God has created me to be - because of the presence of these men in my life. I cannot imagine my life without these men woven throughout. It was a moment I will not forget, an Ebenezer moment testifying to something deep and solid and healing in my soul.

Second: After the ceremony ended, we took a few photos and then proceeded out of the room. Most of the guests had already moved downstairs into the Rotunda, where the jazz piano music flowed and folks were eating, drinking and mingling. As I moved towards the railing and looked down, my breath caught in my throat. There were all of our friends. I had not seen anyone in the room during the ceremony - I only had eyes for the groom - but now, suddenly, I realized that all these people had come to celebrate with us! There was Karen and Mike and their girls; there was Mary Elizabeth, and Jeff and Nancy clear from Nashville, and Kelley and Brian. There was Chauncey and Christine and Alana. Christian was there, looking dapper as usual. I saw Ric and Betty and Hayley and Lisa and Jeff and all of them, all dressed to the nines, looking beautiful, and I was overwhelmed. A wave of gratitude washed over me, rich and resplendent with the grace of fellowship and community.

Third: We planned three dances, one for ourselves, and then one each with our respective parent. We practiced and planned for weeks, but in the moment I forgot every step and we ended up laughing our way through those first moments of our dance. Keeping with tradition, I had a dance planned with my father, and I’d chosen an old family favorite - Willie Nelson singing “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain”. My dad’s musical phases had impacted me greatly, and when we’d moved from Pennsylvania to Texas in 1976, he fell in love with Waylon and Willie and Jerry Jeff and we got a huge dose of outlaw music for several years. Just last year we saw Willie at the National in Richmond, and I thought it would be a meaningful moment.

Just a bit of back story here; my dad suffered a stroke about five years ago, and though his recovery has been miraculous, he is, in some ways, a different man than he was before the stroke. Though his physical healing has been remarkable, he still struggles with his balance at times. Quite frankly, I did not anticipate that our dance would be much more than a bit of a shuffle, a few moments to celebrate for the sake of tradition.

We moved to the dance floor and the song started and we shuffled along for a few bars. Dad muttered, “Let me see...just let me remember this....”

And then we began to dance. The Texas two-step, in perfect time. My dad moved me across the dance floor - me in my wedding gown, on this incredible day marking the most definitive moment of my mid-life journey - and we danced. Dad has always been a good dancer, and in that moment, he was exactly that. No simple homage to tradition, we were literally dancing, and I was in the arms of the first man who ever loved me, feeling every bit a princess.

Enthused by the cheers of the crowd, Dad ceremoniously pulled off his jacket, and then his tie, and - like the Clyde of years past, who would do anything for a laugh - he made like he was going to strip it all off. Our friends cheered and laughed, and we finished the three minutes of Willie’s mournful tune. I walked back to my seat astounded and overwhelmed, overcome with the realization that, for the length of a song, I’d been dancing with the man I’d known all my life.

It’s difficult to plan a wedding and not realize, time and time again, that these events are generally designed for the young, for those still moving towards figuring out who they’ll be and what they’ll do. Vows to honor and cherish are the doorway to an entire lifetime when you’re twenty-six years old and close to the beginning point of everything. When you’re forty-seven, this commitment means something entirely different, knowing that you’re past the promise and looking towards what comes as our lives wind inextricably towards the latter days.

But for me, regardless of the lines on my face or the gray in my hair, I discovered the great gift of grace, culminating in the celebration of a promise that intend to live out for the remainder of my days. And this day - my wedding day - felt like a new beginning, a fresh start, with layers of youthful anticipation for the future. It was an incredible, beautiful day; all that I have never dreamed of, because I never knew enough to dream such things for myself. I was happier than I have ever been. I am still glowing today.

I will never forget, which is the way it ought to be.

Friday, December 25, 2009

To All A Good Night

It's close to 3:00 AM Christmas Eve. It's one of my favorite times of the entire year; the kids are asleep, and I'm up, watching over all that will be revealed in the morning. I always forget what I've wrapped and who's getting what and in THIS family, all things must be equal, so it's important that every kid has the same number of gifts to open. I double check.

We had a wonderful evening. Imagine Christmas was our service tonight, and it was stunning. Amazing. Incredible. I played in the band and got to watch most of the service. At times, I found myself thinking, "Who are these people? How did they think up all this stuff?" And then I realize that this is my team, these are the folks who are investing their lives in our community and in God's work through our church. And I am privileged and honored to work alongside of them. It was a beautiful evening, all around.

We came home to hear The Boys (Travis and Elijah) share the song they wrote for The Girls (Shannon and Sarah) in some sort of song-writing challenging they'd thrown down. Apparently the rules were simple: write a song with the line, "I love you the most." Well, they did, and it was awesome.

We honored our Christmas Eve traditions; the kids opened one gift, which is always pajamas, which they quickly don. I play the Charlie Brown theme song and they do the Charlie Brown dance through the house. Then we gather around to hear the Christmas story; Shannon read this year. We light our "Christmas candle", which is a round blue candle that we have toted around for years, and we sing "Silent Night". Tonight we shared what we believed - about God, about our family, about ourselves. It was special, and good to have Elijah here to share that as well.

They all sleep in the same room on Christmas Eve - another tradition - and they'll awaken in a few hours to run down and see if Santa came.

(He did!)

It was a wonderful evening, and it's a watershed for us. Our family dynamic is changing; "The Boys" have been around for some time, and more and more of our family events include them. And in less than 48 hours, our lives will change again, with a wedding and the addition of another adult in the family. We talked about it and processed it and made our time together tonight a commemoration of something very important.

I am so incredibly grateful for my children. Each Christmas reminds me of the gift I was given in 1990, when Sarah was born one week before Christmas. I became a mother and my life changed, for good, forever.

I love Christmas Eve; I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Merry Christmas, all. May you find God's greatest blessing and His deepest peace.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What I Did With My Sunday

I started the day with a cup of coffee, after a great, restful night of probably more sleep than I needed.

Or maybe not.

If you sleep until you wake up, do you end up with the right amount of sleep?

When left to my own devices, I almost always sleep 9 - 10 hours before awaking. I always feel guilty about this; something from my childhood and my mom, who is always up at the crack of dawn (hi, Mom!)

I digress; anyway, this morning, I slept until I had my fill, and when I awoke, I had a cup of coffee, eggs and bacon. I "went to church" with Newspring via their online service. I enjoyed the worship music - sang along, even, and felt engaged with God as I did so - and I enjoyed the message immensely.

But I sure didn't feel like I went to church. Which is interesting to contemplate. I've only ever watched online church in addendum to my regular gathering time. I've never been in a situation where it was the only option, as it was today due to the weather-related cancellation of our services.

I missed community. I missed my friends. I missed the people, the connection, the overwhelming gulp I feel in my throat when I look out over the crowd and see my community.

I am also a bit disappointed in myself. I thought that the day would hold some different spiritual flavor. I expected that I'd take advantage of the time to embrace room to pray, to read, to be with God.

I did not. Although it seemed like a holy time, just having a good night's sleep and feeling unencumbered by pressure and work, I'm not sure there was enough room for anything else. As the kids began to call and make their way home, the time slipped away. The openness of unplanned time ahead and behind me disappeared.

And then we went shopping.

I had hoped for more. Too many other things are crowding out those moments. I'm busy, preoccupied with Christmas Eve services and rehearsals that have to be made up this week; plans for the last week of 2009 and the first week of 2010 and a wedding, for goodness' sake.

I'm cutting myself some slack, going to bed and looking forward to tomorrow. This post started out with intentions of writing about coffee cups. Look where we ended up.

Kind of like my life these days; I'm always ending up somewhere that's not quite where I planned....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Uninterrupted Space

Over a foot of snow. The "Blizzard of 09".

The rest of the world - away from the mid-Atlantic states - goes on as usual. Christmas shopping, concerts, shows, church services. But here in Virginia, DC and north and south of here, we are stuck. Time has slowed, stood still almost. Except for our connection to the world through the internet and television, we are still and isolated.

And it is a blessing beyond belief.

I cannot recall the last time I had this much uninterrupted space. From the kids, who had already intended to spend the weekend with their dad; from the phone. From work. From stress in general. No temptation to go out, because I cannot.

Focused time on that which has been begging for attention for weeks. Months, even. I folded six baskets of clothes that I am ashamed to admit had sat in my bedroom for longer than I can remember. We'd been rifling through the baskets for socks, jeans, shirts, underwear. Now the baskets are empty and the clothes are folded, put away in my room and waiting for the kids to do the same when they get home. The kitchen is clean. The pile of papers - excuse me, the three piles of papers and books - that had occupied my bedroom floor are now filed and put away. I vacuumed. I dusted.

I wrapped gifts, excited about some of the surprises under the tree.

My favorite elf showed up with some of Bob Pino's chili, still warm. Delicious.

I invited the elf in, and we ate Raisinets and watched The Proposal. Sweet movie. We both cried at the end.

The gentle quiet of the day brought a peace that I've not experienced in a long time. Too long. I have been given a gift. The timing is impeccable.

Tomorrow, we will not have church. I am disappointed. I feel out of sorts. It's odd to have a Saturday night that isn't brimming with anticipation for the next morning's worship experience. But in the midst of the disappointment in the altering of our usual plans, I'm a little excited. I wonder what the morning might bring.

I expect to find that I'll worship in some new and different way. I intend to do so, in fact. Not sure what it will involve yet, but first and foremost, I will thank God for the gift of time - a long, luxurious, uninterrupted span of over 36 hours.

What a gift.

A Christmas Offering

Read this, please.

Brought tears to my eyes. Sent me to my knees. Applies to my life in every way.

A great gift this season.


One of my favorite songs at Christmas time.

Any time, actually.

I knew this song, but didn't pay it much attention until I heard it from Herbie Hancock. That's a shame, coming from a Joni Mitchell fan, but it's the truth. I love Corinne Bailey Rae's version.

The album River: The Joni Letters is a beautiful offering from Herbie Hancock. Highly recommended.

Turn down the lights and close your eyes. Sit in the shadow of some twinkling lights. Let yourself think beyond December for a moment....

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why Do You Go To Church?

Mark Batterson is a wise man.

Here's something he said this week:

"I think one of the primary problems we face in Western Christianity is the simple fact that so many people view going to church as an end instead of a means to an end. Let me explain. For those who subconsciously view church as an end in and of itself, going to church is the way they do their religious duty. They check church off the religious list. But do you really think God's ultimate dream for our lives is to sit in a pew for ninety minutes?

Going to church isn't an end. It's a means to an end. The real test is how we live out our faith Monday to Friday. That's where the rubber meets the road. Church is the locker room talk or the boardroom talk. Choose your metaphor. It's not the game. It's not the business. It prepares us for the game of life, the business of life."

What do you think? What does going to church mean in your life?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

blue christmas recap

This was the scene tonight as we closed our blue christmas service.

It was a meaningful night for me. The thought of a service like this has been brewing in my heart for over a year. Our production team took the idea and ran with it. Many hands and many creative ideas brought together some incredible musicians, a powerful message, beautiful service elements, kind and gentle hearts and even a harpist (an incredible musician!)

The older I get, the more I find that I react powerfully, internally, to things that a decade ago would have caused energetic and verbose reactions. Tonight was a good example. I am tired, preoccupied, distracted, and a tiny bit overwhelmed. But deep inside, my soul is satisfied.

I won't forget tonight. I am already looking forward to next year's blue christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I'm getting married.

In eleven days.

I'm just sayin'.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feeling That Christmas Spirit

I took a trip into Richmond today with Zach and Sarah. We stopped by The Jefferson Hotel to scope out good locations for photos.

The Christmas decorations are up, and all I can say is, "O, my!"

It's stunning. Beautiful. Elegant. Charming. Classy. Breathtaking. Awesome.

This Christmas season will be unlike any other I have ever experienced. There is a richness underneath everything leading up to Christmas Day - and The Day After - that I am savoring.

It's remarkable. Unbelievable, really.

I'm excited.


HT to The Richmonder for the photo, taken at last week's tree lighting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thank You Thank You Thank You

I got this phone call today.

"Are you sitting down?"

I did.

"We met with the doctor. About the mass in my lung."

Deep breath.


Hands flapping wildly, tears flowing freely - and with every breath, "Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you...."

Look Who Came To Visit PCC Today!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Earth Stood Hard As Iron

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone
Snow had fallen - snow on snow
Snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter, long long ago

Christina Rosetti wrote this poem in 1872. It has been set to music and recorded by many musicians in many styles. Recently, I discovered this version by Corrinne May that quickly became one of my favorites.

We are using a similar version of this song for our Blue Christmas service. We're trying something new this year, in an effort to honor the challenges of the holiday season faced by so many. Blue Christmas is designed to honor those who are grieving during Christmas, whether it is the loss of a loved one, separation from family or friends, the death of a dream or sadness caused by some other set of circumstances. It will be a very special evening. I encourage you to come.

Blue Christmas
December 17th, 7:00 PM
@May Memorial Church
Powhatan Village

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Here!

Every year, for the past two decades, the Christmas spirit has settled upon me at various, unexpected moments. I never know when or how it will be ushered in. Last year, it came like this. The year before, like this.

Sometimes the falling snow is key. Sometimes it's a song, like when my friend Helen sang the angels down at Joshua Baptist Church years ago. Sometimes it's Charlie Brown.

This year, it was a late afternoon realization that slightly inclement weather - i.e. some wet snow - caused the cancellation of the evening's planned activities. Miraculously, all of us were going to be home on Saturday evening.

Sarah and I were driving home from Richmond - in the snow - when the call came. We decided to make a detour and pick up a tree. After some discussion, we thought we could get away with an artificial tree this year; after all, we're overwhelmingly busy. Nobody was going to go out to cut a tree in this weather, although that's been a fine tradition. We called the house, told the other kids to get the stuff out of the attic and get ready - that we were getting an artificial tree on the way home.

Shannon was adamant. "This is just WRONG!" she exclaimed.

Then I called Tony to fill him in on our plans. "NO WAY!" he exclaimed.

We had two very virulent protesters of our plan - not the decorating, but the artificial part.

So, we relented. By the time we got home, Tony had a real tree in the house and we had the makings of a good dinner in hand. We spent a few hours getting the decorations up. Harry Connick sang us through, with both his recent Christmas records. Syd put the star on the tree. A good time was had by all.

Traditions are so powerful. They bind us to who we were, and give us insight into who we are yet to be. Last night was special, and provided another opportunity for buckets of grace-filled memories.

And the Christmas spirit? It landed hard all around us, as Sarah and I walked through the drizzling snow in the Lowe's parking lot, singing "Winter Wonderland".

It's here.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

This was the interesting nativity scene this year; Joseph's head turned up in a box. It was, honestly, a relief, as this was the scene two years ago:

I guess we'll never know what really happened...