Friday, December 23, 2011

You Can Be A Winner!!!!

Two things.

Kevin's back at PCC, and boy, am I happy about that. If you heard him sing at Behold the Lamb, if you've been at Powhatan or Westchester when he's been leading worship, then you've seen his talent in action. We're doing another special tune together for tomorrow's Christmas Eve services, and rehearsal last night reminded me just how much I love working with this guy.

But there's more to Kevin than meets the eye - or the ear, in this case. He has a passionate love for God and God's people, and he's also an excellent pastor.

And darned if he isn't pretty creative, too.

He tossed this idea to me a few days ago and I was tickled pink, as they say. Now it's time to share it with you. It's a contest!

First, a 55-second teaser:

And now, the info; here's a quote from Kevin's blog:

 The Prize... Travis Wagner, of PCC's "Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God" fame ("straight A" VCU Med student; musician; singer; future Nobel Prize winner and all-around great guy)... Travis will personally play and sing for you the song "Matthew's Begats" from "Behold the Lamb of God."

This is just too fun. Go for it. Read all the details on Kevin's blog. Check out his FB page. And get on board! Do what you gotta do, which is pretty darn simple.

And by the way, I can personally attest to the fact that Travis is an all-around great guy, and the idea of him singing to you personally? Pretty darn cool.

Plus - reading the Bible? Pretty darn cool as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Processing "Behold The Lamb Of God"

We wrapped up our major Christmas production last night, our version of Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God. After a day away to process and recover (sort of - I'm still so exhausted I nodded off in small group tonight, while Dave Ramsey was yelling about negotiating a better deal...), I remain firmly convinced that this was and will be one of the highlights of my personal and professional life as a musician and as a leader.

Here's a few things I learned, on the professional side:

  • Inspiration strikes at unlikely times and often presents itself as an utterly ridiculous idea. Our executive pastor, Dennis Green, reminded me last night that after we heard Andrew Peterson and company do Behold the Lamb last year in Richmond, he had leaned over and asked me if we could do something like that at PCC. I had laughed and pretty much told him he was nuts. But the seed was planted, and it slowly sprouted...
  • It helps to give things away. I think, for the first real time, I learned the value of delegation. It was hard, at times, having to say, "I don't know" to a myriad of questions. But everything was so much better because other people lived into their strengths. Christine Peyton created a dramatic element with the children, the manger, Mary and Joseph that reflected her understanding of the story. It was beautiful. Walter Felton eat, slept and breathed this music for months, and cast visions of dedicated excellence to the other musicians that was impossible to deny. He led, spiritually and musically, in a way that allowed others to grow and prosper.
  • Moving our big event to the weekend prior to Christmas, rather than Christmas Eve, was a very good decision.  Less stress, more availability, better results. 
  • You can mix serious ballet and acoustic music in a church with incredible results.
Personally, I learned a few things as well. 
  • It's very cool to play limited amounts of notes. The less I played, the more I heard and felt the music. I had to adapt my style and it was harder than I expected - but it made for much better music.
  • Certain songs humble you. I had the privilege of delivering the message of Labor of Love, and each time I sang it, I became less. I was no match for the beauty of the song. Certain works have had that impact on me; a Bach invention, the second movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata...but rare is the contemporary song in a contemporary church that has the same weight.
  • Art - good music, inspired dancing - is sufficient unto itself. It stands alone. However, in our setting, art inspired and infused with spirit - the spirit of God, invoked in our preparation and even in the creation of the music a decade ago - is a completely different, living matter. Behold the Lamb was entertaining, inspiring, beautiful - a good way to invest an hour for anyone. But beyond that, lives were changed. Lives were changed because of the experience created by the fusion of music and movement. Internally and externally, some people were irrevocably changed. That is a remarkable thing, an unexpected miracle, a great privilege. 
It wasn't a perfect performance. Notes were dropped, lines were skipped, technical gremlins ran loose. But we inhabited the music, whether we ran tech, sang, played, danced or acted. It was an act of grace, a song of praise.

And Someone inhabited that. And thus arrived the Christmas Spirit.

I would love to read your comments in the space below, if you were impacted in any way by "Behold the Lamb". It helps us in our evaluation and gives us valuable perspective. Plus, if you liked it, it's just cool to share the love. :-)

Dancers from Stavna Ballet. They. Were. Amazing.

Travis in rehearsal. He's an amazing musician. He's also my daughter's significant other. Epic win.

Walter, speaking. I didn't plan on him playing this role...until I heard him recite the entire introduction. He was prepared....

Matthew, as the dancers entered...preparing for beauty.

John, absolutely brilliant on cello. The final note on "Deliver Us" resonated through my soul.


More Matthew. We love Matthew.

One of my favorite photos; see the intensity?

Surprise. More Matthew. Did I mention that we love this guy?


Carlisle, who played beautifully with his daughter Paige on "O Come O Come".

Yeah...there he is again...

The end of "Deliver Us", with Andy voicing the part of God.

We were so proud of Paige! Great trio.

Father and daughter - magic.

I imagine that Paige will never forget her performance. It's a privilege to know that we will be part of her musical memories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

They Can't Take That Away From Me

I have a reputation for being something of a Scrooge at Christmastime. It comes with the territory, sort of; in my line of work, Christmas is so challenging. You always disappoint somebody, it seems. Church programming at Christmas is a challenge, to say the least.

And is a joy. There are exquisite moments.

But somebody's always left wanting a little something more, or something different.

So I find myself struggling, every year, to claim some part of Christmas for myself. It's difficult. Eventually, I get there; but often it is at 10PM on Christmas Eve, when the work is all done and I'm home with the kids. We light candles and sing songs and dance and open one gift and go to bed and have a grand day on December 25th.

Up until that time, it's intense, stressful and challenging.

This year is much the same; and yet...

(Two of my favorite words these days...)

And yet, there are two bright shining spots. One has been months in the making; the other, a last minute surprise, a gift of grace that warmed my heart, made me cry and brought a huge grin to my face. Simultaneously.

Painting the set
First, the planned event: Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. I've posted about it before, but it is upon us now, and I am overwhelmed with excitement. Sunday afternoon we had all the players in place, and the dancers, the percussionist, the hammered dulcimer - all connected with the parts we'd been working with for months and it was magical. I've never been so excited about Christmas music. I hope you'll come experience this with us (December 17, 6PM; December 18, 9:30, 11:15 and 6PM)

And the surprise event? I accompanied my dear friend Kevin (also singing in Behold the Lamb of God) in a Christmas concert. Kevin not only works at PCC, he also leads a terrific ministry called Encore, focusing on folks who live in places like Chesterfield Heights, a local retirement community. Tonight he was the singing pastor, and we covered not only holiday standards like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Let It Snow", but also a few traditional holiday carols and a couple of standards, just for fun ("They Can't Take That Away From Me",  "Stardust", etc.) Kevin is a huge fan of Sinatra and that era, and I'm a huge fan of Kevin and any jazz standards.
Kevin at Behold the Lamb rehearsal

It was a wonderful evening, with an opportunity to play some beautiful music on a nice digital piano. But what struck me was the spirit in the room. Folks gathered to simply be in the moment, and the music not only created a special moment, it also struck chords of nostalgia and memories that were almost palpable in the room. As Kevin sang "The Days of Wine and Roses", you could feel the room change, as if folks were piecing together memories of times gone by and changing the atmosphere as they did so, slipping in and out of the present and the past as easily as I shifted chords on the keyboard.

Music is so powerful. I felt so blessed and honored tonight, to use the gift I've been given to bring an hour of beauty, joy and memory to some precious people. As they clasped my hands and thanked me, one by one, I noticed the record of the years on the faces I saw. Lines, creases and crevices on hands and faces that were open and kind, appreciative and, in that moment, filled with joy.

Tonight, I felt as though I did not disappoint. I brought something of value to people who expected only light entertainment, and were pleased with what they received. It was so refreshing, so precious, and so meaningful on many levels. So gracious.

The spirit of Christmas was very real to me this evening. I didn't see it coming. But I'm sure glad I was there.
A few of the folks thanking Kevin.

The dynamic duo.

Kevin and his remarkable bride Candy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Born Is The King

Here's a cool video of the closing song from this week's service at PCC. It's a fun song; see if it doesn't get in your head and make a nice little soundtrack for your Christmas season!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't Forget Where You Came From

My parents celebrated fifty years of marriage last week. To celebrate, per their request, we gathered the immediate family together in a spacious house a block from the ocean on Tybee Island, outside of Savannah. They weren’t interested in a party or a cruise or a big gift; all they wanted to do was get us all together. The entire process sparked a lot of thought and some new realizations in me. I plan to write about it here for a few days. 

We realized that their big day would coincide with Thanksgiving and my oldest son’s 16th birthday, so we were prepared to pack a lot of commemoration into a few days’ time. Normally this sort of planning freaks me out; makes me nervous. Interesting, because my job involves planning, and a lot of it. I work in creative arts at my church, and there’s no escaping that every-seven-days deadline. I thrive on the adrenaline in that environment. But our family stuff tends to paralyze me; I defer to my mom, who is the champion in the kitchen when it comes to organizing and getting things done. Or I lean on my sister-in-law, who is more gifted in administration than anybody I know. For our annual summer gatherings, I’m usually just a worker bee, once I manage to get my entire crew there in one piece.

But this year I felt the burden of doing something extra. My brother sealed the deal in a phone conversation prior to the big day, when he remarked, “You do this kind of thing all the time. You’re good at this. Make it happen.”

As per my usual mode of operations, I thought and contemplated and considered until I had very little time left for action. The weekend before we were to leave, I made my way to Mom and Dad’s house and quite UN-surreptitiously collected handfuls of photographs. I snuck around the community and found friends from their church to pre-record good wishes via video.

And then I set aside an entire day to put it together. And what a day it was.

I was taken completely by surprise. The emotional wallop packed into looking at fifty years of my family’s life was overwhelming, to say the least. During the twelve hours I worked on this project, I found myself incapacitated on at least five occasions - caught up in emotions I could barely identify, much less express. I just cried. And cried. I sobbed like I haven’t in years.

It struck me that I was seeing, for perhaps the first time, some things that I had been too busy to ever notice before. Maybe in my entire life. And these were important things. Not just random memories of events and parties and bad outfits and haircuts.

In the gathering of photographic documentation of life; separating the images into seasons and eras and looking - really looking - at the people in the pictures, some things came sharply into focus for me.

Most people, if they're honest, look at their history in regards to  themselves. How many of us, when we look at a photograph, quickly scan it to find our own image first? We identify ourself, assure ourself of our presence, and in that context we remember the event, categorize it, assign it some importance. I do that.

But this time, I didn’t. In every photo I scanned, I was looking for a man and a woman - my parents, either separately or together - in an attempt to stitch together a story. I looked into their eyes, paid attention to what they were wearing. Tried to read the expression in their eyes. The others in the photos - even myself - were of no consequence. Even in the most horrid picture, the one that defines bad fashion taste and a horrid haircut - rather than focus on how awful I appeared, I looked at Mom and Dad. And they looked good. (Me, not so much.)

I saw the lives of these two people as they came together in a little Presbyterian church in November of 1961, and I saw hope and excitement and anticipation in their eyes. I have seen those pictures hundreds of time; but I never saw my father’s boyish joy before. I had never noticed the calm, radiant beauty in my mother’s eyes. In looking at them as they were before I ever existed, I learned something about them and about myself. I paid attention and thought about what I was seeing.

There is something incredibly freeing about identifying a man and a woman as independent people - a couple made up of two individuals - apart and aside from their role as your parents. The act of gathering information to tell the story of their lives as a way to honor them became a step towards maturity and growing up that I didn’t even realize I needed to take. My paradigm shifted, ever so slightly.

In the past two decades as I have raised my kids, my focus has most often been on them and their needs. I have seen my parents function primarily in their role as grandparents, in a way that has positively impacted and informed the character of my children. I have rarely lifted my eyes off of my own little world to see the larger world my parents’ inhabited.

I have been accused of being selfish, undoubtedly with just cause. But now I see. I have looked up, and back, and I have seen. And here I am again, in the middle of my life, growing up a little more. No one’s more surprised than I. And I have a richer, deeper love and appreciation for my parents than I ever had before. It goes beyond the fun we had this week as we celebrated. I carry something with me now that is markedly different. And it’s not only my perspective of their lives; it is how I see myself.

I am the daughter of Clyde and Peggy Case. I’ve got good genes and a strong example set before me. I had a fine upbringing; I am of good stock. I was raised right. 

We recalled this week how my grandfather - my dad’s father, Jim Case - once overheard me complaining about the small town in which I grew up; the town where he still lived and farmed. We were visiting our hometown, driving down Liberty Street, and I bemoaned the lack of stores and Things To Do, as compared to the wall-to-wall suburbia we knew as home in Dallas. Pop turned around to glare at me in the back seat. He pointed a finger at me and said, “Girl, don’t you ever forget where you came from.” 

I know a lot more about that now. I am grateful for my mother and father, the grandparents of my children, two people who lived well and stuck to their promise to stay together. My daughter Sarah wrote a song for them that she sang this week:
“The words of a Marine / the strength of a seamstress’ seam  
I was taught to love and taught to fight / I carry you with me in the bloodline”
I guess in the end, I am a bit selfish. It all comes back to me, and how I am living my life, what I am learning, who I am. But I suppose that is parenting at its best; they never stop teaching me things. And then I turn around and try to do the same for my own kids.

And so it goes. Down the bloodline.

Next: The Need To Grieve

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Weekend Full Of Gratitude

What an incredible few days we have had.

Eric, David and Dad
We - my immediate family, along with my uncle Dave and Shannon's boyfriend Travis - met to celebrate three things that fell essentially at the same time this year: 1) Thanksgiving, 2) my son's 16th birthday and 3) my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Two of these things are important milestones. The third is by far my favorite holiday. So it's been a huge win and a lot of fun.

We spent the first evening reconnecting; my brother and his family meet up with my crew and Mom and Dad every year for our summer vacation. We just saw each other in August, but a lot has happened in those few short months. After a quick and easy - and delicious - meal of our traditional rice bowls, we watched a video that looked back at our parents' lives. It was profound and moving and led to a few tears. Mom kept commenting on every photo that came up. Dad kept crying. After it was over, we had over an hour of great conversation; memories, things that mattered, why we valued one another and what it meant to be a family.

Sarah, Syd and Shannon in costume for the Talent Show
Thursday, we ate. It was delicious and wonderful. That night we had our annual Talent Show; we prepare for this every year during the summer, so this one was a bonus. We laughed so hard we cried. And then, we spontaneously just started singing songs.

I can't help but think that we are uniquely blessed. And I am deeply grateful.

The remainder of the time has included long walks, games, reading (I finished two books) and great conversation. It's been a respite; we were so busy leading up to this week that I didn't realize how good it would feel to unplug and relax for a while.

After we get home, I'll likely write another post with more photos. But for today, as we wind down the weekend and head to our respective homes, I am thankful for the people in my family who go out of their way to let one another know that we matter. It has formed who I am. It is forming my kids and the ripple effects are positive.

Going to bed a grateful girl tonight.

Eric and Tony in a serious conversation. Over ice cream.

Eric and David, rocking the v-necks.

Travis, Shannon and Tony

Tony and I; for the Talent Show, we did a bizarre version of Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You"; a vocal duet with banjo. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Three Wives And Twenty-four Kids

It is Friday night, and I am home alone. So I am watching 20/20 and waiting for the clothes to dry.

I know, I know. You are insanely jealous of my chic, adventurous lifestyle. I just can't help myself.

So anyway, 20/20 is doing this story - quite seriously - about a man in Utah (duh) who has three wives and 24 children. He courted and married two of them simultaneously Ten years later, another woman caught his eye. She was the twin sister of one of the first two wives. Made perfect sense for him to marry her, too.

So now he has three wives and all these kids and they're going public, fully aware that they could be investigated and/or arrested. Because - well, you know - having more than one wife is sort of weird. Not to mention illegal.

A huge part of the story (at least according to Soledad O'Brien's questions) is how the man manages his lifestyle; he rotates to a different bedroom every night. Questions about his stamina and jokes about one wife finding his underwear in another wife's sheets are asked in all seriousness, and with a wholesome, gentle, holy look, everybody talks about the necessity of dealing with jealousy and trusting that this is all good for their family.

And then they interview one of the oldest kids - a young woman who has recently married. She is beaming, obviously ecstatic - beautiful in her wedding dress. She talks about how much she loves her husband, and how the thought of sharing him in the future is almost unbearable.

"But", she says, "God changes our hearts sometimes. And when he does, we have to trust that he knows best. And that we'll change, too."

And my first thought was this: When a man begins to lust for another woman and justifies taking her by claiming polygamy as God's command, what sort of mental gymnastics does a woman have to do to be okay with that?

Maybe it's the ultimate in submission. Maybe it's a sacrifice you make for a unique sisterhood and a large family. Maybe it's a relief to share all those marital and household duties.

But I just can't help but think that it really, really sucks to be that girl. And that having sex with three (or more) different women and calling it God's will is not quite right.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Beyond Any Egg You May Have Scrambled

From the morning prayer in my Book of Common Prayer today:

A passage from Forgotten Among the Lilies by Ronald Rolheiser: " If the Catholicism that I was raised in had a fault, and it did, it was precisely that it did not allow for mistakes. It demanded that you get it right the first time. There was supposed to be no need for a second chance. If you made a mistake, you lived with it and, like the rich young man, were doomed to be sad, at least for the rest of your life. A serious mistake was a permanent stigmatization, a mark that you wore like Cain. I have seen that mark on all kinds of people: divorcees, ex-priests, ex-religious, people who have had abortions, married people who have had affairs, people who have had children outside of marriage, parents who have made serious mistakes with their children, and countless others who have made serious mistakes. There is too little around to help them.  
We need a theology of brokenness. We need a theology which teaches us that even though we cannot unscramble an egg, God's grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence far beyond any egg we may have scrambled.  
We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, he opens another one for us."

It's not about Catholicism; not at all. There are many cultural and social structures that don't allow for mistakes.

It's about this tremendous need for grace. Over and over, I am reminded of our desperate need for it. And yet it's so hard to give, sometimes. And it's sometimes even harder to accept.

This, today, reminds me of my calling. Reminds me of who I am.

Had a theology of brokenness not been overwhelmingly and undeniably offered to me, I could not stand. And not in the easy pie-in-the-sky, "Jesus has always loved me!" sort of way. Not in the stick-your-head-in-the-sand and coast on a simple humanistic peace-and-love-for-all philosophy. But in this: that I have screwed up, time and time again. I have made mistakes, big and small. I have pushed against commandments, Biblical and moral - and pushed hard enough to break them. In ancient history (my own) and more recent (like me, last week), I have said and done things that have hurt people. I have scrambled enough eggs, my own and others',  to feed the nations.

And in this: I am offered another chance. Not only by flesh and blood people who tenderly, tearfully offer grace and forgiveness - but by the one who is holy, righteous, massively unfathomable - beyond any understanding I might have. As far as the universe is, there is grace.

That is the violently insistent heartbeat of my faith: There is grace.

Renewed innocence.


In the tripping and falling that we all claim as part of our climbing through life, a theology of brokenness lived out for ourselves and for those around us - well, that could change the world.

And there's enough of it, for us and the whole human race.

Go show somebody some grace today. 

Show yourself.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Dreaming Of La Romana

Ampiteatro at Altos de Chavon
Last week I bemoaned (on Facebook) the fact that I never seemed to have a day with absolutely nothing on the schedule.

Finally got one.

Big smile.

I have a million things to do around here; laundry is piled higher than usual. The kitchen is cluttered. I went grocery shopping last night but we literally have no place to put the groceries, so I need to go get creative. The porch needs to be cleaned. There is much to do...

But no appointments. No lessons. Wide, open space.

So: I have John Gorka radio on Pandora, which is better than I ever expected. Tiny, four-minute gems, one after the other. Gorka, then James Taylor, Neil Young, Johnsmith....and some names I've never heard before. There is space today for their songs to fill up this house.

I have coffee, hot. Sarah made it. Everything's better when somebody else makes it.

I have the residue of a long, detailed dream that occupied the early morning hours. I was back in the Dominican Republic, driving from Santo Domingo to La Romana. I was me, now - mother of five, my age today. The road had changed - new things, like a big baseball stadium and new construction. But all the people I encountered were as they had been over 20 years ago. The people hadn't changed. My kids all had friends there, and they wanted to stay, scattered all over the path we were driving. In my dream, I was talking with Karla Sanchez, with whom I haven't been in contact for 20-plus years. It was so very real, and I was so there.

Since I woke up, I have been wondering: "Where did THAT come from?" After the coffee kicked in, I started tracing the lines back to the source. And here's what I discovered:
  • Glee this week featured West Side Story. When I lived in the DR, we staged a production of WSS in the Altos de Chavon Ampiteatro. Karla played Anita; she was amazing.
  • Our church is planning a mission trip this year to Puerto Rico. I have always wanted to return to the Caribbean. I initially jumped at the chance to go along as a chaperone. But I'm hesitating now; what I really want to do is go back to the DR. And PR is not DR. The decision is pressing upon me; I have to figure this out.
Not sure what else is churning in there. I'm fascinated by the creative ways my brain processes its contents.

And I think I'm going to start saving up for a trip to the island of Hispaniola.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Planning Nothing

I don't know if it's the age - pushing 50, people, and how did THAT happen? - or the season or a combination of both, but I've been intentional about building a lot of margin into my schedule for the past few weeks. Rather than plan meeting after meeting after meeting and pile things onto my plate, I've built a lot of vague and general hours into the work week.

Our staff sends out our schedules to one another at the beginning of the week. It helps us pray for each other, gives us a sense of what's going on around us and helps us know how to find one another and what to expect. For the past two weeks, I've had several blocks of time that simply say, "working from home".

When I plan this time, in the back of my mind I'm thinking, "Maybe I can multi-task while I'm writing charts. I can have a load of laundry in while I reply to emails. I can make phone calls to musicians while I make the bed." Because there is such a limited amount of time in my day; I have so many things to juggle, it seems.

So planning to get a lot done seems prudent.

But here's the truth: the laundry is undone, the dishes stay in the sink and life goes on as usual at our house (meaning we all chip in and nothing's perfect, but it gets done). And what happens with those vague, unplanned "working-from-home" hours is this: I have time to take a phone call from someone in crisis. And then I have time to go meet them for coffee. I connect with a musician who has gotten stuck in his spiritual life, who needs a little encouragement and truth-telling. I discover some awesome new music that will be a great fit for our Christmas services. I answer the phone instead of letting it go to voice mail.

And in my heart, I have compassion for people. I have time to care. 

Being that I am called to care, led into ministry as a vocation, this is a rather important thing.

So here it is: it really feels weird to build specific time into my work week in which I plan to do nothing. And yet it has proven to be the most effective and meaningful time of my work week. And probably the most productive.

Go figure.

Monday, October 31, 2011

An Open Letter To Andrew Peterson

Dear Andrew (forgive me for the informal greeting, as we've never properly met - but how can I not feel like I know you well enough to call you Andrew, after soaking in your words and melodies for so many hours? Plus there was that one time I saw you in person in Richmond. So that counts for something....)

I'm working from home this morning. The first part of the day was a long phone conversation with a musician friend who is working with me to lead our Christmas production this year. We spent an hour working through the specifics of instrumentation for all the songs we're doing the weekend prior to Christmas - what will, for us, be the Christmas event for our church. Usually we do something big on Christmas Eve, but this year we're doing what my pastor affectionately refers to as a "cantata" (in our contemporary church, that's one of those words that makes you gag. Just a little.) And I guess it is a cantata, sort of. But not.

Behold The Lamb of God is a collection of some of the most amazing music I've heard. I like it, for sure; but what I have discovered is that repeated listenings reveal layers and layers of stuff. Musical stuff. Lyrical stuff. Theological stuff. It never gets old. And in my line of work - leading creative arts at a contemporary church - I'm sad to confess that this is a rare thing. Too often, the awesome closing worship song of last week is forgotten in the next. Because, frankly, it is forgettable.

But not this stuff.

Yesterday at rehearsal we ran through "It Came To Pass" for the first time. The upright bass and the banjo were brilliant, and as it echoed in the room, I beamed. It was rough, for sure - it was the first time. But to hear such art come to life under your own hands, after it has become ingrained in your may be a bit of a stretch, but for me it's the same joy that comes while I play a Beethoven sonata or a Bach invention. To recreate music that has endured; this is art. And it is the highest calling we can claim, as musicians. To create - or bring new life through recreation - art.

Anyway, I am rambling. Forgive me. The point is this: as I continue my work, I realize that without thinking, an Andrew Peterson playlist is moving me through midday. "The Silence of God" begins, and I remember the very first Blue Christmas service we did, in an effort to give voice to the grief and sorrow that too often colors the holiday season. I remember how devastating that lyric proved to be - and yet how it offered such hope. And I remember the harpist in that service, and the candles, and the couple who clung to one another because their child had died four weeks prior, and the echo of hope. 

The aching may remain / but the breaking does not...

And then came "Dancing In the Minefields", and I remember stumbling upon that video and sending it to my friends, who were clinging to one another in a dark and difficult season of their lives. I remember that they watched it, together, and that they cried. And I know today that they are stronger.

And I remember, too, when we used that same video in a church service about marriage. And I remember the wild, viral fire on Facebook the week after, when people were posting the video and the song lyrics and drawing the hope and honesty of that song into their hearts. And into their marriages. And telling everybody who would listen. And how some friends now still use the phrase, "we're dancing in the minefields" as part of their adopted language of hope and faith in their marriage.

I remember seeing you and your friends in Richmond last year. Jim and Judy had told me, year after year, that I needed to see Behold the Lamb. Finally, we did; in fact, our entire church staff went last year as our Christmas party together. I remember the utter awe, the glory of God, the thrill of creation and the beauty of the music that you played, fresh, like it was the first time. Which it obviously was not. And yet it is, recreated again and again for the glory of God, fresh and new and alive. And we, the audience, were part of something remarkable. Sort of what I imagine heaven might be.

And now, we prepare more of what has flown from your heart and mind and the strings of your guitar. We are about to immerse our community in the grace of God enfolded in the story you have told through this music and these lyrics. We will paint the back of the stage wall swirling blue, with tiny stars to echo the album cover. We will watch as a musician who has been starved for community, whose instrument has been silent for two years, plays. He has fallen in love with this music, and with the joy of recreating it. And he has fallen back in love with his God. I can hear it as he plays.

We have battled the challenging rhythms of "So Long Moses" and made them our own.

We soak in the sparse beauty of "Labor of Love".

We memorized ALL of the begats! (Well, one of us did....)

This music has inspired and motivated us. We are creating something wonderful for our community to enjoy. But something has been created in us as well. Some awareness of the unique calling upon us and the ever-present, unending grace of the brave little boy who is  our Savior.

And so, Andrew - my friend I've never met, but whose heart I feel I know through his art - thank you for letting your song sing. Thank you for all the work you have done to bring light to this world. Thank you for setting your creations free. Thank you for what you've given to us because you responded to what must have been a very demanding calling at times.

Thank you for the times when even travelers get lost and the aching that remains and the minefields and the when I lose my way, find me and the gather round and the begats and the labor and the gathering and passover us and the hallelujahs. You've made a difference in our world here. And we're grateful. Your songs sing in our community and they have changed our lives.

Blessings to you,


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Five Foods

A bit late on the writing prompt, as I have had a tumultuous week. But here we go, with Five Foods.

The first time I fried chicken, I was fifteen years old. Mom had gone back to work in preparation for my college tuition (which she didn't have to pay, since I ended up scoring a scholarship - but Mom and Dad paid for years and years and years of piano lessons, so in the end, they did pay for my education...) and I was given a few assignments to help get dinner ready. This was a new thing, cooking for my family. I was selfish and inexperienced. But I tried. I followed the directions: floured the chicken, shook it up in a paper grocery bag (to this day, that's the way you should do it, I think), heated the oil in the cast iron skillet and put the chicken in to cook. When it turned brown - like it looked when I saw it on the table - I figured it was done. I took it out, set the table and waited for my parents to get home. When my dad bit into his first piece of chicken, it pretty much gushed blood. Turns out my powers of visual assessment weren't quite developed yet. I learned that it takes a good long while to fry chicken. And that those visual assessment powers come after you have kids and cook a thousand meals.

And by the way, I still prefer my mom's fried chicken over all others. When she makes it.

One of my favorite meals that I make myself is homemade chicken soup. It's all natural, very few spices - just lots of fresh carrots, celery and onions. Boil an entire chicken. Throw in a lot of garlic and some kosher salt. Add pepper. Cook everything down; add extra wide egg noodles. Watch the end cook time carefully; turn off the heat right before the noodles are done. It's real food. It's good for you. It marks my virtue as a real mom. I make chicken soup, and it's healing powers are real.

Our family vacations together every year - my brother, his wife and two kids, my parents and our crew. The first year that my sister-in-law was a vegetarian, she brought a recipe for rice bowls. Very similar to Chipotle's burrito bowl, but fresher, better for you, and sans meat (although somebody usually cooks up some chicken to toss in). I love food you assemble yourself when you have a bunch of people together. This is a standard vacation food for us now; we never get together without having rice bowls. It means family to me. If you come to my house and we make rice bowls, you know I love you.

Meatloaf at The County Seat restaurant in my little town. They only make it on Wednesdays. It's really, really good. It reminds me of the meatloaf I used to eat at Neely's Home Cooking in Tolar, Texas. That was a million years ago - before I had kids, when I was a 20-something teacher who thought she knew everything. I wish I could go back and tell that girl a few things.

Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream from Haagen Dazs. Because it's my husband's favorite ice cream. I love to make him happy. Ice cream - especially this kind - is always a sure bet.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Greasy Muffins

Hello, day off. It's so nice to see you again.

I am spending the afternoon in the kitchen, baking.

Don't get excited. It's all from a box, and it's all quick and easy. And lest you have some rosy image of a domestic divvy surrounded by baking supplies in a beautiful kitchen, let me share this fact: NO ONE HAS DONE THE DISHES SINCE WEDNESDAY.

We do not have a dishwasher.

Six people live here.

Do the math and maybe a little physics and you can just imagine the height, depth breadth and width of the dishes piled in the sink. And the mass.

So, before I can start "baking" - which is a euphemism for "opening the box, adding eggs/oil/water/, mix, lick spoon, add to baking pan, scoop out a little more for "tasting" - before the "baking" begins, the washing of the dishes must take place.

Being known for my remarkable ability to multi-task, I tried washing dishes and mixing the first batch of muffins simultaneously. As I poured the mixture into the pan, I marveled at its interesting yellow color and viscosity.

What I mean to say is this: the muffins looked really weird.

Lest I rush into an area impulsively without considering the cost (which I am wont to do), I took another look at the recipe.

In a squinty fashion, I did look. For lo, in the fourth decade of life, one doth require the squint in order to see the recipes on the back of the boxes.

And I took a nostalgic tour down the five minutes of dishwashing/recipe mixing.

Here is what I discovered: If you get the amount of oil (1/4 cup) and water (3/4 cup) backwards, you get some really interesting muffins. Oilicious.


Moral of the story? One thing at a time, children. Do one thing at at time, and do it well. And that is the secret of life.

On to round two. Which means box number two of delicious Betty Crocker goodness.

In other news, I picked Coldplay as a soundtrack for this beautiful, windows-open October afternoon. But Coldplay - particularly Viva La Vida - is not autumn afternoon music.

So I opened Pandora and picked a John Denver playlist. Oh, yes I did.

And so far we've had "Back Home Again" and "Danny's Song" (like, maybe the greatest Loggins and Messina song EVER) and "The Boxer". Simon and Garfunkel. Is there anything better?

Hello, perfect soundtrack. And well-balanced muffins.

Have a nice day. And tell me - which do you prefer? "Danny's Song" (Even though we ain't got money/I'm still in love with you honey/And everything will bring a chain of lo-o-o-ove) or "House at Pooh Corner"?

By the way, I am doing all this baking stuff as part of opening night for Pocahontas. Sydni Brawley's in this CYT show, and it - like all CYT shows - is really, really terrific. You should go. Get tickets here. And choose Syd's name from the drop-down and give the girl some ticket credit love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Tips

There is so much content available on the internet. It is a blessing and a curse; I have been moved and enlightened, and I have also wasted too many minutes of my life on meaningless drivel.

But there's some great stuff out there. Today, on a gorgeous October morning, I decided to share the love, y'all. I'm giving up my secret sauce recipe.

Avoiding the meaningless drivel, I'm going to give you some Tuesday Tips on where to find the good stuff. At least what's on my radar. Following are three sites on my daily reading list.

Fueled By Diet Coke - this is Lindsay Durrenburger's blog. She's passionate about body image, about girls growing up healthy and strong, about her marriage - actually, Lindsay's passionate about everything. Her take on life in this season is always encouraging and edifying - and often surprising. She's on my daily list. She makes me think. She makes me laugh, too.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda - Mir writes about writing, about life and about motherhood - specifically, the challenges of parenting a daughter in the throes of adolescence and a son seeing life through Asperger eyes. And her husband, Otto. And her dog, Licorice.  She is an incredibly funny writer. I never miss a post.

PostSecret - You probably know about this movement. Once a week, the Post Secret blog is full of secrets scrawled on postcards, sent in from around the world. It is sometimes raw and unfiltered - i.e. not appropriate for work. It is always compelling. The world is full of people carrying heavy burdens, distracted and distraught by hidden pain. Secrets bind anxiety, and these posts offer a release of a good deal of stress - and insight into the world in which we live. In my line of work, it helps to remember.

That's it. Have a blast!

Monday, October 17, 2011


My friend Angie has been posting a list of things for which she is grateful. Spurred on by a thought from my friend Lindsay, she is "hammering nails": replacing discontent with gratitude.

It is a good idea. I read Angie's posts - she is now up to #55 - and I am reminded of the things for which I am grateful. I shall make a short list of my own.

1. A home full of windows, raised tonight to let in the unique coolness of October.
2. Kids that wash the dishes with no complaints (David).
3. Kids that make blueberry struessel muffins (Sydni).
4. Sisters that love their sisters (Sydni. Sarah. Shannon.)
5. Kids that wrap their arms around their mom, say, "I love you" and mean it (Daniel).
6. Kids that love Jesus (all of them).
7. A husband who tells me to take a nap.
8. A husband who says, "I'm sorry" - to me and to the kids - and means it.
9. A job that allows time for ridiculosity, including making up words like 'ridiculosity'. And singing Elton John songs at the top of my lungs.
10. My friends Walter and Sally, who are kind and real.
11. Heated seats in my car. It is an indulgence, for sure.
12. A piano in my house.
13. A dryer and a washing machine that work.
14. A down comforter.
15. A wise and gifted brother.
16. Crickets at night.
17. My electric toothbrush.
18. Zyrtec.
19. Facebook. Really.
20. Coffee. Daily. Really.

Are you grateful? What's one thing? Or two, or even three?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Six Places

Write, Eat, Post, Bathe prompt time again. Six places.

That's all the direction we got.

Me, standing at the bus stop of my elementary years in Franklin.
1. Franklin, Pennsylvania. I was born there and spent 13 formative years, five of which I lived "in town" until we became country folk and claimed five acres next to my aunt and uncle and grandparents. I always wanted to be a town kid. I loved the idea of walking to the grocery store, to school, to the library (o, the library: my favorite place in that town!) But I dearly loved running down the short hill to my grandmother's house.

2. Grand Prairie, Texas. Along came the bicentennial celebrations and our big move to a suburban lifestyle and a huge school system. The houses were close together. The summers were brutal. The culture was diverse. My dad acted like he'd been born a Texas; it suited him. I thrived there but it never felt like home. My bones ached for a northern country.

3. Lubbock, Texas. Go Red Raiders and thank God for third place in the Eva Browning Piano competition and a full ride to a music ed degree. I stretched my legs a good bit in Lubbock and grew some decent musical chops. I carried a good bit of regret home with me when I left, but I learned a lot along the way.

4. La Romana, Dominican Republic. Three years, the Abraham Lincoln School, Casa de Campo and a new appreciation of humanity. I fell down and I grew up in the DR. When I came home, I was a new Christ-follower; albeit one who still carried a fairly heavy bucket of crap.

5. Tolar, Hico, Joshua and Fort Worth; central Texas rugged life. All five of my kids were born in this era. Baptist blood was infused into my lifeline in these years, a particular sort of Southwestern Baptist theology that can be appealing and convincing, but one in which I too often fell painfully short of understanding and appreciation. These were the days of big hair, cotton jumpers and t-shirts I painted myself to sell at craft shows. Oh, yes, I did.

6. Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Home; I felt as though I finally made it home. Ohio sang to me, and after a two hour drive my bare feet could slip through the grass in a game of kickball at my grandmother's house - my old home -  in Western Pennsylvania. My kids' feet traced the paths of my own, three decades earlier. It snowed and spring exploded and summers were too short and the accents and cadences of Eastern European influence was music to my ears. My bucket of crap finally tipped over in Ohio, and all hell broke loose. But there was some sort of safety in the tight connection of the rocks and rivers of the northeast that did not let me go.

You would think that there has to be a seventh place in this list. These days my home is in Virginia, and all is as well as can be expected. But these first six places are ones that I have left behind. And Virginia? As of yet, my memories and my future are tethered here, in this place where my roots run deep just a few generations past. I have some soul history here; I don't know it for a fact, other than knowing my mother's home place and family just southeast of here on the North Carolina coast. But something resonates, and I know I belong. I still carry my bucket, and it still contains a measure of crap within. But it doesn't spill out so much. Grace covers; there is a wideness in God's mercy, in what is left behind and in what we still lug around. No matter where we are.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Linky List And Dangerous Posts

I've got a writing prompt to do for Write, Eat, Post, Bathe. I've got so much churning in my head regarding plans for the next few months - lots of good stuff. No time for a coherent post. Too many things swirling; time for a list.

There are links here; if they don't show up, click on over to the original post - start here.
  • I went to a training meeting tonight for small group facilitators who have signed up to be part of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Again, I am convinced: the next 90 days will be life-changing. It was a joy to sit next to people like Kelley Llewellyn and Randy Myers and Rachel Huff and consider just what is going to transpire in the weeks ahead. I'm facilitating a group on Monday nights, meeting at the church. You can sign up here; all are welcome, whether you are affiliated with PCC or not!
  • I read a very dangerous blog post today. I thought it was gutsy. What do you think?
  • I also read a very inspiring blog post today, one that made me think. Which the author most often always does. Still mulling over the challenges within.
  • I am getting an iPhone, God willing, on Friday morning. Yippee. 
  • I am being mindful of my food intake, and my clothes fit better. Yippee.
  • I am grateful for friends who speak their minds.
  • I am grateful for friends and coworkers who have gone out of their way to encouragement with words lately. My love languages are words and physical touch. I am feeling loved this week.
  • Finished Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. Heard him speak at STORY in Chicago a few weeks ago and was profoundly moved by his words. His book is staggering in moments, subtle in others. Highly recommended. Find it here; read more about Cron here.
  • We have a building permit for our home addition. Happy days. Let the fun begin.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shut Up

I could not sing this morning.  Or last night.

Out of my inability came an opportunity for others to rise up, because we have Saturday and Sunday services to lead and it takes voices to do it.

Ironically, at around 1PM I felt something slip back into gear in my throat. Sounds crazy, but it's true. And I could sing.

It was as if I was forcibly silenced for a certain period of time, and then restored.

It was humbling. I don't claim to understand it, but there it is.

Do you think such things happen? Do you think God works like that? The Bible we read and follow offers countless stories of coincidental, miraculous occurrences. People were blinded, struck mute, afflicted and cured; all for some larger purpose.

I am pondering this tonight, humbled and wondering if I ever have a clue as to what's really going on. You know what I mean? All our striving and struggling to achieve and accomplish and get things done; and yet I wonder. What if the actual purposes are completely off our radar? What if all that we think we are doing is just chicken-scratching, compared to a larger, more complex Grand Design?


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Beginning Of Community

There's a new movie out, called The Way. Directed by Emilio Estevez, starring Martin Sheen.

I read this quote regarding the genesis and meaning behind the film:

I think this story taps into something that’s clearly out there in the culture right now, but can be difficult to put into words without sounding dumb. We’re all stressed out and surrounded by electronic gizmos, we’re all facing economic hardship, and however we choose to articulate it, we’re looking for something more.  

Martin Sheen: Everything’s being ripped away. You’re losing the house, you’re losing your job, and yeah, you’re right, people are beginning to focus on what’s really important. As Americans, we’ve been told, “You can do it.” We’re told to be macho and take responsibility and conquer the world and all this. We don’t give any support to community. Community is an afterthought, but when we get in touch with our loneliness and our guilt and all of these things that are so human, we begin to realize that until you start relating to other people’s brokenness, you can’t heal your own. That’s the beginning of community, I think.

I read things like this and am reminded of the thin veil that truly separates those who pursue spirituality on either side of the walls of our churches. From the smallest, pew-lined traditional Methodist church to the robust icons of the Catholic sanctuary and everything in between - which would include our very non-traditional, "let's-play-a-song-by-Pink" church - we're all broken. We all need to relate to one another. Religion is no respecter of this very human need. Spiritual or not, we are broken, one by one, and we need healing.

We cannot simply heal ourselves. But we can inch closer to healing when somebody's holding our hand or lifting our head, or when we are doing the same for someone else.

The crisis of faith that put me on my knees - truly broken, for the first time in my hard-hearted, independent life - ripped open something in me. When I tasted the dirt of sin in my mouth, when I realized - no, admitted - just how capable I was of doing Awful, Terrible, No-Good Things - I began to heal. Redemption is not cheap, but the painful cost is worth every moment of a life lived in grace. I had to admit to the darkness in my soul.

And then turn my face upward.

You cannot wallow in your circumstance or your despair. When you recognize who you are and of what you are capable, you must take some action. No one is stuck.

No one is beyond grace.

But you must look up.

Sometimes I wonder if, in the midst of all the turmoil in our country, we might find ourselves in the most unlikely sort of revival of spirit and reconnection of all that is "so human". I wonder if, more and more, we might be willing to look around, to relate to others' brokenness.

To look up.

I am going to see this movie.

Read the complete interview here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seven Wants

Against my better judgement, I'm going to do this week's blog post prompt, chiming in with the crazy chicks from Write, Eat, Post, Bathe - my sort-of, so-called writer's group. I think we're really all just Friends With Words. We all like to write.

Anyway, this is against my better judgement because I have been home sick all day. Bad cold. Stuff head, can't breathe, lots of sneezing, watery eyes, etc. I am not alone in my suffering, such as it is; my eldest daughter has the same issues, although hers seem worse than mine. We have each claimed a spot in the living room, surrounded by used Kleenex, underneath heavy quilts, Dayquil and Mucinex tightly gripped in our fists. Hot tea occasionally and some great soup cooked and delivered by a kind and generous friend.

And we watched an entire season of Breaking Bad. I think. I stopped counting after six episodes.

So what do I want? What are my seven wants? I'm not sure that my current condition won't adversely affect my perspective, but I'll take a stab at it anyway. Keep in mind that I am medicated.

1. I want the long-awaited planned remodeling project on this house to begin. Although we are managing well with the fridge in the dining room, all six of us squeezing into a postage-stamp-sized bathroom and NOT ENOUGH COUNTER SPACE IN THE KITCHEN, I just wish we could see some progress and have some hope.

2. I want a grand piano for our church.

3. I want 2012 to see all three of my daughters happily studying at institutions of higher education.

4. I don't want to think about living in a house without my girls. Not quite ready for the emptying of the nest to that degree.

5. I want to figure out a way to reconcile the obvious paradox of what I want in #3 and #4.

6. I want to lose 20 pounds. And then 20 more.

7. I want to see Jesus.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Love The Poor And Serve The Needy

My brother always makes me think. He posted this yesterday.

Does it make you think?

"If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it."
Stephen Colbert

Saturday, October 1, 2011


My church, PCC, is stepping into some exciting territory. We are inspired enough to believe that something amazing is going to happen in our community in the next few months.

We believe that it is no accident that we have been leaning in this direction.

We believe that lives are going to change. We believe that an entire community can be changed when a few individuals step forward and intentionally choose to live a different way. We believe that small steps can lead to radical changes - for the better.

Me? I am convinced that in the next few months I'm going to experience the "surprising truth of sufficiency" in a new and meaningful way. I can't wait.

This quote from Lynne Twist encapsulates where I am. And where I hope to be.

Hope you'll come along.

"For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is "I didn't get enough sleep." The next one is "I don't have enough time." Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying that we don't have enough of. . .We don't have enough exercise. We don't have enough work. We don't have enough profits. We don't have enough power. We don't have enough wilderness. We don't have enough weekends. Of course, we don't have enough money--ever. 

We're not thin enough, we're not smart enough, we're not pretty enough or fit enough or successful enough, or rich enough--ever. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we're already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds race with a litany of what we didn't get, or didn't get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to the reverie of lack. . .What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life, or even the challenged life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life. . . 

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don't mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn't a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough. 

Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances." ---Lynne Twist

For more information, look here or contact the church at (804)598-1174.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eight Fears

The prompt from my groovy pals at Eat, Write, Post, Bathe - Eight Fears.


1. I seem to be afraid that the world is going to run out of ice cream, since I am compelled to eat ice cream more frequently than is prudent.

2. It may not qualify as a fear, but I really, really, REALLY don't like going over high bridges like the New River Gorge. or the entrance ramps from Interstate 20 to I-35 in Fort Worth. I watched those ramps being built and was completely freaked out by driving on them.

3. I'm afraid if my daughters DON'T STOP SCREAMING SO DRAMATICALLY ABOUT YOU TOOK MY ONLY JEANS WITHOUT HOLES IN THEM TO CHICAGO WITH YOU FOR TWO WEEKS that I might walk into the kitchen where they are studying for tests (Syd) and washing dishes (Sarah) and scream.

4. At some point, Frito Lay might decide to stop making Lime Tostitos. I fear this day.

5. When my kids are driving somewhere, I always fear The Other Guy.

6. I'm afraid I'll never lose this 20 pounds. See those posts about the ice cream and the Tostitos? There you go.

7. I fear cancer. I hate that I do, but I do.

8. I often have to make difficult decisions that involve people. I fear that sometimes, they don't get over it. But I am learning to let this go.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

See You At The Pole: Remembering Shawn Brown

A post from my blog archives commemorating this time last year. Tomorrow morning is "See You At The Pole". Sydni, Daniel and David will participate at their respective schools. I never completely relax on the Wednesday in September that is claimed for this event. And I will never forget.

Here is my post from 2010.

Today I dropped my kids off at the high school early. Some students and a few parents, including a local school board representative, were already gathering around the tall flagpole that stands in the center of the circular drive.

And I remembered.

September 15, 1999. The "See You At The Pole" movement had begun in Burleson, Texas, a few years earlier. As the school year began, the call went out for Christian students to meet at the flagpole on a certain Wednesday morning, taking a stand, praying for their school, their friends and teachers. "Standing up for Jesus". It had become a strong, well-attended event for Christian kids, especially in and around Fort Worth, where we lived. In the shadow of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where my kids' dad was working on his Master's Degree, events like this one received strong support from the community, the parents and the kids.

As SYATP gained momentum, pre- and post-pole gatherings became popular. In 1999, local churches planned to gather on that Wednesday evening to celebrate at Wedgwood Baptist Church with a rally, a cool Christian band and some typical Texas youth ministry fun.

Sarah was eight years old that year. Her kindergarten teacher from a previous year, Kathy Brown, was active at Wedgwood Baptist and excited to come by early to pick up Sarah and Shannon so that they could participate in SYATP at our neighborhood elementary school. This was a bit unusual, as this was an older youth event, but Kathy's husband Shawn was a Southwestern student, a youth ministry leader at Wedgwood and crazy about his wife and her students. They babysat Sarah and Shannon for us on a few occasions (David was born in June of that year, and we had a full house, with five kids aged eight and under. We needed help!)

Shawn and Kathy took the girls to pray at the flagpole that morning. I was so proud of my kids, and they were excited to be part of something that the "big kids" did.

That night, we went to church as usual. For some reason, Lonnie had elected not to participate in the regional rally at Wedgwood. He led youth ministry at Southcliff Baptist church, and he decided to keep our students there rather than take them - and his wife and kids - to Wedgwood. I dropped off the older kids and ran a quick errand, since I had no Wednesday evening responsibilities at that time.

I heard the sirens, saw the fire trucks. Saw the mass confusion on the streets all around the neighborhood. I returned to our church and quickly began to hear news reports of a shooting.

In a church.

At Wedgwood.

Shawn Brown died that night, along with six other people. Our neighbors.  Larry Gene Ashbrook went to Wedgwood with a hatred for Baptist churches and a desire to do harm, and he did so. He walked into the church and began shooting. Shawn was the first one he hit.

I remember staying up late, watching the chaos of the news reports, repeatedly calling Shawn and Kathy, trying to figure out if they were safe. Realizing, with numbing horror, that they were not.

To this day, Sarah keeps a snapshot of Shawn beside her bed. That event marked her in ways that she couldn't understand then. I'm not sure any of us understand today. It was my first brush with the pain wrought by evil and the shocking realization that church was not necessarily safe.

I was naive.

My "See You At The Pole" commemoration is not in front of a school. Today, I remember Shawn and six others who stood at their flagpoles eleven years ago, and then died at the hands of someone who hated everything they stood for.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

O Say Can You Sing

This past weekend before we sang in church, I talked about singing in church.

It's an odd thing, this notion of people singing together. If we believed in life Glee-style, every act would birth a musical moment. There would be singing and dancing and harmony and a hidden orchestra around every corner.

But unless you're creative and have a jukebox in your head (like my friend Lindsay Harris), there's probably not a lot of opportunities to sing out loud with other people. At ball games, we mumble along with the National Anthem. In a restaurant or around a cake with candles, we sing "Happy Birthday".

And then we come to church. The traditional approach to a religious gathering is that everybody sings: hymns, choruses, responses.

In church, we sing together.

But that's not necessarily true for everyone. I'm talking to people and asking questions and finding out that a whole bunch of people do not, in fact, sing in church. At all.

It's important. It's worth considering.

Here's a great quote from Chris Vacher regarding this very topic:

"Private, non-corporate elements of worship reinforce individualism and make the neighbor invisible to us. 
But corporate singing, in which you can actually hear the voices of other human beings...there's power in that." 
- Greg Thompson, from here

Makes me think about what it is people expect when they walk into church. When the music starts, are you anxious to sing? Is it as meaningful to simply watch? Do you feel the power of which Thompson speaks?

Do you sing in church?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nine Loves

Here's the latest prompt from my Eat, Write, Post, Bathe group.

Let me just say I love these people in this group. But that's not one of my responses to the prompt.

Here we go:

1. Mitchells Ice Cream. Honestly, I love ice cream. And I particularly love ice cream because my husband loves ice cream, even more than I do. And so we share this thing, which makes it even better. Mitchells is the best ice cream I have ever eaten. We have some intense debates about whether or not Blue Bell could take Mitchell's in a taste test, but because we can only get our hands on "the best ice cream in the country" by dining at Carrabbas (which sort of irritates me), I vote Mitchells. It makes me swoon. It is delicious. And I've had a few very special moments over a carton of Mitchells. And there was that time that Tony brought down about ten cartons of Mitchells on dry ice, because you can only get the stuff in Cleveland. How can you not love that?

2. The beach. Particularly Emerald Isle, North Carolina. It is steady, constant, consistent and the place where I have walked and walked and walked and asked questions - and received answers.

3. Jesus. It's not a religious thing, but an overwhelming appreciation for who he was, what he did, what he stood for and how he loved people. I do believe he was who he said he was, so there's all this savior/son of God aspect in that as well. But simply put, aside from religion and church and (for me) my job, I love Jesus.

(please note that these are not ranked in order of importance or preference. i do not love ice cream more than Jesus. this is a list, not in any particular order.)

4. My children, together. I love them individually; they are unique and wonderful people. I am often awestruck that I am their mother. But together, they create an incredible force. Like a comedy troupe with great timing, they react and play off of one another. There is a solid love and understanding amongst them that I hope will last throughout their lifetimes.

5. The Cleveland Plain Dealer; The Dallas Morning News; The Fort Worth Star Telegram; The Pittsburgh Press; The Richmond Times-Dispatch. One of my best memories is Sunday afternoons, post-church, when we'd come home to Mom cooking something for dinner, a Steelers game on tv and The Paper. I'd read and nap on the floor. To this day, I treasure getting the paper and finding an uninterrupted hour to read it. It doesn't always happen on Sunday, but the same principles apply on Monday. Or Tuesday.

6. Running. I do love it. I just don't do it much. I'm back on track and hoping to get back into a rhythm. And hoping my body will hold up.

7. Sleep. This seems sort of ridiculous, but there is a deep beauty in true rest. Sleep is underrated. I love waking up from a good sleep and realizing that I can stay a little longer. I love to sleep.

8. Beethoven. And Chopin. And Bach. Forgive me for lumping them together, but there is something so solid in returning to familiar notes and phrases that have endured the passing years and changing styles of music. I am challenged and comforted by the music of these composers. I go here, when I have time, and I play for me. I love that I can do this. (Thank you, Mom, for the lessons...)

9. My husband. Again, again and again. I love my husband.

(I also love The Jefferson Hotel, my brother Eric, my Uncle Dave and my car. I love my mother-in-law's piano and the comfy chair we bought from Ty & Co. I love Chic Fil A and Starbucks skinny vanilla lattes. I love pedicures. I love massages. I love cherry Jolly Ranchers. I love Tuesdays at my job.)

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. But it's a start.

What are yours?