Tuesday, February 28, 2012

If You Lose Your Purpose...

"Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do... Maybe it's the same with people. If you lose your purpose...it's like you're broken."

We watched the movie Hugo tonight. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, the kids watched it. I caught snippets, in between cooking and plating dinner, serving the kids (on the couch; the home renovation is moving along quite nicely, and we've given up on the dining room until they finish) and leaving to pick up Daniel from drumline. What I saw, I really liked. It was a beautiful movie.

As I sat back down to engage in the final 10 minutes of the film, the kids said, "Mom, you missed the best part. About purpose."

"If you lose your purpose...it's like you're broken."

I've felt broken, on more than one occasion. And here recently, I've experienced that sadness, the absence of purpose, more frequently than I'd like to admit.

Although it feels so, it is not that I have lost my purpose. I've simply been unable to see it.

I guess the end result is one and the same - brokenness. Sadness.

Been there. Done that.

But here's the key, the good part, the sweet stuff: With a change in perspective, an open heart, the counsel of the wise and the faith that the Promise is true, what is unseen can be revealed.

A combination of all of the above caused my eyes to open.

Most powerful - surprisingly so (to me, anyway) - has been an abrupt change in my schedule. I've been working full-time and teaching privately three days a week at our family music store. I love both. But the cost was great; I saw it first in my children. My absence made a difference. I knew that I was tired, fractured, stressed.

And so I quit for a season, which was oh-so-hard, because I have this heightened sense of self-importance that makes me think, sometimes, that the world itself will stop spinning were I to stop doing something. I know I'm an effective piano teacher, and I love it; but someone else stepped in and I find myself with time at home now, room to breathe, and I am better for it. As our my children. And, I daresay, most of the people I come in contact with, because I'm present now, for all of it.

And the world is not going to end because I can't jump on Facebook right now and post something witty or clever. Although at least six times a day I doubt the truth of that statement, I know that's another thing I am learning in these days. I am tempted daily to reactivate my account (deactivated as a Lenten discipline) and reengage, because I think I have something to say.

I always have something to say.

I've learned, instead, to be quiet. I've learned to be patient. I've learned to pick up the phone, to send a personal email, to be present, to pray, to give myself space to think and breathe instead of filling up every moment with words.



I have been more thoughtful in conversation. I certainly spend more time in prayer. I breathe. I think.

Undoubtedly space to breathe and think is the result of my new schedule, no longer teaching, leaving room for both. But it is also the removal of distractions. An it is honest conversation with people that I know believe the best, have my back, love me. 

Clearing away the clutter, I rediscovered my purpose. I feel restored. I feel grateful.

And though the valley may come again, I'll take this focus for this moment and be grateful for it.

What's distracting you? Who might speak some truth into your life, if invited? Who might benefit from your words?

Friday, February 24, 2012


Well, my most recent post depressed even me.

So here's an update:

My husband is good medicine. 

The most dangerous place for me to be is in my own head.

After an hour of tears and conversation, with no effort on his part to do anything but listen - no fixing, no rationalization - I feel better.

Still stung, but in a better pace.

I am grateful.
Authorized dealer in fixing broken hearts. That's him.


It's funny how quickly things can turn, pushed along by what comes to our ears. A word of encouragement, a "This is what I see in you" comment that layers a thread of fragile confidence in the torn fabric of my daily questioning. I was given a word like that yesterday, from a trusted friend, someone who tells me the truth, who I believe has my best interest at heart.

The Proverb says, "Gracious speech is like clover honey - good taste for the soul, quick energy for the body." I can give that a hearty "amen".

And it's funny how quickly things can turn, pushed along by what comes to our ears. An overheard conversation, expression of frustration that filters into my ears and heart as failure on my part. Again, words from a trusted friend, someone I count on to tell the truth.

But this time, the taste was bitter, and crushing. Those words were not meant for my ears, but they snaked their way in anyway. And they offered no quick energy, no life.

Instead, they fueled the cloud of insecurity and self-doubt that seems to hover just outside the joy that strengthens me daily. Energy for that nagging opportunist, the shrieking soprano that pushes through every opening to state its repetitive claim on my soul. Sometimes she whispers, but today she is screaming.

"you're an imposter. 
you can't do this. 
you've gone as far as you can go. 
there is no more hope. 
give up, let it go, walk away. 
you're just not good enough."

I find it ironic that the negative so quickly replaces the positive, that the darkness has such power to push away the light. I will cling to the bad, wallow in it, roll the words off my tongue for hours; and all but forget the positive. I know better; but I struggle to do better.

It's so damned frustrating to think that in almost five decades of life, I am still feeding off the bottom of negativity and self-recrimination, stuffing my self with a pile of garbage until I vomit. Ask me how I am today; ask me who I am today, and I have one word for you.


I know better. But today, right now, I cannot live into what I know.

And so I have a Keith Green playlist running on Pandora, and I sit watching over an empty music store, allowing words of life to wash over me, praying that the taste of the goodness of the Lord will wash away the bitter.

here's my heart, Lord
take and seal it...

Happy Friday And Random Thoughts

I have more to say about my study break, particularly this:

The church is not supposed to be a society of perfect people doing great work. It's a society of forgiven sinners repaying their unpayable debt of love by working Jesus's kingdom in every way they can, knowing themselves to be unworthy of the task. - N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

But I'll wait to dig into that. Let me just say reading my first N.T. Wright book was a profound experience. I strongly encourage you to consider picking up a copy of Simply Jesus.

And here are a few other things:

Mark Batterson is the real deal. A good author, a comfortably powerful speaker and a consistent blogger. Follow him here.

How To Talk Evangelical is an intriguing name for a blog. This post I found compelling, especially as we are planning an upcoming series that will dig into the power of ritual, reality and relationship. Religion and relationship; mystery and understanding; silence and prayer. Good stuff.

I'm partial to this guy; and I found this post profoundly moving. This one, too.

I'm late to this party, but I love this blog about design. And seeing inside people's houses. I just like that.

Finally, my friends John, Tricia and Eli Tiller are chasing the wild goose. They are doing amazing things. I'm so excited for them and blessed by them. You will be, too.

Happy Friday! And for your viewing pleasure, here's a random photo of my 16-year old.

Also, I gave up Facebook for Lent. I miss my friends. Still processing what that means....

Drums in a gym! This is what my son does, hour after hour after hour..

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I knelt this morning at the altar of a small Episcopal church. Thin in number, six of us - women, all - wrapped around the gentle curve of the wooden frame. The priest, a man I'd met just 30 minutes earlier as I walked in the door, placed his thumb on my forehead and said my name.

"Beth - it is Beth, right?"

I was a stranger to the ritual, and it was not comfortable. I kept one eye open, watching the others for cues. How do I do this? What comes next? What will make me look like I belong?

Interesting, that thought process. We moved through the motions; I heard the words, felt the prayers around me, found the give-and-take rhythm of the Psalm we batted back and forth with the priest.

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 
Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from sin."

Later we proceeded past the mostly empty pews to the altar again; the priest placed the crisp, unleavened communion bread on my tongue. We drank from a common cup.

The bread and wine and words filled my mouth, flooded my heart, rushed through my limbs.

I belong.

Making Circles

My study break was launched in a circle.

The circle spun into six full pages of notes in my little blue Moleskine.

Mark Batterson came to town, and I went to sit in a room with him and about 30 other people doing ministry in our immediate area. He was there to give us Five Leadership Lessons. I took notes, and somehow I ended up with six on my list.

Go figure.

Leading up to the Leadership Lesson List, he talked about prayer. I listened to Batterson speak.

And I heard God.

I set up this day.

When is the last time you prayed for me to increase your faith?

The spirit specializes in that space between the eardrum and the auditory cortex.

Sometimes your plans have to fail so that My plans can succeed.

One mission trip can be worth 52 sermons.

If you are praying in the will of God, you have all authority and power behind you.

The anointing is for everyone. 

Without the "THIS IS CRAZY!" moments, you never the "THIS IS AWESOME!"

Consecrate yourself....

Pray. And then say to God, "I trust you."

It was powerful. At one point, a room of staid Baptist church folk were on their knees around our plastic banquet tables. Praying.

You know how you are somewhere and you just know that you were meant to be there?

Yeah. That.

For the record, here's my list of SIX Leadership Lessons:

  1. One God idea is better than 1,000 good ideas.
  2. One picture = 10 million words.
  3. A 1% change = a 99% difference
  4. 5 + 2 = 5,000 remainder 12. God is a God of multiplication.
  5. Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.
  6. Everything - Jesus = nothing. Nothing + Jesus = everything.
I highly recommend to you Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker. It is one of the most encouraging, powerful books on prayer that I have read. And if you have an opportunity to hear Batterson speak, take it. He'll be at PCC June 24. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Study Break 2012

Today ends my first study break of 2012.

Let me explain, first. Almost six years ago Brian Hughes sat down across from me at Rosa's Restaurant. Over a plate of cheese sticks, he invited me to leave my teaching job in Chesterfield County and come work for PCC.

I laughed. I was - I am - the least likely candidate for a full-time ministry position that I could imagine.

But Brian convinced me that God used broken people to reach broken people, and I knew he was right. I saw the evidence in the PCC community - that people far from God were finding hope - and so, with a deep breath, clinging to Godworksallthingstogetherforgood, I accepted the offer.

I left a fairly decent job, with excellent benefits, to work for less money and no benefits. The bonus of working in Powhatan with flexible hours carried a lot of weight, as did the fact that it was, indeed, a calling from God (I moved in faith then; I only recognized it in hindsight). But taking a cue from my brother, who is a creative person working in a church, I asked for some time that I figured I would need to refresh and refuel. Three weeks of "study break", to be used at my discretion, was part of my package, per my request.

I have, every year, used those weeks with gratitude and very tangible results. I'm not sure I'd still be working at the church had I not done so. Amazing things have happened as I changed my scenery, altered my routine, read, pursued art, played music, prayed and otherwise took time to nourish my soul.

(If you are so inclined, you can read about my other break times here, here and here. Also, here and here. I like to re-read them. You? Maybe not so much. But just in case, there they are.)

This year, my break was complicated. Family schedules, crazy weather; nothing quite worked out as planned. I went nowhere. I stayed home, with stacks of books and piles of paper. I cooked for my family. I sat with my husband and my children.

But here's the thing: outside the normal routine, amazing things still happened. It has been a powerful, prayerful week. I will wake up tomorrow, back to work, but different than I was a week okay.

A study break changes my attitude. It brings about powerful paradigm shifts.

This has been an incredible week. There are several reasons. I'm going to process a bit of what I've experienced over the next few days, here on this blog. I hope you'll come back and allow me to share - to bear witness - of what I have learned and who I have encountered.

But today?

Today, my break ends. Today is Fat Tuesday - Mardi Gras.
Mardi gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday... Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. In English, the day is called Shrove Tuesday, associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins. - Wikipedia
I'm not sure I'll celebrate with masks and costumes. There are no particular social conventions I wish to overturn. But today does mark an end, not only of this week apart, but also of some of the more vapid, selfish internal games I play with myself. And I have a few confessions.

I confess this: my faith has been weak, my commitment has wavered. I have struggled in a world of transition, allowing the shallowness of current culture to define the thin, shape-shifting lines of discipline that I daily skirt.

I confess this: that I want more, different, deeper, richer; and that I do very little to obtain that which I desire, except to gaze across the fence at those who appear to possess that which I think I want.

I confess this: that to remain as I am is such a violent disgrace to the One I claim to follow, that I wonder how it is that He has not spit me out of His mouth in disgust.

I confess this: that I long to be part of the kingdom of heaven as it is here on earth, in a way that rises above my weak self-indulgence.

I have spent a week reading, thinking, praying, making art, being still, tending to my family, being me. I have felt fully inhabited, at times, by the spirit of God. I have felt a lightness to my being that has more to do with perspective that busyness. And I am persuaded that this is the life to which I am called, and that I must do all that I can to live this life. 

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. In my current faith community - my church - we do little to commemorate the day or the season. We are yearning for Easter, leaning into the celebration already, anticipating the joy and the music and the victory.

But this year, I am so cognizant of the struggle, of the darkness, of the need for patience and humility as we wait for the coming of the kingdom. I am going to live into Ash Wednesday, into sacrifice and into Lent as best I can. I believe I am called to do so.

I have to go where I'm called.
Journal notes...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sirious Appreciation

"Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up."

A few months ago I took the plunge and got an iPhone 4S. In terms of functional technology, it's absolutely one of the best purchases I've ever made.

Plus there's the cool factor. I love my phone; it works, does what it's supposed to do with efficiency.

You may know about Siri, the iPhone's personal assistant. It's a voice-activated command system that I find quite convenient.  

"Siri, look up a number for Hobby Lobby." 

Wait five seconds and a pleasant voice replies, "Here is the closest Hobby Lobby." On the screen appears a map, a phone number and an option to call.

Yesterday I used Siri several times (trying to help my eldest son finish a science fair project. Don't ask.) Every question received a prompt answer, with all the information I need.

I pressed the button and said, "Thank you Siri. Great job."

And she replied, "You're welcome. It's nice to be appreciated."


I so believe in the power of gratitude, spoken aloud. It's safe to assume that words of appreciation offer grace and something of value to the recipient; at least, most of the time, you tell somebody something good in order to bolster them. It's one of those cases when it truly is better to give than to receive.

Siri responded with appreciation, but it is a phone. She's not real.

But offering those words did something in me; they helped keep my focus on the positive, the blessings, the good stuff.

And that makes for a better day, in the grand scheme of things.

"...the tongue of the wise brings healing." 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


In an exciting and strangely surprising twist of events, we discovered this evening that approximately 1/2 of the Picaken has been eaten.

Casual conversation revealed that someone had Picaken for breakfast and apparently enjoyed it.

We now return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Picaken Update

I must sadly report to you, my faithful readers, that the Picaken was not met with the inspirational, passionate reception I envisioned.

My children - all five of them - turned up their noses at the Picaken, regardless of its intricate, beautiful structural complexity.

My husband, although he ate two fairly sizable pieces, neither cheered nor smothered me with kisses of gratitude. Instead, his reaction was more along the lines of (and I quote):

"I think maybe I prefer my pie and cake to stay separated."

Lord, have mercy. A huge mess of homemade buttercream icing, along with a homemade cherry pie and that delicious devil's food cake....and the Picaken sits, lonely and abandoned, with a scant four pieces removed.
(He had two. I had one last night and one today.)

And then, when my husband awoke today, he said, "No more carbs or sugars for me. New diet."

I'm not sure I'm up to interpreting what all of this means, but I guess that was my first - and last - Picaken.

Anybody wanna come over and help me finish it?

Sunday, February 12, 2012


So I follow this pretty cool blog called Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. Funny, irreverent, clever and often moving.

And inspiring.

When she posted about a new creation called Picaken, I was intrigued. See, I'm married to a man who loves pie. Who posts pictures of pie on the fridge in the hopes that I'll make pie.

Here's the pie that I baked to put into the Picaken. When he walked through the kitchen, he said, "Are you really going to do this?" I said yes. He looked at the pie and said, somewhat wistfully, "That's a perfectly good pie....."

Yes, it is. And it's headed for the Picaken! 

He also loves cake. In fact, he loves sweets, period. I must admit to a twinge of guilt at the havoc I am wreaking on his blood sugar by this planned sugary extravaganza. But it's just a twinge...it's not like we're going to do this on a regular basis.

(Unless it's really good.)

So I'm combining two of his favorite things. I'm just doing what my pastor encouraged us today: making HIS needs more important than my own! I'm expressing my love! I'm planting seeds!

And there's this: I like to do something creative every week. I think this counts as creative, for sure. And loving!

Inspired by the original Picaken post, I looked around a bit more and found this. And I'm telling you right now, there's no way my Picaken is going to be that magnificent.

But I'm going for it.

Here are a few photos of the beginning stages of this project. I will certainly update you later.

We're makin' Picaken!

The ladies in Texas taught me this: ONLY Duncan Hines for cake mix!

There's a pie in there...

In the oven. Updates later!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Year Has Passed

I started blogging in August of 2007. In a few months, grace every day will celebrate its fifth birthday.

This blog has had over 72,000 page views. Sounds like a lot, but half of them might be me, just visiting my old self.

It's become my journal, this blog. A place of record, a holder of memories. Because life is just going too fast, too much, too soon. I'm not ready for half of it, it seems; and then it's gone and I realize that I never even had it. This blog helps me remember it.

I think maybe this has been the hardest season since I moved to Powhatan, these last 12 months. Sunday marked a year since my friend Bob's passing. I still miss him, and the waves of longing for him hit - though less frequently - just as powerfully as they did in the days and weeks immediately following his death.

I miss Bob.

And then we changed so many things - started a new business, left our home of five years to move into a new place, which we promptly began to renovate, which means we never really nested. The work on the house is taking longer than I hoped - which is always the case, isn't it?

And so we are in a season of upheaval, with a child graduating high school, another hoping to begin art school in a month (and move away from home), growth and transition in my job that are both rapid, terrifying and exhilarating. There was a serious bout with skin cancer. There was knee surgery.

And then there's the slow changes time brings...I am approaching the end of my forties. My feet are dragging; I was digging in my heels, but I couldn't gain traction. I'm at the mercy of the endless motion of time, being drug through the days and weeks and months, captured by the relentless carousel of time. I am struck dumb, paralyzed, unable to comprehend these changes. I have gained weight. I am not comfortable in this body, with these lines on my face, these changes in my skin and my joints.

I went back to read where I was at this time last year. I hardly recognize that woman. I was sad and in mourning and overwhelmed but I was so centered. And it wasn't just something I conjured up to make a blog post: it was valid and it was real and it was me. I was present, and focused and functioning and thoughtful and articulate.

What happened?

It hardly seems possible that an entire year of my life could have been sucked into grief, and life stage changes, and simply growing older. It's like a dark drape settled over my everything for the past eleven months. No sunshine, not enough time, too much angst, not enough energy....

But maybe it IS possible; maybe I just have never been there before. Of course I haven't...I've never been almost-49, with two daughters out of high school and one almost done, with a 16-year old son and 12-year old giant boy and a husband of two years and a cat and a hole in my heart where Bob Pino used to live and a music store and a new kitchen (almost) and and and and....

I am so sick of listing my circumstances.

I want to remember who I am.

And discover who I am becoming.

And it is not easy.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

So An Attorney, A Dentist And A Senior Pastor Walk Into A Creative Retreat...

Service planning at PCC is a combination of research, prayer, brainstorming, creative exploration, attention to detail, administrative follow-up and unique relationships. One day a week, we spend about three hours reviewing upcoming service ideas and plans; but we never have enough time, it seems.

So occasionally we try to build in an extended time of planning. I have come to see these moments as opportunities to work in two directions:  internally, to nurture and tend to our artistic souls, and externally, focusing on what we are charged with in terms of service programming for our church community.

That's what we did today. At a mountain retreat house (thanks to the generosity of a PCC family), we spent a day immersed in creative stuff. I planned this retreat, and I was just a little bit apprehensive. When you pull together a senior pastor, an attorney, a dentist and various other folks who serve in various capacities in our weekly services, it's a little daunting to consider how they are going to react to assignments requiring markers, scissors, stickers and glue sticks.

They did pretty well. There was that one moment when someone fell asleep as we prayed and began to snore...loudly...

But overall, they did well. It was a fascinating day, with a chance to look into the minds of a very divergent group of people who were willing to explore the personal, artistic interpretation of a specific piece of scripture. There was one rebel who refused to function within the boundaries of the assignment...but that's okay. He took an artistic risk and came up with something of his own. And it was good. (You can read his take on the day here.)

I'll post a bit more about this in coming days, but for how, here's a look at the tangible creative product (you'll see the other results in upcoming services at PCC!) The assignment was to take these words and react to them with some sort of visual creation; to create an inspiration board.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. - Ephesians 3.16-21
For me, it was an incredibly moving experience. One by one, each person held up their board and offered an explanation of their thought process. "This is how I see this; this is how I feel these words."

I believe this is part of the way God works in us, how we continue to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling".

It's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happiness Is A Warm Guitar

It makes me happy to see people in my family happy. At the moment, Sydni is wandering around in the kitchen singing, "We found love in a hopeless place..." Occasionally, Sarah will chime in a harmony part. It's beautiful.

They are happy when they are singing.

David holds a carton of ice cream in his hand, and for the duration of time it takes him to finish, he is a happy boy.

Daniel drums. Constantly. There are always sounds of drumming in the house. That makes him happy.

I talked to Shannon on Skype today, and she was beaming in her beautiful green dress. She loves JMU. She is happy.

But true happiness, the kind that is hard-won and not soon forgotten?

It looks like this.

Granted, his face doesn't look happy, but the elements of happiness required for any guitar player are right there.

And he is very happy.

Church, this Sunday. I'm serious. The song requires a Marshall...