Monday, March 26, 2012

On Savannah

Ceiling, second floor, SCAD Student Center
Savannah is an amazing town. Urban, with an incredible energy flowing through not only the historic district, but the outer ring as well. Southern, with lovely hospitality and smiles and the inner light that comes from people who have learned to suffer under the strain of great humidity.

It is an amazing town, this little haven of cool in the corner of Georgia. And now, it is my daughter's home.

It's a great fit, it so many ways. There is still much to sort out. We will go day by day. But she's there, and she's ready.

In her new dorm room
Through this process, I have strongly felt God impress two specific truths to me. One was this, that SHE IS READY FOR THIS, which came (in all caps, yes) as I walked the streets of our neighborhood before we left. I leaked tears and leaned into the stress of it all, and it could have been a loud voice or a soft whisper, but whatever it was, I heard it.


And the further implication?

SO JUST SHUT UP ALREADY AND GET OVER YOURSELF (a little note from my dear friend Bob Pino, no doubt, who I can clearly envision hanging around with Jesus himself, talking about us all.)

The second came to me in Savannah, while Sarah slept soundly next to the hum of the hotel air conditioner and my husband sought his own sleep next to me.


Again, there's me with the tears and the stress, and there's this voice, this sense of command and knowledge. And a question.

I answered, in the affirmative, and felt - literally - a peace settle about me.

It was so very real.

So there's this: either I am going a bit crazy these days, which is entirely possible, or I am experiencing, in my weakness, some amazing transcendental moments. Call it what you will. I'm calling it the presence of God.

I welcome it.

Our new friend Steph, at the Back In the Day Bakery, which was oh-my-word incredible

Yes. My favorite picture. Maybe ever.

Oh, and by the way: you know Sarah sings. Monday evening, before she left last week, she met up with a friend who often "borrows" her voice for some of his projects. Take a listen at what she did to help out last week. Go here and give it a listen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How Far Love Goes

I remember the moment. I was driving down Route 422 in Bainbridge Township, Ohio. I'd picked up a few new-to-me cds from the local library, trying to discover some new music.

Dar Williams was a familiar name, but I'd never heard her music. The Beauty of the Rain was the library's offering, and from the moment I slipped it in the narrow opening of the cd player in the Big Red Suburban, I was captivated.

I was separated from the father of my five kids. My heart was in ashes, my starving, skinny frame sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in an old farmhouse that the kids referred to as "The Fake House". I was navigating life on my own, trying to work full-time, wrangle my young children and piece together the broken mess I'd made of my life.

The album opens with "The Mercy of the Fallen", and as I steered that Big Red Suburban through the wind and rain and sleet and snow, I felt like I belonged in some deep vat of collective self-inflicted suffering:

There's the wind and the rain and the mercy of the fallen
Who say they have no claim to know what's right
There's the weak and the strong
And the beds that have no answers
And that's where I may rest my head tonight

I cried. I drove, and I cried.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about another song on that cd, one that began to write a story in my soul that reaches a climactic point tomorrow.

All the things you treasure most will be the hardest won
I will watch you struggle on before the answers come
But I won't make it harder, I'll be there to cheer you on
I'll shine the light that guides you down the road you're walking on

And you'll fly away
But take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done, you'll be the one who knows

This girl is leaving home tomorrow. A few summers ago, I watched her fly away - literally - to spend her summer in Germany. And then she went back again. She flew away - but she always came back.

Tomorrow she leaves this home, and there is no return ticket. She is ready to go. I'm not sure she will ever come back, at least not like she's been here before.

She is 21, and she is ready.

This evening, I thought back to those moments I spent listening to that song. They were a warning, I suppose; an indication of where my priorities ought to be as I parented my children. The best judge of my love for them wouldn't lie in what the people in my church thought, or my neighbors, or even my mom and dad. Or, maybe, even in my own assessment.

The length and depth and breadth of my love for my kids would be best and most honestly evaluated when they arrived at the place where they could look back. And I had no idea, then, what would transpire in the coming years. I could never imagine the struggles we would face, the roads she would walk.  I took heed to that song then, never realizing how quickly we'd get to this place.

I've just kept shining that light, as best I could.

Yesterday, I sat in the rocking chair and cried, the tears telling the truth about my anxiety and my worry, my fear - not so much for her, but for the absence of me in her day to day life. Who will watch her? Who will see when she's anxious, know when she's worried, understand when it's midnight and she just needs to flop on the bed and talk?

Who is going to shine the light now, when she is 500 miles away from me?

I cried, the tears unable and unwilling to stay bottled up, and I spit out a few feeble words to my husband. And then she walked around the corner and said, "Ah, mom...."

I sat in the rocking chair, crying, and she sat on my lap, and I saw then and there how things change because they can't stay the same, and she stroked my hair and hugged me and said, "Mama, it'll be okay."

She's held my hand all along, and now this part of my job is done.

How far does love go?

She knows.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why Did You Come Back?

Every few weeks our pastor leads a class called PCC 101. Taught in two 90-minute sessions, it's a look at the inside workings of our church; how it started, what we believe, why we do what we do, what we believe the local church is called to do and to be.

Every few weeks, I try to make the first 101 class. I'm inspired and energized and most often, moved to tears.

It's the stories.

Music men
Brian asks every person, every time, to answer three questions:
  1. What's your name?
  2. Why did you come to PCC?
  3. Why did you come back? 
They begin, and one by one the stories unfold.

I haven't been in church in 19 years.

My last church split. It broke my heart.

I've never been to church. Ever. 

We had a baby. We thought we should raise our kids in church.

I drive by here every day. One day, I decided to stop.  

I want to learn about God. I don't understand anything about church.

The words come spilling out, and sometimes tears silently slip down their face. They reach over and clutch the hand of their significant other. They choose their words carefully. They talk about trust, and being hurt, and feeling judged. They talk about being able to hide until they are sure they're not going to get hurt.

And often, they talk about walking into other churches and never feeling welcome. And lately, that's what breaks my heart.
We're not a perfect church. We're not the best church in town. PCC isn't better than any other place where folks are meeting to worship God. We're not for everybody. Folks come, and folks go.

We just have open arms.  

Rachel Held Evans wrote a great post this week called 15 Reasons I Left Church, all of which resonated. I'd heard them before. I'd felt them before.

And then, she offered a follow-up post: 15 Reasons I Returned To The Church. And just like sitting in 101, I'm moved to tears. Read it here.

And I'm curious, if you have a moment:  

Are you currently going to church? 
Why did you go? 
What made you go back?

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Beauty Of Your Peace

In these last few months I have Stopped Doing Some Things. In an effort to get back to center, away from the extreme edges of what seems to be a tenuous grip on a balanced life, I have peeled some of The Things I Do away from The Person I Am.

So I am no longer defined by my work as a piano teacher.

I am no longer obsessively working every waking moment.

I am no longer existing on a scant five hours of sleep.

I am no longer trying to be somebody else, some amalgamation of a Highly Successful Ministry Leader Musician With A Family.

Stripped of some of these things, which seem so simple and easy tossed aside (but which, in fact, are not), what am I?

Well, we are all on that journey, I suppose. I have no definitive answer. Yet.

I am not so busy. I am calm. I am not so anxious. I have peace. I am not so frustrated. I am centered.

And there is this: I am seeing. I am making every effort to be present in the moments of life, and rather than a trite mantra designed to make me feel better about living a valuable, worthwhile life in the midst of chaos, I am seriously taking the time to do it. Not just say it.

This Sunday, we will close our worship service with these words:

Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of your peace

I discovered today that those lyrics are rooted in a poem called The Brewing of Soma by Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Funny; I felt deeply the power of the words as we rehearsed Finding out that this contemporary tune is wrapped in verse written over 120 years ago elongates the experience. I had no idea - but somehow, I knew.  There was power there far beyond the simple harmony and melody line.

Somehow, my soul knew.

I am seeing more, these days. Simple things. A long line of truth that I intuitively understand. Something that speaks internally.

This is working. I am blessed.

Simple things. Eggs.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Springtime in Virginia!

 My yard is convinced that it's spring. You can't really argue with the likes of this.

I once felt badly about clipping flowers and bringing them inside the house. But whoever planned the landscaping for this house made sure there would be an abundance of color. One tree is already bursting with flowers.

I chose three of the fullest blooms and cut them. 

Then I realized that there were literally hundreds of buds about to open in the next few days.

I chose to cut every single open bloom.

I love fresh flowers in the house.

 The brothers posing for a quick shot. The 12-year old is taller than the 16-year old. Not much you can do about that; it is what it is.

I love them both.

It was a great day to be outside. 


I was glad to see my son playing soccer. He had to choose a few years ago: drumline or soccer. 

He chose music. He has no regrets, but he misses soccer.

Recently, I had to choose. I gave up teaching piano lessons to be home more in the afternoons.

I have no regrets. I miss my students.

But I wouldn't take anything for the time I had at home with my boys after school today.

There's Just Not Enough Room

What worship sometimes looks like in my house.
We kicked off a new series at PCC today. Ritual will take us through the next five weeks - clear to Easter - as we examine various rituals of faith and the modern church. We got the idea from National Community Church and Mark Batterson, made it our own, and now here we are, poised to take a fresh look at the rituals of our faith.

It began today with a look at worship. Rather than just talk about it in a standard format, we crafted a service that looked and sounded quite different than our usual approach. The message meandered through the entire 60-minute service, illustrated by song, responsive reading, offering and silence.

I believe the message was one of the best teaching messages I've heard my pastor deliver. He taught about worship; how to worship, what it means and why it matters. The words he shared about offering as worship were potent. The risk he took as he led us into a long, uncomfortable silence - and the gentle way he invited us out of that discomfort - was profoundly moving.

Worship at home.
Most of all, I love the way he emphasized the direction of our worship, the realignment of our role as performers for God (rather than watching those on the platform as performers for the congregational audience). That hit me.

I know this. And yet every week, after church, I find myself anxiously awaiting the pronouncement of "It was good." I look to my husband, to my kids, to my friends, to my band mates, to my co-workers. Before I swore off Facebook for Lent, I logged on every Sunday afternoon to see what people were saying about church. About worship.

And if they said it was "good", I was content. I believed it was good. And I felt as though I'd done what I'd set out to do, what I'd been called to do.

But Brian's teaching today, and the fact that I'm off Facebook, and the gentle conviction of God - all these things combined today to help me be content. Period. We sang, we prayed, we listened, we gave. We worshiped God, together.

And there it was. I need to be there more often, more consistently, focused on the response of God rather than the people around me.

Not necessarily worship...
There was still some feedback about today's service that brought me joy. My friend called this evening to say that his wife and daughter couldn't stop talking about their experience this morning. A friend shared that hearing The Doxology in a fresh way made her cry.

But best of all was this, from my daughter:

"What's with the camera guys taking up all the seats in the front row? I had to sit in the second row! And when we got to 'Revelation Song', I just had to get up and move right in front of the camera. There's just not enough room, and I have to be free to worship! I have to move! Today, I had to MOVE!"

Now, we are not a Pentecostal church; this girl just needs room to move. She lifts her hands and she experiences the fullness of God in corporate worship. She is close enough for me to see from the platform, and her reaction - her demonstration of the reality of the activity that is happening in her heart and her head, as she responds to God - is encouraging to me. But not just because she's responding to what we are doing on the platform. I witness her responding to God.

That is a beautiful thing. It's a privilege to behold. And from the platform, when I look out upon a sea of us responding to God, I am overwhelmed with the glory of what we do. When I see you responding to God, I am in awe.

I'm soaking in that tonight, and praying that God was honored in all we did this morning.

If you were there - I hope you experienced God in a meaningful way!

You can watch the service here.

Worship in a small thing of beauty; the inlay on a banjo hanging at Powhatan Music & Sound.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Shopping And Fun Links

I bought a piano today.

At a hardware store.

There's a first time for everything.


In other news, here's a few things I thought were really awesome:

I haven't watched a lot of football in the past decade, but I know Peyton Manning is a class act. And I know that Rick Reilly is one of the best writers on the planet. I grew up devouring every word of Sports Illustrated, every week. Great writing. Worth your time. Read this.

Another beautiful post by Addie Zierman from How To Talk Evangelical
"...Depression doesn’t just make you sad, it makes you empty. You reach for the things you need, but you can’t absorb them." Read the entire post here.

Anything called "Jesus, Don't Let Me Die Before I've Had Sex" sounds...interesting, to say the least. "The title is taken from one of the interviewees and the subject matter seems to be handled with compassion and nuance in a time where most discussions of sex and morality are incredibly polarized and lack both candor and humanity." I have a lot to say about this, but I'll save it for later. In the meantime, you might like to take a look.

Incredible art and design work from Jim LePage. Holy cow. This series is compelling and fascinating and inspiring and more.

Lastly, just heard a commercial for Charmin Toilet Paper. Their slogan is We all go. Why not enjoy the go? Really? That's just....awkward.

Here's another picture of the piano, and some clarification: 
a) It's not for me, it's for the church
b) It's not completely paid for. Yet. If you want to help get it to PCC, I can hook you up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Olive Kitteridge

A quick book report.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. A Pulitzer Prize winner.

It's like Freedom by Jonathan Franzen in some ways; it looks at life, at a family, over the course of time. The town matters - a small New England community, the town functions almost like a character in the book. It's a backdrop, with a specific feel to it that makes it an integral part of the story line.

It's like Freedom, but in a more manageable chunk of life, and with a different, more hopeful perspective. It meanders less; it brings home something solid and definite about life, and family, and small towns.

Olive herself is a fascinating character; the book ends with an intense focus on her and her alone, but the way Strout brings us to that point is brilliant. She offers so many perspectives, so many external details from the experiences of other characters (rather than the observations of the author) that by the time the story begins to center on Olive herself, the reader has an understanding and appreciation of her life that is richly layered, beautifully textured and powerfully true. It comes not from statements like, "And this is what Olive said, and this is how Henry reacted, and now you know this about Olive", although this is exactly what happens; we come to know the truth through life, as it is lived and related to us through a series of glimpses into a community.

That is the immense pleasure of this book: it is true, not by argument or description, but by our own understanding of the life of Olive Kitteridge. Having seen her from every angle, from the ugly and spiteful to the broken and lost, the reader is granted permission to know this woman from a very intimate, personal place. It is impossible to read the book and continue to stand outside the characters; almost imperatively, I identified with Olive. It happened late in the book. Along the way, there are moments of extreme distaste for the woman. However, like grace, an acceptance of her humanity and a growing compassion for her snuck up on me.

I found reading this book to be an extremely spiritual experience.

It helps that I am currently reading Stephen King's On Writing; I am prompted to be mindful of the details, of the ways in which a story grows and blossoms, anointing it's characters with authenticity and offering the readers a true experience. I can't think of a better book to read in this light. Elizabeth Stout is a brilliant writer.

And this is a rare moment; as I finished the book, one of my first thoughts was, "I cannot wait to see this movie." Meryl Streep, please, as Olive.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Broken And Fragile And Waiting

I am sitting in a Barnes & Noble in Cleveland, Ohio. Snow is lightly - very lightly - falling. The world outside is busy; it is a Monday morning, a workday.

I sit with my headphones tucked into my ear, the gentle songs of Beethoven drifting into my head. Piano sonatas; grace floats by.

The B&N soundtrack sneaks its way between the plastic earbuds and the flesh of my ears, and I hear snippets of "Ooh Baby, Baby". I'm back in 1980; Linda Ronstadt and Terri Hodges and me and the piano, feeling the power of major seventh chords and two-part harmony. Singing in the high school talent show, playing the piano.

I feel sort of suspended in time, here. Disconnected. The world is working around me, and I dangle here in motherhood, "with" my second oldest daughter. Supervising from afar. Just here, as mothers are wont to be; out of sight, but close enough for rescue if needed. She is across the street, spending the morning in a working interview with the family-business team that has offered her a summer internship. I am parked at the bookstore, on call. She doesn't know I am here, across the street, but I am. More for me than for her, I suppose. I am here.

These moments are very real. I am present in them. But it all feels somewhat ethereal. I am waiting for something. There is much to be done, but I am waiting.

My brother posted this morning, a beautiful essay that boldly states, "Yes, we are broken and fragile."

I am that, today. Feeling fragile, dangling in between the mother I have always been, the mother I am yet to be. Tentatively testing the waters, gauging the temperatures, trying to comprehend exactly what is expected of me in these days. Waiting for something I cannot describe. Ready to look up and say, "Ah - there you are!" 

I trust I will recognize it when I see it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Thirteen years in Western Pennsylvania.

Five years in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Four years in Lubbock.

Three years in the Dominican Republic.

Three years in Small Texas Town #1.

Two years in Small Texas Town #2.

Three years in Small Texas Town #3.

Three years in Fort Worth.

Four years in Northeast Ohio.

Eight years in Virginia.

Eight years in the same town, the same community, the same church, the same schools....

I think it means something, this first taste of roots and permanence since my childhood. I think there's something to the way life feels different, the new way old friendships feel, the fresh wonder of being in it for the long haul. Learning about the ebb and flow of watching the days and years go by in the lives of others, of seeing children grow and leave home and graduate and get married and have children, and to be here for it all, to see it up close. To see life, lived, and be part of it, a wider web, a deeper connection.

Life in community.

I've never really done this before. I have a few long-time friends, but not many. Facebook reconnections are often little more than amusing bits of trivia and distraction. It doesn't feel like I really know anybody from this scattered history.

Bits and pieces of me, scattered here and there. But I'm done. I'm here, I'm staying put, I'm rooted.

It's different.

It's good.