Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Time That I Have Left, It's All I Have Of Worth

Beautiful art installation at the chuch
It snowed again last night, and more fell lightly this morning as I walked through the parking lot towards this church that was once home, once my workplace; this refuge, this place of grace and grace and grace upon grace.

I saw a few people I knew; warm hugs and greetings and quick family updates, although in this day and age of Facebook status updates, most of us know the bare minimum about one another's lives. It's easy to reconnect.

I found a seat close to the front - second row, because I am easily distracted, and I do not want to be - and the service began.

You make all things work together for my good

Of course, You do.

And as I sang, my heart whispered 'and for Your glory' at the end of every line.

The worship pastor is an excellent musician on several instruments, but he sat at the piano today. He played and my soul felt it's worth, truly; I was drawn towards a place of expectant submission in worship. From the seats, with no agenda, no plan, no idea of the music, I was ready to be led, and my ears focused on his fingers on the keys and I was there. I trusted what he played, how he played, how he didn't play, the spaces in between, and everything I am - musician, worshiper - converged and I was not distracted and I was in the presence of God.

I heard a powerful message; four points, emphasis on an awareness of sin and brokenness as a propelling force for a most urgent mission: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

And then they began the closing song, one I had heard of but never heard in worship.

This time that I have left, it's all I have of worth
I lay it at your feet, Lord; it's less than you deserve
And though I've little strength, and though my days are few
You gave your life for me, so I will live my life for you

Here I am, take me
As an offering
Here I am, giving
Every heartbeat for your glory

And at the end, the constant refrain began, pulled straight from the heart of worship that resounds from Isaiah to Revelation:

Worthy, worthy
You are worthy
Worthy is the Lord

Over and over and over and my hands lifted high, and I never wanted it to stop, because I was there and that's all I wanted to say.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Raising My Ebenzer

Blakes, overlooking the falls in Chagrin.
I moved to Ohio in 2000. My kids' dad took a new job, and we made a very big change to a northern climate, a new culture and a radically different church environment (though we didn't appreciate the differences at the time).

I left Ohio in 2004, bent and broken, my marriage in flames and my kids' lives changed forever. I moved east in the clutches of a powerful sense of shame and failure. I found refuge in my parents' home, and in a church that was made for broken people like me. I sat under the teaching of a pastor who became a friend, who never stopped reminding me that I was not who I used to be. New life grew around the shame, not really leaving it behind or letting it go, but accepting it and cloaking it with grace.

Those seeds of grace were planted here in Ohio, in this little community that is a bit of a paradox: small, homey, quaint - in many ways, quintessential small-town America. And yet, at that time, also the county with the highest per-capita income in the state.

I left Bainbridge, but I returned time and time again; first, to bring the kids to their dad, who continued his life here for some time. Later, I came on my own, when my path began to include someone who had family ties here.

On this most recent trip, we drove into my old neighborhood. Pulling up in front of the old, barn-red house with the gambrel roof, I found myself still. I looked at the driveway, at the mailbox, at the neighbor's house; the slight hill covered with snow, the breezeway between the garage and the front door. It was all so familiar, a relatively recent point in my past, and it felt so close. As if it were still within my grasp. I thought, "I could still be here. We could be in this house. If things had been different, if I had not done what I did, if we'd made different choices...we could still be here."

I indulged that thought for a moment.

But it was not true.

Too much has changed, and it was going to change, somehow, and in the deepest part of myself I know this: We would have left. Maybe through a different course, perhaps leading to other outcomes - but change was on its way. It was inevitable.

This makes me sad, somehow. And yet it is a truth that settles me.

I feel at home here, and it surprises me, so much so that I dwell on it. I lived many years in Texas - longer than I ever lived here. I was raised in western Pennsylvania, in similar landscape - so maybe that's the connection, that the hills and pines and snow and seasons all feel so familiar, that the climate is the same as the one that shaped my earliest years. I have lived in my current home longer than I have lived anywhere since I graduated high school. And yet here, in this suburb of Cleveland, I sense that I am deeply rooted, more so than any other place I have ever been. I feel I belong.

My husband does not feel the same, although he spent a much longer part of his life here. He does not share the sense of safety, of home, of groundedness that calls, "Welcome home" every time I come here. He skirts around the outside of the places he once knew, unwilling to enter into any sort of familiarity. He is not comfortable here, not like I am. He has his reasons.

I vividly recall standing outside of Fellowship Bible Church one afternoon, when plans were in place for our move to Virginia. Sharing thoughts with Pastor Jamie Rasmussen, I mentioned that I doubted I'd never be involved with music in church again, that I felt sure that God would lead me in a different direction, for although He hadn't abandoned me, I had certainly squandered the opportunity He had given me to be part of leadership. Jamie looked me square in the eye and said, "Don't count on it. God's not done with you yet. I wouldn't be surprised if He brings you back."

The seeds of grace were planted and lightly watered here, and a year later God put Pastor Brian Hughes in front of me to say, "You are not who you used to be", and thank God I'm not, and now twelve years after first taking up residence in Northeastern Ohio I find myself driving up and down Route 306 wondering why this always feels like home.

I wrestle these thoughts every time I am here; I muddle through the notion that there is some call, some reason that I would return to make a life here, and I simply can't find it. My children, my family, my life, my calling are all in Virginia.

So what is this thing?

I ask myself again and again, and tonight I think perhaps a glimmer of the truth that whispers to me finally cracked through the cords of my unfocused, ever-wandering mind.

I became real here.

This is the place where I laid down my arms, the weapons I'd formed to wield that proved I was a good Christian girl, that I was acceptable to God, that I was a dutiful wife and a good mother. I crashed and burned here, and although it was dangerous and painful and sinful and wrong on so many levels, it cracked the facade, the display of "good girl" that was exhausting all of my emotional and spiritual resources.

This is where I gave up.

And this is where I realized that losing my life meant I could finally gain it. In giving up, I had room for salvation, and all my best intentions to act like a good Christian gave way to simply being a sinner, saved by grace.

I think that's the power, the draw. There is a fundamental truth for me, that this is a place of birth. In spite of the sorrow and the things that were broken, I met grace here, in a community of people and the reality of Jesus. Regardless of whether I might ever have relationships with any of those people again, this place rings true for me. It is my Ebenezer, the place that says, "This marks the place where God helped me."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mary And Gathering The Trash

It is Christmas Eve.

It is raining.

I am home, gathering up my thoughts and my wayward tension and a pile of stuff that will be offered to friends and family.

Actually, I'm gathering up the trash, too. It's a lot less poetic, but it is the reality of my day. The trash has piled up, and it's time to go to the dump. So, on this Christmas Eve, the mundane calls for attention.

My soundtrack for these morning activities couldn't be more perfect. A song, new to me this year, has pushed my thoughts beyond the baby in the manger whose birth we'll sing and celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

I'm thinking today about a young girl who was feeling the pangs of labor on this day (and yes, I know that December 25th is not really the day of Jesus's birth, but it's where we are centered right now. So....)

I've had children; I know the tightening in your belly that signals it's time. The way the pressure begins to expand, the strong awareness in your soul that assures you that this time - yes, it's real, this is what it feels like to go into labor, and how the pressure and rhythmic contractions turn to a deep, sonorous pain. How it hurts and yet there is so much strength gathered in the center of the pain that you get a glimpse, for the first time, of the primal core of your being and you know that you are headed to a point of no return, that this will happen, that you will push a tiny human out of your body and there will be life and you will be a mother.

All of those things burn in the core of the recurring pain, the clenching and unclenching of your womb as your body plays its part in this miracle.

And I am thinking today of this young girl, her pain the culmination of a journey she couldn't have imagined for herself and that few would easily believe. On this, the day before the birth, she was, simply, a woman about to give birth, in a strange and less-than-favorable circumstance.

Jesus, Savior. Jesus, Son of God. My Savior and friend, the One who brought redemption. Fully man, knows our grief and sorrow, and yet capable of resurrection after death. I believe in Jesus.

But today I am thinking a lot about the woman who walked her own jagged path. Her baby is born, and the angels come sing, and - in the words of Patty Griffin - 

"Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place".

Thanks to Rachel Held Evans for a better blog post than I'll ever write, for the nudge toward the best and richest Christmas song of the season for me, for the rich history and the words and the "creative work of a God who lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things."

Today, I am filled, and I am prompted to mindfully live this day within the same melody of obedience that rang over Mary.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Imagine It Is Christmas

Showing off the hand-sewn gifts David gave.
We suspended reality for a short 24-hour period. All the kids are home for their respective breaks from school. Later today they are leaving for an extended time away with their dad. So we declared Tuesday, December 18 to be Christmas Eve (along with Sarah's birthday), and today is our Christmas Day.

I wasn't sure how it would work - getting in the right frame of mind, having all the gifts wrapped, really believing it was a true and proper celebration. I worked yesterday morning, and I had a rough time turning off the switch midday to focus on my family and our time together.

Sarah & Mom
But we got there. We celebrated Sarah's birthday with Christmas dinner - ham, scalloped potatoes, rolls, deviled eggs, green beans. Tradition.

And as the evening rolled on, when everyone returned from last minute shopping, I sat at the piano. First song up was the Linus and Lucy dance from A Charlie Brown Christmas...and they all came running.
Sarah & Dad

They danced.

And then we moved on to the carols, singing from an old copy of a Baptist Hymnal snagged from Fellowship Bible Church many years ago. The harmonies rang; we sang with our eyes closed and our ears attuned to one another.

And suddenly it was Christmas Eve, just like that.

We woke up to stockings filled with fun stuff - from head scratchers to chip clips, with candy and books and earbuds and all sorts of other stuff in between.

Daniel's GREAT gift from Shannon...found in
the basement of her CRU house!
And then we exchanged gifts, the way we always do; the youngest delivers gifts one by one to everyone in the room, and then one by one - from youngest to oldest - we open the gifts and do the "oooohhhs" and "ahhhhs". Everybody gives to everybody, and it's always entertaining.

My mom and dad come, and they deliver their gifts, and the kids give to them - my dad always gets some form of candy turtles, and my mom always gets some sort of body wash.

This year's cardboard box
Then Tony gives the word for the big reveal of his amazing-super-wonderful gift. Somehow, he outdoes himself every time. The first year it was a foosball table accompanied by a cardboard box full of cereal boxes (42 of them, if my memory serves...); next, a cardboard box full of 67 individually wrapped gifts from the Dollar Store (including pigs feet. That was a fun one.) Last year there was a new family computer, along with another cardboard box full of various flavors of chips. Like 50 bags of chips.

Catch the theme?

We've come to expect the big cardboard box, and no one - including me - ever knows what we'll find inside.

This year was funny; they quickly determined that it containted vast quantities of Oreos and Ramen noodles (chicken flavored) - and nothing else. And then Sydni pulled out a small, wrapped gift. She opened it to find a Dick's Gift Card, and everybody went nuts looking for more gift cards. Tony shook his head and said he didn't know where it came from...but no one believed him.

It was true. There was one wrapped gift in the box - the Dick's Gift Card - and nothing else. Turns out the card has $42.67 credit on it. And no one knows where it came from.

Makes an interesting, weird gift even more so.

It was a good day. Our family, together, is what matters.

As we planned for this holiday season, I felt good about them leaving and having some extended time with their dad. It's Florida, which will be fun and relaxing. It's a good break for them, a good time for making memories and spending time together.

And yet...if I'm honest, I'll tell you that I don't feel so good about it now. I'm going to miss them. The real Christmas Eve will come along at church and we'll wake up on Christmas Day and I'll feel the absence of their presence in my gut.

But all things together, I'm blessed. Especially this year, I'm aware of this: they come, they go, they travel, but they're always here, somewhere, just a day away from a hug. We make memories with the time we have, whatever amount of imagination it takes to set the scene. And it is well, and it is good.

And it is Christmas.

Merry Christmas, y'all. Have some Ramen. And some Oreos.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Hero Dies

I was catching up on the final bit of Mark last night; our church has been reading that particular piece of the Bible together (which, in itself, is a very cool aspect of community that prompts a bit of awe in me - processing together the same words, letting them sink in to several hundred people, reading at different places and times, all receiving something similar and yet uniquely theirs...)

But I digress.

Anyway, I was catching up - because I'm running a bit ragged, and I fell behind - and I got to that part where Jesus is standing in front of Pilate and they've got the option to let Jesus go or release a truly bad guy (murder, anyone?) and Pilate opts to let the crowd decide.

I know how the story ends. I've read it, I've heard it preached, I remember the bit from Jesus Christ, Superstar. I know the crowd goes ballistic and screams "Crucify Him!"

But there's this: I got to that part in the text, and although I know what happens, I found myself caught up in the tension of the moment, in the power of the story.

"As the crowd came up and began to present its petition for him to release a prisoner, Pilate anticipated them: 'Do you want me to release the King of the Jews to you?' "

I read those words, and my heart and my head beat with three syllables:

Let him go.
Let him go.

The power of the story captivated me. Maybe that's part of it: reading the gospel as story, reading in somehow connected in community. Appreciating the drama and the plot and the tension and release; feeling the impact of the arc of truth. This time of Bible reading has brought something new and unique to my life - to my relationship with the one who Created me.

And as the climax approached, as the end drew near, I found myself longing for the crowd to do the right thing. Let Jesus go!

knew it wouldn't happen. I know, in the end, the torture and crucifixion and death are inevitable. I know the hero dies.

But I can't help but wish for something different. Even knowing full well that without the pain, there is no healing. Without the death, there is no life. Without the darkness, there is no light.

I just want to avoid the tragedy. To skip the part that hurts.

It occurred to me today that there is truth in my emotional reaction to this familiar story that applies to more than just what happened to Jesus. I do my own share of screaming-crying-praying that same phrase, but one more focused on my own discomfort:

Let me go!
Let me go!

It is a daily thing for me, the tossing and turning at night, anxious, worried, frustrated, trying to wish away the pain. Sometimes it's a tiny grain of concern, sometime it's a larger, more pervasive issue. But it seems it's always something that I wish would go away, would dissipate, would dissolve.

Thank God it doesn't work like that. Although the simpler, more selfish part of me would like nothing more than easy days and restful nights, the truth has been told in the daily and monthly and yearly little deaths and little lives that cycle through my existence. It takes the pain, the mistakes, the failures and the wrong choices to bring to life the part of humanity that is most deeply rooted in truth.

That's what I want. A true life.

My heart hopes that Jesus walks free, but my head knows it cannot be so. It's through the awkward and painful playing out of that story that the emotion of the heart unites with the logic of the head. The horror comes, the hero dies.

And in the end, all is well.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Missed It

A few weeks ago, my Facebook status update linked to this event and I wrote, "I wouldn't miss this for all the money in the world!"

Well, I missed it tonight. I had tickets, and plans to go, until I mentioned it to my 13-year old son - along with an apology, because this show was scheduled for the same night and time as the son's Junior High Christmas Band Concert.

Let me just say here that I've been to six Junior High Christmas Band Concerts already. I've heard most of the material - in some cases, six times. I know that the spring concert is the big, exciting one. And I know that the tall, skinny percussionist in the back would only be playing on two songs - a simple tambourine part, and the sleigh bells. No solos or duets, no special appearances - just two songs.

I said, "Dude, I'm really sorry, but I've got tickets for this show, and I've been waiting all year, and your dad's gonna be there at your concert, so I'll just miss it this time."

And this boy - this lanky, easy-going, do-anything-I-ask-without-whining, gets-himself-up-at-6AM-every-morning-without-his-mom's-assistance - this wonderful kid who never complains about anything except a lack of bacon, this boy looks at me and says, "Mom. Kids come first."

There was a beat of silence, and then he said, "It's okay. It's just a concert. No big deal."

He thought the conversation was over, but it wasn't. As most important things do, it rolled around in my heart until it started to crack.

My heart, that is.

I had one chance to see Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God this year, to fall under the spell of this music in a new way, since it was ingrained in me after our own performance last year. They come through Richmond every two years; it will be 24 months before I get another opportunity.

My boy only has one 7th grade Christmas concert. This was it. And though his great attitude is sincere, the first words out of his mouth demonstrated a more honest reaction.

And an honest conviction. He knows I believe that kids come first.

He just needed to remind me that what I do matters more than what I say.

For the record, I gave my tickets away, and I do believe the people who went in my place were more blessed than I every would have been. I've been grouchy and a bit sad all day - even though I know I made the right decision - but in the end, everybody was where they belonged tonight.

Especially me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I Am Beth Stoddard

I spent 12 hours at church today.

Twelve hours in the building.  I didn't leave once. When I walked out the door in the dark, I forgot where my car was.

I'm not kidding.

It's been a long few days; it's the MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR. Seriously, in the church world, Christmas is more than just holiday cheer. It's special services and complicated productions and lots of extra busyness - and there's the reality of the "regular" Sunday services coming every seven days.

We had an event for our music and production team on Saturday night; I cooked chili for 30 people. We had Sunday services, a Sunday night worship event, regular meetings and planning on Monday, and today a long staff meeting, staff lunch, several more meetings and a Blue Christmas service this evening. In the midst of it all friends were getting injured, friends going in the hospital and people just being human.

My kitchen is a wreck. There's a wet load of clothes in the washer that's been there for...a few days. My daughter just sent me a paper to edit for one of her classes. My other daughter needs me to mail a bunch of Secret Santa Christmas gifts that she accidentally hid in my closet.

My boys have had to forage for dinner for the past two nights; our "dinner" this evening is a rotisserie chicken from Walmart. My husband just walked in the door, and I encouraged him to just stand at the counter and pick what meat is left off the carcass. I'm too tired to get him a plate.

So I'm busy.

But no busy than many of you, I'm sure. It is what it is. It's what we do. It's who I am.

In the midst of it, I'm learning a lot. My boss has this running mantra lately; when I express a bit of doubt or concern or confusion or lack of confidence, he gives me this serious look and says, "You're Beth Stoddard."

He's trying to encourage me and empower me, I know; he's good about helping me get out of my head and into rational thinking. But every time he says this, I want to say, "Duh. So what?" And then I kind of want to hit him.

But tonight, driving home, exhausted, God used that mantra to speak a truth into my heart. That's a fancy way of saying, Something clicked, and I attribute it to a higher power.

I am Beth Stoddard. I am exhausted, and I am Beth Stoddard.

I have been Beth Brawley for most of my adult life; with that name, I grew into a fierce love for my children. I was a survivor, a single mom for a time with a huge capacity for getting things done. I worked hard and went hard and I did things.

I married three years ago, and the transformation has been slow, a subtle shifting. But most of the pieces have fallen into place, and I'm different now. I am the same woman, with the same personality and abilities and passions and weaknesses and faults.

But I am not who I used to be. Literally.

I am Beth Stoddard, and somehow God is showing me this new identity, this new name - with new roles as my kids grow up and leave home, as my role as a wife and business partner expands, as my responsibilities at my church broaden.

I get it. I'm ready.

Full disclosure: for the most part, I am Beth Stoddard. Really. I have taken my husband's name...but not completely. Like Brian preached about last week, I am almost Beth Stoddard...but not completely. I've never taken the legal steps to change my name on official documents. I've asked myself "why" several times; it's not a lack of love or commitment. It has something to do with letting go of who I was, how I saw myself, how I defined myself.

I get it.

I'm ready.

And after an exhausting day doing what I am called to do, I'm confident of this: "There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears." (Philippians 1.6, The Message)

In some ways, it doesn't really matter what my name is. I know who I am.

But sometimes, a little clarity goes a long way.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Daughter Is Not Jesus, And Other Ways Food Makes Me Goofy

Sweet potatoes and yukon golds, roasted in the oven.

Delicious and definitely on the "approved foods" list. I'm back to eating the right stuff after flinging myself off the wagon over Thanksgiving.

I ate, little bits of everything I wanted to taste. It was delicious. I really didn't overeat at all.

But I didn't eat the "good stuff". And I didn't feel well. I didn't necessarily feel badly, but sluggish. Bloated. Foggy. Slow.


And the sugary stuff sent me over the edge. My body is really sensitive to sugar.

Who knew? I was eating so much of the stuff, all day long, indulging every whim, that the pump was always primed. Now that I essentially eat no sugar at all, that little bit of pecan pie packed a powerful punch.

And here's what I noticed: the first bite led to the craving. Every hour, I wanted another taste. Another hit. It took a lot of self-control, all day Sunday, to break that habit. But by Monday, I was good and clean.

I feel better today. I continue to react strongly to caffeine; a slight re-introduction to morning coffee indicates that the boost I thought I was getting might actually be contributing to mild headaches and a lack of focus.

I couldn't talk today. I referred to my daughter Sydni as Jesus, in what seemed like a logically constructed sentence. Maybe caffeine makes me a little goofy.

Who knew?

I'm wearing pants that I haven't been able to fit in since last year. That feels good, but it's more like a great side effect. I've tried to keep that in mind: I'm not on a diet. I want to be healthy.

It makes a difference in my attitude. It makes it just a bit easier.

Have you detoxed from anything recently?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Praise God On High

I am writing this post with my "Mom" hat on, so indulge me for a moment or two.

One of the greatest joys of my life is seeing my kids nurture their love for music. All five of them are passionate about music, with very diverse but authentic tastes.

Honestly, I haven't really pushed them hard in this direction. They've just been around it all their lives. I am embarrassed to say that I didn't even insist on piano lessons for any of them; they all can pick around a bit, but I didn't want to turn them into mini-me's. In hindsight, I wish I'd pushed that issue a bit more; as a piano teacher, I wish someone had helped them acquire those life skills the way I help kids do the same now. I'd certainly do that part differently if I had a do-over.

Today at church, some of my favorite people played on the worship team. Great musicians, each and every one, they connected with God and with one another in a way that made it easy to bypass distractions and be very present in the moment. (You can watch the service here - the music and the message might bless you.) One of those favorite people was my daughter. 

Obviously, I'm biased - she's my kid, and my job in life is to be her biggest cheerleader. That, I am. But I'm sincere when I say that she is, by far, one of the most effective worship leaders I know. When she sings, her worship is pure and focused and authentic. She is humble and her leadership is gentle; she simply sings because she loves God, and her voice sings His praise. She leads me to an authentic encounter with God - she always has.

I think one of the reasons Sarah's worship resonates is rooted in her life experience. At a very young age, she's wrestled with some challenging stuff: her parent's divorce and the ensuing issues there, and a late-adolescent battle with bipolar disease (you can read more about that here.) Her dependence on God at this season of her life is authentic, and that seeps into her musical worship.

Recently, I stumbled upon a recording of one of Sarah's very first experiences leading worship, over a decade ago. We listened together this afternoon, after church; our hearts swelled and our eyes filled with tears. We all talked, just for a moment, about how far we'd all come. With Sarah's permission, I'm sharing that recording here.

She was eleven years old. We lived in Cleveland, and worshiped at Fellowship Bible Church. That's me, playing piano, and the FBC choir singing, and Sarah leading the verses. The style is drastically different from PCC, our current church; but the heart is the same.

Sarah started there. She's come a long way. God led her. It's been a good journey.

Note: If you are here via an RSS feed and the audio file below doesn't show up, please click on through to the actual post and give it a listen!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Now Let Us All Give Thanks

I just hit the start button on the dishwasher for the second time today. We filled it to the brim, both times, with the remnants of good food and a full table.

Today was the 26th day of my 25 day food detox. I saw the doctor yesterday, and told him I really wanted to eat my mom's cornbread dressing. Among other things. He gave me a stern look, and told me to go ahead. Start again tomorrow.

So I ate, tiny amounts of everything with no regard to sugar or gluten or dairy.

And my gut is not so happy. But I tasted everything I put in my mouth, and to some degree - even though it was a full frontal assault and a barrage of tastes and flavors and inflammatory things that I've avoided for several weeks - I could tell what was good for me and what was not. Awareness is such a valuable tool, and I'm thankful for it.

Even though I keep burping.

But it's not as if I did something horrible or fatal. There's something about the fullness of family and friends and years of tradition that brings good health. And so I refuse to beat myself up or worry about not sticking to the program or feel the tiniest bit of guilt over what I ate today.

This is my life, and I get to choose, and I choose health and good fuel for my body, except on this day when I chose to savor the taste of my history and my memories and a shared sense of the community that is my family.

We had all the kids, and my parents, and Travis and his mom, and Max, and our new friend Sam from church, and two tables - one for the kids and one for the grownups, except we're all so grown up now that it was more like a table for the "seasoned" folks and one for the fresher faces. We had new tablecloths that will be part of my traditions, and my mom's good stoneware came from my cabinets to the table this year and looked beautiful. We had candles and Shannon's sweet potatoes and Daniel's dump cake and Sarah's peanut butter pie and Bitsy's green bean casserole and Mom's turkey breast and cornbread dressing and giblet gravy and we burnt the rolls, like we do every year. We stood in a circle, held hands and gave thanks. We sampled lemon pie and cherry pie and pecan pie from a cast iron skillet while we went around the room one at a time, doing our "Thankful for..." tradition.

I am thankful this year for my home, for my husband who refused to settle for anything less than awesome for it's heart - our kitchen; for daughters that are well and good in lives away from home and yet still want to come home. Thankful for my parents, who guard their health and are strong and here. Thankful for my sons, who are becoming amazing young men. Thankful for Max, and Travis, and the way I am learning to love each of them, although it feels dangerous at times. Thankful for Bitsy and her friendship. Thankful for the man who calls me his wife, and his steadfast love and commitment to our family.

I am thankful indeed, for second and third chances and a life full of grace.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give Me Faith

It's an oddly shaped week; strange meeting schedules and rehearsal on a Tuesday night.

But, oh, what a great night it was.

I am biased toward the Powhatan Campus this week, as my daughter Sarah is back in town for the holiday. She has enough leeway in her schedule (after running around doing a lot of photography for folks) to lead worship with us. With most of our college students home for Thanksgiving, we were able to put together a band that included Sarah, Travis and Tanner. Matthew and Sean are anchoring things, and Walter and I get to be the old guys on the platform.

Several folks involved in various college ministries around the area have been encouraging me to introduce a new song. Actually, it's not that new, but it's certainly new to us.

Sometimes, songs just have a certain something; in old-school spiritual terms, we'd say that a song is anointed. Something special just happens in the singing, regardless of what's happening in the melody (sometimes nothing special) or the chord progression (sometimes quite standard). I think How He Loves is such a song; Majesty by Delirious is another one. You Are Good. He Is Yahweh. 

And now there's Give Me Faith. The lyrics aren't anything new or sexy. The progression is not unusual. But there's just...something.

And it fits our current series in a unique way. We're talking about being stuck, and the things we can do to get unstuck. But ultimately, we have to remember that the power of God has the potential to do incredibly more than anything we do; and without it, our lives are out of balance.

I may be weak
But Your spirit's strong in me
My flesh may fail
My God, You never will

Give me faith 
To trust what You say
You are good
And Your love is great

In rehearsal tonight, this song came alive. It was incredible and indefinable.

That's a part of faith that is appealing and captivating and utterly fascinating to me; there is a supernatural component to believing in the One who created everything. 

We had a powerful moment in rehearsal, and then the kids came home and we brought extra people with us and built a bonfire and sang it again. Along with a bunch of other stuff.

Sunday is going to be a very good day. My hope is this: If you are headed to PCC, give this song a listen or two. Get familiar with it. And then come Sunday, ready to add your voices to the chorus.

And by the way, I heard some folks talking last week about not singing - about how they don't want to offend anyone because they don't sing well.

Sing. It's not about your neighbor. It's worship, and God made that voice, along with the rest of you. He loves to hear you sing.

Come. Sing. Be part of something powerful. And trust me: if you give it a listen or watch this video and think, "What's the big deal? It doesn't do much for me..." - well, just trust me. It's got that something....

What songs do it for you? Which ones would you say have that special something?

Monday, November 19, 2012

I'm about 23 days into a different way of living. Motivated by minor pain and a sense that things just "weren't right", I've adjusted my eating habits rather drastically.

And what a difference it has made.

(You can read about it here.)

After three weeks, the physical changes are becoming the norm. I still don't struggle much with cravings, although as I sit here surrounded by packages Sarah brought from the Savannah Candy Kitchen, I'll admit to a bit of minor desire for something chocolate...and sugary....

But the desire isn't enough to provoke action.

(Although I did eat a bit of chocolate last night; the Candy Kitchen makes this stuff called Gophers and they are TO DIE FOR and so I asked for one little piece, just a tiny bit. Tony - my biggest cheerleader - broke off a piece and handed it to me. And listen to this, people: I sucked on it for about 20 seconds. I swirled the chocolate taste in my mouth and oh how I wanted to chew up the caramel and the nuts and the dark chocolate but I didn't. I gingerly spit it into a napkin and threw it away, much to the horror of the candy-loving people around the table. I just couldn't eat it. I think I earned some major points with that bit of willpower...)

Here's what I'm learning:

  • What I eat has a powerful impact on how I feel. I have introduced - carefully - caffeine, with a cup of homemade Chai tea Friday morning. The caffeine sent me through the roof.  I could feel the impact of the caffeine on my body. It wasn't necessarily bad - or good - but the point is this: I put a stimulant into my body and I was aware of its impact.* To me, this is huge; I've spent years pouring caffeine and sugar and everything else into my body without any awareness of how it changed my mood, my energy level, my thought process, my ability to focus. By stripping everything down to such a raw level, I am back in touch with how my body works. I can't begin to describe how freeing this is, and how empowered I feel. Plus, I am healthier - it's obvious.
  • What I eat has a powerful impact on my confidence. I feel better. I have lost a bit of weight, but I'm still way far away from the skinny, size 2 I was several years ago. But it's not about the size of my clothes. I'm learning that feeling in control of my eating habits and being free of the numbing influence of sugar and carbs and processed junk has done wonders for my self-esteem and confidence. It's impacted my work life and my relationships at home and my ability to get up and tackle the day. It's impacted my spiritual life; there's some sort of righteousness that comes with honoring the body God gave me. I like this.
I am convinced that I walked around for years in a fog, numbed by Pringles and Oreos and yogurt and cheese and steak and sugar and Starbucks. Somehow over the course of my adult life, I gave my power away. I ate what was in front of me, what the commercials and the slick ad campaigns touted, what I craved. I ate what good Americans ate, what surrounded us, what was easy and available and quick and convenient. Indulgence was king.

No more. It is not convenient to buy fresh vegetables, to stop at Food Lion for red peppers and hummus when everybody else is eating pizza. It's not convenient to eat oatmeal every day, without sugar. It's not fun to drink only water. 

But there's this: I feel great.  Spiritually, physically, emotionally. I am present in my life. Honestly, I'm not sure there's any amount of Oreo's that could get me here.

I'm thankful. This is good. Amen.

*By the way, I also experimented with eating just a bit of red meat in some chili. No major issues, not much of a noticeable impact. However, not so for the soup I made for the family last night. It included homemade cornmeal dumplings, and after working so hard to make them, I decided to eat just a few. The impact on my stomach was quick and not pleasant. My body doesn't like corn, or flour. We'll figure that out as we go along. The point is - now I know. When I eat certain things, I don't feel good. So, the choice is mine. I can choose the temporary pain, or I can avoid the food and feel better. 

This is good.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Changing The World, One Conversation At A Time

Just the girls today...the boys were off shooting things...
My kids are all home.

That means all five of my babies, the ones I rocked and nursed and cuddled and cried over and laughed with - they're all back in the house. They're together. There's something awesome and beautiful about that, what they make when they are together. It is a sure and steady thing, the most brilliant and amazing tangible evidence of love I've ever seen.

And then there are the extra pieces that come along, the bonus bits of energy in boyfriends and best friends. They round out the day and bring joy.

The house is full. It is loud again. And it is good.

But it is loud, I'll admit; and that's a bit jarring. But I am glad for it.

So I rested, today; after a beautiful service at church and some good time with my youngest girl, we came home to a chaotic lunch and a nap for me. After two hours on the couch, with the chaos swirling around me, I awoke refreshed.

The service today lingers in my heart, for many reasons. It was a very interesting, unusual message on prayer - not quite what you might have expected. Brian talked a bit about his experience with centering prayer and the influence of Thomas Keating on his spiritual life. He mentioned having a "mantra" - a keyword that helps "bring you back" when your mind begins to wander or you find yourself distracted, and Brian went on to say that learning how to refocus, reduce anxiety and redirect energy with this "centering word" has become part of his everyday life - not just his prayer life.

Because I work closely with Brian on a weekly basis, and because often our work is anxiety-inducing (THE MESSAGE IS TOO LONG! WE'VE ACCIDENTALLY OFFENDED SOME PEOPLE! THE MESSAGE IS TOO SHORT! I DON'T KNOW HOW WE'RE GOING TO END THIS SERVICE! WE FORGOT TO TELL THE WESTCHESTER TEAM WHAT WE'RE DOING! ARE YOU CRAZY? FINANCES ARE GETTING TIGHT! ONE OF THE LIGHTS IS BROKEN! I HAVE TOO MANY EMAILS! HELP!!!), I just wanted to share my perspective on the spiritual practices he has put into place since his sabbatical.

They work.

I have literally watched him, in the middle of a conversation, reach back into a place that he didn't have before and find that calmness, some strength, a sort of peace. I don't say this to simply add my testimony to the truth he brought today, but to tell you that the practice of centering prayer can not only change your life, but impact your relationships as well.

Imagine being in a conversation in which your anxiety levels are rising; think about what could happen if things get heated and out of control. Imagine that you are struggling with something that's been said and you find yourself unable to listen.

And now imagine that you have practiced the art of centering your mind, calming yourself in centering prayer. Although your experience is in the presence of God, in silence, you find that you can calm yourself and return to the conversation - be present without your emotions or your adrenaline rising.

Brian is doing this now on a regular basis, and it's had a profound impact on our working relationship. There's something incredibly safe about working with someone who can bring this kind of influence to your dialogue. It builds trust. Ultimately, it benefits the  Kingdom as we work together more effectively, with more focus.

As believers, what if we were the ones who brought peace into heated conversations? What if, when things escalate and tension begins to creep in, we were the ones bringing a calming light? In the midst of challenging invective regarding politics or social issues or relationship stuff or religion, think of how things might change if we became bringers of peace.

We could change the world, one conversation at a time.

So give it a try. Trust Brian, as he said today. Trust Him.

We ended the service today with one of the most powerful songs I've heard recently. You might add this to your time with God; it can gently lead you to a place of remembrance, embracing the comfort and reality of who God is and how He regards the human race. Let Him speak to you.

I am the Lord your God
I go before you now
I stand beside you
I'm all around you
Though you feel I'm far away
I'm closer than your breath
I am with you
More than you know

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Lived

My husband is making music in the living room, playing an old acoustic guitar that is seasoned with millions of notes and the resonance of life. I think I am hearing snippets of "Beautiful Things" and it is, indeed, beautiful.

I am exhausted, after one of those 13-hour days with no breaks. My brain sort of stops working at some point and I just long for stillness and quiet. I have it this evening. The house is still, as the kids are hanging with their dad and the girls went back to Harrisonburg after a quick trip home. The guitar sings through the quiet house and all is still, and well, and good.

We made real music this morning, played the blues this morning that opened up a time of honest and authentic praise and shouting and prayer to God. I think the church is absolutely a suitable place for the blues, because what are the blues if not the deepest cry of our souls? Don't tell me David didn't write those Psalms as blues lyrics, mournful and heartfelt as any 12-bar renditions you'll hear today.

We played good music tonight, hearing from different people who are singing their own songs and standing tall in the gifts they've been giving while bowing down to offer themselves to God.

And in the middle of it all I shared a meal with my family, my mom and dad and husband and all but one of my children, at a table big enough to hold us all, over biscuits and roast and potatoes and carrots and gravy. I made it all but ate none of it, because I cannot partake as I stick to my conviction that changing the fuel for my body is changing my body and my mind and perhaps, even my heart.

It was a good, long day, and I have a large, throbbing bruise on the heel of my hand that hurts now and will hurt more tomorrow. My shoulders are yearning for a deep, long massage and my hand hurts and my eyes are dry and I feel like I am alive, like this day we were given was used up to its very core, every crevice licked out and shaken until there was nothing left.

I feel satisfied in my Savior today, in the glory and grace of a day I lived.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Feel Good

I feel good.

In fact, better than I've felt in years.

And I'd like to tell you about it.

A chronic neck/shoulder issue has bothered me for years. I've had some issue with it for at least eight years. A little physical therapy made a minor dent in the pain. More recently, I'd been seeing a chiropractor for regular adjustments. But the underlying cause never seemed to get any better - in fact, I had no real clue what the underlying cause might be. When I began to notice a lack of muscle strength and some other issues on my left side, I decided to seek out some additional info. On top of the shoulder stuff, I just didn't feel good. I felt a lot older than I should. I didn't feel healthy.

I visited a chiropractic neurologist, hoping for some answers.

I got answers.

I'll spare you all the details, but the first few weeks of treatment involved more neurological application than chiropractic care. No surgery, no "therapy" - just an approach that dealt with the core neurological responses over all. There were exercises I could do at home - and I did.

It worked.

After a few weeks of initial treatment, it was obvious that the doctor had found and addressed the problem in my neck and shoulder. Along the way, he'd asked for information to do a complete physical assessment; not just a complete blood workup, but also a long - and I mean LONG - questionnaire. I answered questions about my eating and sleeping habits, gastrointestinal issues, stressors, cravings, and more.

He took all the information I gave him, from my brain and from my blood, and he sat me down to ask if I wanted to take the next step.

I'll spare you the details, but the next step involves addressing any issues I might have with food that easily causes inflammation. In order to determine that, I stopped eating those foods.

And that is how I find myself, about 18 days later, 10 pounds lighter and feeling good. Better than I've felt in years. I will confess that my meals are somewhat boring, but it is absolutely worth the trade off. After 25 days total, I'll reintroduce foods one by one to determine which ones might be a problem. Then I'll know how to manage my eating habits in order to continue feeling so good.

Here's what I don't have: achy joints, fatigue, brain fog, bloating, "delicate gastrointestinal issues", headache, stiff muscles, depression and more.

Here's what I don't eat: red meat, bread, dairy, eggs, orange juice, coffee, chips, processed foods, sugar, wheat, soy, corn and more.

Here's what I do eat: fish, chicken, veggies, beans, bananas, applesauce, almonds, walnuts, oatmeal, water and not much more. Like I said, it's boring.

But that's okay.

I feel good. All across the board. And I am SO grateful.

(I'm not going to get all preachy about this, but I'm serious: if you are feeling that something is just "not right" and you're around my age, don't settle. Think about what you're eating. It might be as simple as that. And seriously - I cannot believe how much better I feel!)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thanks For Coming. Hope You Don't Get The Wrong Idea

At the FOCUS bonfire tonight; students everywhere, carving pumpkins, making s'mores, singing, wrapping themselves in toilet paper. Lots of energy. Lots of kids.

I was warming my hands at the fire when Brian walked up. We talked about this and that.

And then this happened.

ME: I wish we could tell people how cool it was to see SO MANY PEOPLE at church today.
BRIAN: Yeah, it was awesome.
ME: You should write a blog post or something.
BRIAN: You write a blog post.
ME: I can't. I mean, it's awkward. I'm a musician. It's like people will think I'm excited because there were more people in the audience to hear us play. I don't want people to get the wrong idea...
BRIAN: (with that dumbfounded, "you're too dumb to talk to" look he gets sometimes) And it's not awkward for me? You don't think they'll get the wrong idea if I write something about how great it was to see so many people there today? I'm the one standing up there talking. They might think, "Oh, he's just happy because there was a big crowd to hear him talk." It's risky for me, too. Maybe more. 
ME: Well, yeah.
BRIAN: ...
ME: But you should do it. 
ME: Just...because.

The point is this: when the room is full, there's a unique sort of energy. There is something powerful when we gather together - we see it and feel it every week. Jesus said, "When two or more are gathered in my name, I'm there with you." I really believe that something supernatural happens in our togetherness. That's not to say that amazing things don't happen in smaller groups, or even with a handful of people. But a full room has a different kind of energy.

And this morning, the room was full of familiar faces that I hadn't seen in a while. One of the greatest privileges of the platform is the ability to see people I love. That made today extraordinarily special.

We heard a powerful story, about how God transformed the life of a man who seemed hell-bent for destruction. We experienced that story together. There is a synergy and a power that comes from that "together" experience that can't be replicated.

I think it's part of the reason behind God's encouragement that we "do not give up meeting together" (Hebrews 10.25). Something happens when we are in the same place, experiencing the same thing.

Thanks to all of you who came to church today. Thanks to those who brought friends and family members.

Thanks for coming back. We've missed you. You're family. Home isn't the same without you.

And now I've written the blog post. If you got the wrong idea, sorry. I just liked having all of us together.

The end.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Too Much Brokenness?

Life. Work.

That's why I haven't written here much.

But I have been thinking, processing, writing journal entries in my head...and here's where I am today; it's about work, which - for me - is church, and life and friendships and it's all intertwined (which, may I say, is sometimes incredibly challenging. There's nothing else I'd rather do, but it is challenging at times. This season is one of those times.)

Tomorrow we're wrapping up a series that explored what it means to be a Christian. Our teaching pastors put forth four ideas, not meant to be exhaustive, but pertinent. Following Jesus in a way that leads to abundant life requires one to accept and acknowledge that we are broken, blessed, chosen and called.

(We even have a theme song - an excellent worship tune written by our own Artist-in-Residence, Laura K. You'll hear it again tomorrow.)

Every week, we've introduced the new concept while reminding ourselves of what came before. Our church is built for people who are broken; those who are in bad spots, at the end of their ropes, ashamed, stuck - our hope is that people who are hurting can safely worship at PCC and find time and space to be with God. So it's been quite natural that we've hit the "we are broken" refrain every week.

A dear friend sent me a note a few days ago, gently asking if we weren't getting a little too bogged down in the "brokenness" part. He wondered if we shouldn't be introducing other, more positive concepts; encouraging folks to move forward.

I respect my friend's opinion and insight, and so I've been giving this a bit of thought. It's especially applicable because tomorrow, as we teach on the "Called" topic, we're going to be leaning a bit into brokenness again. Jerimy Ford is going to tell his story, about how he came to be a Christian and the difficult path he traveled to get to this point in his life - where he is happily, actively serving a church and, in fact, is considering a move towards vocational ministry. Jerimy has been broken; it's a huge part of the process for him.

I did the programming for this week's service, and I chose a song we did a year or two ago for the message set up. I'm going to sing it, because it suits me, both stylistically and lyrically. I've been singing it in my head for three or four days, working with the words and getting comfortable with the chord progression. Today, I sat at my piano in the living room and ran through the first verse:

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

Well, there it is again, that brokenness bit...

I've thought about it all afternoon, going about the business of caring for our home and our laundry and our kitchen. I've thought about it while I listened to an Ian Morgan Cron podcast about spiritual practices and how essential it is to simply be with God and let that be enough, rather than to always think it necessary to do.

I've considered the very real fear I have of people getting tired of the same old stuff from me, worried that they'll think I'm trying to milk my shame for some sort of attention or awkward validation. I've contemplated the truth about my own desire to "get past it", to move forward, to rise above the past and become a Very Good Church Worker or an Excellent Minister.

It dawned on me this afternoon that I seem to be fighting hard these days to shed that label, to be something more than Beth, the divorced one or Beth, the one who was unfaithful. I think I'm stuck someplace, looking for the new label. Seeking the new identity.

Trying to be a grown up, a big girl. Trying to be successful. Trying to be.


I'd like to say it was an epiphany, or that it became crystal clear...but it did not. It's more like a little nudge, a small idea in the thickest part of my heart. It's wrapped in grace and there's no small amount of mercy offered as well.

I had this thought, and it was this:

You are broken. You will always be broken. 

But I love you. 

Be who you are. Stop trying to be something else.

I'm going to sing tomorrow morning, a song that is so true of my life that it's almost uncanny.

I will sing, and it will be true, and Jerimy will follow me and tell his story, and then we will sing "Redeemed" and I will proclaim my brokenness. I will claim it.

Because this I know: it wasn't until I was truly broken that I understood that I needed God. I needed to be connected with my creator through the redemptive power of His son. Without that brokenness, I was smart enough and clever enough and good enough to play church.

Brokenness made it real.

If I walk away from my brokenness, everything gets fuzzy. If my life with Christ is going to be authentic, it must be centered on my brokenness.

I don't know if this is solid theology or not, but it's what drives me to my knees and draws me back to the heart of a God I do not understand, a Jesus who somehow transcends time and space and is real to me.

I cannot get there unless I am real.

And I have to stop trying so hard.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On Being A Musician

Me, being a musician.
My job requires me to wear many different hats. Often, the one that is so fundamental to what I do and how I have defined myself throughout most of my life - the musician hat - gets short-circuited or even ignored. Sometimes I take for granted the fact that I can play music, and I fail to appreciate the privilege of playing.

Tonight we prepped music for Westchester in one of the shortest - and most effective - rehearsals I've ever experienced. I looked around and realized that I'd played music with three of the guys for the entire duration of my time at PCC. There's a comfort in that; not just the musical synergy that comes with knowing someone's style, but also the personal comfort that these people know me. We work together well; we've learned, over the years, to listen to one another, to fill in the gaps, to trust each individual's ability to not just play notes but make music.

Playing music in front of other people is a very vulnerable thing. Whether in a church or in a bar, it's a delicate balance. If people are listening, we often struggle with the internal challenges of wanting acceptance and affirmation and knowing that we're good enough...even when we're playing for God. You'd think it would be easier, that playing "church music" would remove those inhibitions and make things more sacred or holy or easy, but often it's quite the opposite. As worship leaders, we strive very intentionally to make it about God and not about us. We're very aware of our shortcomings and our egos. We depend on the presence of God. And yet, we're human, and we're often insecure. As Andy said when I walked out with him and Kevin tonight, "We're weird."

We are. We know it. And we're often misunderstood - by ourselves and by others - and too much in our own heads. We're sometimes easily frustrated and too hard on ourselves and too quick to judge others and too easily impacted by whether we think we're doing a good job.

We're broken.

The best musicians I know realize that they are broken. They - WE - realize that there's always going to be someone who plays better and faster. We know that no matter how great we play today, we could screw it up royally tomorrow. We know that regardless of our success as musicians, we are still messed up men and women in need of rescue. In our brokenness, we simply must do the best we can with what we've got. We work hard to honor God with skills that have often been honed by thousands of hours in practice rooms, in bedrooms and garages and lengthy rehearsals. We are diligent in improving our art and singing scales and studying videos and taking lessons and constantly, consistently trying to offer our very best to our God and our church.

The bar is high for me this week, but the grace of familiarity and trust is an undercurrent that I can ride. The hat I wear this week is the one that just says "Beth: Musician". That makes me smile. I know these people. They know me. I trust them with who I am and what I do. It's a unique configuration.

And the icing on the cake is to play for Lindsay while she sings "How He Loves", which brought us to our knees in rehearsal. And then the cherry on top of that (not to mix too many metaphors) is to play behind Kevin as he sings "Give Me Jesus".

I am Beth. I am a musician.

I am blessed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Brokenness And Jesus

My view of Brian during the message
"You see, the truth is...I was broken.

"No..............I am broken."

I heard my pastor say these words Sunday, and my heart shook.

Actually, I heard him say them three days before, when we worked on this message and planned the service elements. I cried then. My heart shook when I heard it on Sunday, both times.

What is it about brokenness that is so moving, so emotionally compelling?

I think it is this: that we are all broken, and that to admit it comes from such a deep, vulnerable place that we are shaken to our core when that door is cracked open. Whether we watch somebody else reveal their own deepest broken parts, or are carried along in a moment of something sacred.

Reality shows give us just a taste. Is it any wonder that we are drawn to watch the lives of "real" people unfold, warts and all? We'll settle for the production values and the timed dramatic moments leading into commercials, because we get the small satisfaction of witnessing brokenness. Not our own, but something we can safely watch from a distance. We identify, because we know somehow it's in us, too; but we don't have to own it.

Every week I read the latest update of Post Secret. ( WARNING: SOME IMAGES AND / OR LANGUAGE ON POST SECRET MAY BE OFFENSIVE ) Since 2005, Frank Warren has posted secrets from random people who mail postcards displaying something that is "completely truthful and never before spoken". Each one anonymous, they are compelling and fascinating.

Each one reveals some sort of brokenness.

I received an email today that asked, "How?" How do you embrace brokenness and live into healing? How do you get to that place of being "not broken"?

I laid in bed tonight unable to sleep, thinking about brokenness and healing and the long journey of my own life. I would say that I am "not broken" - at least not so much as I was five years ago. Or a decade ago. Or twenty years ago.

And yet I am, like Brian, still broken. There are parts and places in me that will always be selfish and manipulative. I will continue to seek out my own gain. I will try to justify bad behavior. I will be lazy and waste time and resources.

I. Am. Broken.

And yet....this is a good thing. This is where all the elements of my spirit and my nature and my self and my soul intersect, this is where a spiritual life matters. This is why following Christ makes sense.

We are broken. 

We need help.


Jesus, who walked around as a man, who - by any accounts as you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - really got people, who wasn't afraid to call us out for bad behavior, who offered grace and kindness, who loved the underdog...I think Jesus got our brokenness.

And then he was broken, not just in a figurative way, but literally.

I cannot claim to understand it all, but I know this: Accepting, understanding and admitting my brokenness is key to accepting, understanding and admitting that I need help. This is where it makes sense for me, even as it is supernatural and mysterious, as it requires faith. Jesus is that help. Jesus is our Savior - that word is so potent! For why have a savior if not to save?

I was a Christian for many years before I understood this. Oh, I knew the church words and how to behave and what verses to quote. But I didn't get it. The bottom of my life had to fall out before I got it. I think that's what it took for me, because I am selfish and manipulative and I can play a good game. I thought I had this Christian thing figured out. I believed in Jesus.

I worked at a church.

But the chickens came home to roost, and I fell flat on my face. In the muck of it all, with the taste of dirt in my mouth, I came face to face with this reality: I am broken. I need help.

These days, the solutions we jump to are Twelve Step programs; therapy; counseling. Self-help books. All good things, all things that helped me along the way as well.

But this is where Christianity has legs. This is where radical things can happen. This is where the light goes on. This is where freedom reigns. We are broken. Jesus saves us.

Sometimes, this is where it gets a little weird. Because it's supernatural. 

But this is where it's at. Accepting your brokenness is key, because you've gotta know you need something before you need it.

"Since we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness."  Romans 3.23-26, The Message

The cross represents Jesus...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Submission And His Hand On My Leg

It's just cold enough for me to lean into him, my neck muscles taut as I press my chin to the top of his spine.

I can't see well; I wear my sunglasses to keep the wind off my eyes. It's dusk, and the shade is deeper behind my cheap Target aviators. Even behind the lenses, my eyes are watering.

He lets his left arm hang straight down, parallel to my leg. He clasps my ankle with his hands. I didn't think ahead and wore my imitation Sperry's, no socks. Not enough protection.

He squeezes gently, and I relax. I lean my head back and the wind hits me, hard. It's noisy and it's cold and I can't see and we're pushing sixty miles an hour down an open rode.

But his hand is on my leg, and I lean back. I close my eyes and all my senses take in are the rushing wind and the noise and the chill.

His hand is on my leg, and it's loud - so loud I don't even hear the whomp whomp whomp of the muffler over the wind. My head rests at a delicate angle, and all I feel is motion.

I let go. I relax and I lean away and I'm into the motion and the sound and I let go. In the midst of danger, twenty-four inches from pavement that would not yield were our two wheels to fail, I risk the relinquishing of control. I trust him. He controls the steering, he commands the acceleration, he maintains balance for both of us. I am only a passenger.

His hand is on my leg, steady, warm. He cannot look at me - his focus is ahead, on the road - but he reminds me that he is there. He reminds me that he's got this, that he is comfortable enough to navigate speed and balance and stopping and starting on this thousand-pound machine, all the while keeping one hand on me. Not for his balance, but to steady me.

I let go, and relax, and I feel the Spirit move in me.

And I get it. In the midst of my life and my work, in the middle of a calling that many would tell me can not be because I am not a man, in my own wrestling and questioning and all above and around the working out of my salvation with much fear and trembling, I get it.

I understand submission.

The man who navigates the chilly dusk of a Friday night steadies me. He makes a place for me to trust him. He shows me that he is trustworthy. And, of all things, in all places, this scripture becomes truth to me: "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also should wives submit to their husbands in everything."

In a way I have never experienced before, on the back of a motorcycle, I see the image Paul painted here; the dependency and trust offered my husband as an encouragement for me to submit to Christ in the same way.  

This is not so much a thing that you can tell me I must do. This is not really a lifestyle, or a cultural norm. It is Biblical truth that comes through faith and through the power of the word and by grace. And it is positive, overflowing with the good that comes from a beautiful act of love; I cannot, for the life of me, read into these words any admonition for all that I must not do.

I am so thankful for this, the way God moves (in such mysterious ways) to invite me into submission on the back of a Harley.

With his hand on my leg.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Creative? In A Rut?

The first Tuesday afternoon of every month is set aside for CREATIVITY for our team. We work with some basic information about upcoming services and series and set aside a few hours to let our imaginations run wild.

We look for ways to introduce ideas, present concepts, ask questions, get - and keep - the attention of the listener. Above all, we try to honor God and inspire people.

We'll meet this week. Here's some good information - presented in a wonderfully creative way - to get ready for our gathering! If you're creative, you might find this helpful.

If you're not creative, I beg to differ. Everybody can be creative!

HT to Lucille Zimmerman, whose guest post on Michael Hyatt's blog turned me on to this cool graphic.

How to Break Out of a Creative Rut
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

If you'd like more information about joining our team for a little creative brainstorming, let me know! We welcome new folks, if they bring chocolate....

Just kidding.

Email me: beth {at} pccwired {dot} net.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The LIFT Project

I've gone back to school.

Sort of. It's perfect, actually; an online course from the Willow Creek Association. The LIFT Project offers "Interactive Courses for Transformational Leadership", with several different topics available. The WCA has built up a huge amount of trust in their brand, thanks to their ongoing commitment to leadership development through the Summit and other events. Folks like Henry Cloud, Bill Hybels, Nancy Beach and Patrick Lencioni have made their mark on my educational development thanks to the efforts of the WCA.

I've been considering what might come next for me, as my kids grow older (and out of the house, in some cases); as our church grows; as our personal family business becomes more grounded in the community; and as I feel some tugging towards Something New in my heart.

I'm not sure what that new thing might be, but the thought of intentionally digging into learning something new, beyond yearly conference opportunities, is quite appealing. The LIFT Project looked like a great way to stick my toe in the water of some serious continuing education.

Thus far, it's been informative, challenging and surprisingly relevant to my current needs. Week One required some serious reading - Dallas Willard, who I've always admired but never really studied. His paper on "Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation" was challenging and informative. Subsequent blackboard discussion with people from all over North America, the UK, Sweden, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand was fascinating.

This week's assignments have been convicting; all delivered in video or audio format, the short teaching segments center on who a leader is, rather than what she does.
"Truth be told, the average Christian leader spends more time in business and management and strategy meetings than we ever do talking to God." - Harvey Carey
Ow. That stung; and yet I found it quite freeing. Since the summer, I have found that more and more I am focused on doing, at the expense of being. It seems appropriate, required, and necessary; but in this particular line of work, it's dangerous. Carey's words hit home with me, though I'm not proud to admit it. However, the truth sets you free. I am working towards transformation.

Screen shot of Nancy Beach
My favorite part of this week's teaching was seeing Nancy Beach, who has long represented all I thought God was calling me towards as an artist and someone who loved the local church. A decade ago, I began to see and hear Nancy in her role at Willow Creek Community Church. In my heart, it was as if her presence confirmed a whisper I heard in my heart: "Yes. I can use you." Her short video segment this week told the sad tale of a church leader with a marked lack of love, humility and gentleness; the closer people got to this senior church leader, the less they saw of Jesus.

"Above all else", she said, "guard your heart". She reminded us of the value of spiritual practices, safe relationships and stretching experiences.

This course is a unique opportunity for me, at an opportune time. In some ways, I am seeing myself through different eyes - as one of a large group of people who are pursuing the best way to engage in their calling. I'm one of many who are convinced that the local church is the hope of the world. It's a level playing field, with women and men equally represented, with welcome dialogue and affirmation.

In an audio clip today, Harvey Carey said, "I got into this because I wanted to see lives change. That can only happen in His presence."

Me, too.

That's a good reminder. I'm grateful.

Disclaimer: I was invited to participate in this session of LIFT; course fees were waived in return for blog posts sharing my experience. It worked for me; I'd blog about it anyway! To find out more about LIFT, click here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Worship Recap 9/23/2012

Puerto Rican sunset
Running a bit late with the Worship Recap this week; here it is, from the Powhatan Campus:

Our God - Chris Tomlin
Your Love Never Fails Jesus Culture
10,000 Reasons Matt Redman
In Christ Alone Stuart Townend

We closed with one of my favorite songs of all time, by one of my favorite artists. Andrew Peterson wrote Behold the Lamb of God, presented at PCC last Christmas. Our first encounter with Peterson was The Silence of God, the closing song for this week's message.

You might remember Dancing In the Minefields - also Andrew Peterson, a profound song that wraps a beautiful melody around the promise of marriage.

By the way, we won't be doing Behold the Lamb of God this year at PCC; but Andrew Peterson will be in town December 6, and he'll do it. (Unfortunately not in Powhatan - but in Richmond, at NorthStar / Bon Air)

Save the date.

Busy week, planning for service on Sunday and the 10th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday's a little comfort.