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.