Sunday, December 29, 2013

Vulnerable Peace

The online writing group to which I belong has laid claim to a particular word, to be used as a prompt. Why now? Why this word?

Only the good Lord knows, and I suspect He does, as the hopes and fears of all the years are bubbling up in the peculiar twists and turns of our phrases.

And I have been ruminating, thoughts have been percolating, I have been meditating, which turned to cogitating, on this one observation from the past week. It seems to fit with the prompt, in a way I doubt I fully understand, but hey.

I'm gonna go with it.
With David, my 'baby'

My family, we are touchers. Feelers. It seems to be deeply ingrained in our turning to one another, our assurances of love. When we talk, when we listen, we catch hold of each other. The girls, especially; but it's in the boys as well, though probably a little less natural and uninhibited.

With all the kids home for a few days last week, there was much hugging. Squeezing. Head scratching; seriously, with the girls, we are are prone to sit next to one another and just stroke each others' hair.

I don't know; it sounds crazy as I write this, but it is true. We do this, and it is nothing but an expression of love, a firm place to stand, a declaration that Yes, I am here and I hear you and I am with you and there is this intimate thing between us and we love one another.

I don't know.

I don't think about it much. It just is.

But last week, there was much cuddling. I found myself drawn to the couch, squeezing four of us in when only three should fit. I held them all, one by one, sometimes two at a time, just to sit. To be with. To hold.

At one point, my youngest daughter and I were on the couch, watching television.

I held her hand in mine, and with nothing distracting me - no work to be done, no chores waiting - I was very aware of the surface of her skin. It startled me, the stark contrast between our hands, the curve of our joints, the plane of our flesh. Imagine this, the fresh hands of one who has had a scant 20 years on this earth, compared to mine, which have lived and lifted and cleaned and held and gripped and let go for three decades longer. And there are more miles to go, I know; I held my own mother's hand as we prayed over dinner and understood the path I have yet to travel, she who has two decades and more on me.

But there, I felt my daughter's hand and knew that my hands had once been such. Smooth, lacking the coarse, callused geography.. And my mother's hands; certainly hers were the same at 20, open to promise and adventure and the work ahead.

And her mother's. And so on, so far back that it is almost ridiculous to try to acknowledge it.

My hands have aged. They have held much and let go of even more. With my daughter close to me, her skin and her future bright, taut, uninterrupted, I felt the weight of reality honing in; a sort of recognition of this irreversible, undeniable truth.

I am vulnerable.

My skin is aging, I am losing ground with this body that I have for as-yet unfinished business while on this earth. I am losing a battle that I was never meant to win. I am vulnerable to the waning days, getting along with the passing years in a way suddenly contrasts quite starkly with the smooth skin of a 20-year old girl.

My body will not last. There will come a day when I live no more.

I am vulnerable.

And that is, surprisingly, okay.

See, the surprise here is not the sudden, if somewhat stupefying realization that I am getting older. What shocks me is this:

It's absolutely okay.

Something has happened. I have grown up. Some invisible line has been crossed, some mercy has been cast, and the thing that has long frightened me - being exposed, being unguarded, being susceptible, being out.of.control. - something has propelled me to existence right there in that wide open space. And I am okay.

I cannot help but think of this saying that I have heard in and out of Christian churches for decades; the apostle Paul says that God's power is made perfect in weakness. I've always viewed that line as a connecting point for seeing what God can and will do; it's been a leadership lesson for getting things done. But like everything in this rarefied, newly minted middle-age sensibility in which I find myself, I've got a bit of a fuller perspective these days.

I like what I read in The Message: 

'My strength comes into its own in your weakness'. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.

Each day is a gift. Each day, I am closer to the end of the days allotted me as a frail human. I used to think that acceptance of that knowledge would bring terror.

Instead, there is peace.

In rereading this before posting, it occurs to me that I might be unique in my "sudden" realization that I will not live forever. Maybe that sounds really stupid.

But I submit that I've never really had to consider my mortality, beyond a glancing nod towards the future. Undoubtedly others have sat in this reality in real, quite challenging ways. I pray no offense toward anyone…this was simply my moment of vulnerability and a deep awareness life of the other side of youth. I know many of my friends (and readers, some of whom are both) have battled illnesses and have certainly arrived at this destination in a different manner. Again, I ask for grace and offer gratitude for the parts of the journey that you have shared.

I just wanted to write about holding hands with my daughter.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blue Christmas 2013

I am spent.

Today we kicked off our third service; an 8:28AM option that worked out well for all concerned, but pushed our morning start time back by a good 30 minutes. Which meant that I was up at 5:30AM. Which, for some, is not unusual, but this girl is NOT a fan of early mornings; particularly when I was awake, tossing and turning, until 2AM.

The bad weather (that wasn't really) pushed our annual Blue Christmas service ahead a week, and we met this afternoon to rehearse and prepare. An amazing team of people whose greatest gifts are mercy and kindness were on hand to help set up tables and candles and beautiful things. Several of our artists came early to prepare to live out the presence of God as it happened, by putting it on the wall behind the people with chalk and colors, words and pictures.

We ran music - just Lindsay, Matt and I - and I polished up a song that had been brewing in my heart for several days. Sydni was there to wrap words from the Psalms around the song I wrote.

And we met, with fear and trembling. We worshiped. We sang. Angie delivered a beautiful, poignant, gentle message full of truth and hope and all of the good things Jesus offers, the stuff underneath all the political shouting and theological posturing.




We waited there, and something amazing happened. My head is still spinning, my heart is still clenched, and I am so exhausted that I doubt there is much I could sort out if I tried. But here's what I know; we experienced something new tonight, connecting art beyond music to the expression of our souls. Everyone in the room was invited to write their sorrow on a scrap of paper, as they lit a candle to commemorate the reason they came. The papers collected in beautiful bowls, and then one by one, artists pulled out papers and painted what they saw and felt and heard in the words or pictures they found. While we sang, while Angie taught, they drew.

I believe you're my healer
I believe you are all I need

Candlelight and tears, sniffles throughout the room. Lindsay's powerful voice crying out:

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that you're still holding 
the whole world in your hands…

And all the while, they drew.

At the end, just our voices sang Silent Night, a nod to the traditional hymn of Christmas that did more, somehow, than point to the baby in a manger on what was probably not a silent night. Tonight those words carried more hopes and dreams and sorrow and tears than I'd ever felt before.

Son of God
love's pure light

We finished, and I spoke a benediction:

Go in grace. Go in peace. The author of grace and peace goes with you.

They turned, all of them, and I kept playing, gentle walk-out music. My head was bent, my eyes were closed, as is often the case when the space is holy and sacred. I heard shuffling footsteps, I sensed the haze of candles, still lit.

I heard sobs.

I felt a stillness.

I finally looked up, and they were there, gathered around a wall of chalk scraped across the black. They looked and pointed and stared and touched, they gathered one another to themselves and held on.

They cried.

The service ended, and for 30 minutes after the final song, the healing continued. Crowded together, heads bowed, resonant.

Love's pure light.

Together, our written words found a place to live; sorrow collected. Connected.

Love's pure light.

I've never experienced anything quite like it. Precious and sacred and beautiful; the spirit of community and flesh and spirit. The honesty of vulnerable, raw places opened and exposed with hopeful hands and willing hearts. Artists, holding loosely the pain entrusted to them and mirroring it back to us all as ours.

Will there be a victory? 
Will you sing it over me now?

It was a beautiful, holy, sacred thing. Years and years of "doing church" have dulled my senses, I think. I hate to say it, but it's the truth; I find that few things surprise me anymore.

But this? This was that; a beautiful, glorious, broken surprise.

Love's pure light.

I walked to the wall when it was finally over, 90 minutes after we'd begun, 13 hours after we'd first sound-checked for the day's first service. My chest tightened and my heart expanded, my soul caught in my throat and I could not breathe for the tears. For all that we'd done in the front - the songs, the candles, the words and melodies - nothing matched the power of this, the visual representation of what was actually borne by those in the room.

What a privilege. What a sacred honor.

Love's pure light.

The songs we sang:

Monday, December 9, 2013


"Ours is the God who is drawn to those who feel down. Ours is the God who is attracted to those who feel abandoned. Ours is the God who is bound to those who feel broken." - Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

Central Virginia is an interesting state when it comes to winter weather. Any threat of ice or snow sends the local weathermen into hysterics. Having lived in northeast Ohio for several years, we find this laughable.

Sunday we suffered through a "paralyzing" ice storm that left a lot of moisture on the roads and a few icy patches. It was rather anticlimactic. Of course, those who don't consider the fact that you must drive differently even in mildly icy conditions end up in ditches and become BREAKING NEWS at 11PM. It became an over-hyped, rather lame non-event.

The benefit is this; sometimes the world slows down. We leaned into better-safe-than-sorry and cancelled Sunday morning church services, and local schools had a two hour delay this morning. There was room to breathe, in this span of frigid day into night and day again. 

The ice settled around the landscape; branches and boughs dipped toward the dirt. Some snapped under the weight of the precipitation. The morning looked heavy, burdened; and yet, it glistened.

Lately, I have been contemplating the stories of the Bible as grand metaphors, giving myself permission to sink into the narrative and allow it to expose a new perspective of The God Who Saves. I cannot wrap my head around this, cannot fathom the depth and breadth of a God who Always Was and Always Is and Always Will Be. I can read and believe, I can give assent to intellectual and philosophical content. I can follow. 

But I bump into walls, bang my head against contradictions and controversies and the things for which I simply have no explanation. I think we all do. 

And then we choose. We can bury our heads and stomp our feet and cling to what must be true, stand firm. I have done that. I continue to do that, sometimes.

But I cannot escape this great mystery, that in and around and above and below the stories and the proclamations and the declarations, there is One who was and is, and is to come. 

Not just is to come, but has been here, already, born helpless and hungry. 

Born just like us.

The stories of the gods throughout history are many. Ours is not the only flood story. Ours is not the only exodus. 

But uniquely ours is a God who came to us, who offers rescue. 

It is very, very different. 

The broken, heaviness of our world glistens, like the cedars bearing the burdensome glaze of frozen moisture this morning. It shimmers and shines with hope.

Our salvation has been here. The One who saves, he put on human skin and came.

For us.

Thanks be to God; I just can't get over it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December 8 - His Presence

'The greatest gift God graces a soul with is His own presence.' - Ann Voskamp

If that's not true, I don't know what is.

And it's the truth that I find the hardest to make real, the most difficult to remember. I have lived all these days upon this earth and there are some things I know.

But this...this blessing of presence that fuels and fills; this is the thing that slips beyond my grasp, all too often.

Today, I had the gift of time. Long, luxurious, uninterrupted. And I think to myself that if only I could live like this...then I would feel that I had a life. Something that mattered.

And then I think to myself that is nonsense. Your life matters.

And it does, of course. I do meaningful work.

I'm just not paying attention.

I don't feel like A Woman Who Does Too Much, although it is true; I am always busy, always in motion, always working in snippets and snatches of time. But these days, they feel so differently to me. The ebb and flow of what seems like a grown-up world, where the moments are ordered according to me and my schedule - rather than that of my children - this feels unusual. And freeing. But harder, a difficult freedom.

Here's the problem I am seeing, slowly, as the light of Advent burns just a bit brighter: The real, raw work of motherhood - though it stretched and tore me at times - was manageable and measurable. Place to go, conversations to have, projects to finish. Things To Do, with collaborative feedback and a walking, talking, living evaluation. Tangible results, in the children born to my arms. Granted, I am still a mother; but they are all older, and it is different. The needs are different - not necessarily lessened, but quantitatively on a whole other level.

And so what matters? I see it and feel it, but in fits and spurts. I soak in it when all my offspring surround me. I ache for its absence when they are gone. And when you have five children and the bulk of the last 23 years has been grounded in the raising of those five kids, the sudden 'freedom' opens up to a lot of uncharted territory.

Ann Voskamp quotes Charles Spurgeon in The Greatest Gift"It is no use for you to attempt to sow out of an empty basket, for that would be sowing nothing but wind."

Well aware of that concept, I am. But in these waiting moments, in this Advent, God whispers a new setting for me, a new call to be filled and to be still.

To be with.

To be made new.

This, exactly, is what I need. It is the emptiness, defined.

It is the fullness, promised.

"...lingering enough to really listen - to everything..."

I am waiting.


Here's The Truth


It's Sunday, December 8th. I said I'd be "blogging Advent", by which I meant that I'd blog every day, linking daily to the reading my church is doing (the reading I chose for our church to do). After the success of my daily blog posts in October, I figured I had this.

But it's been three days since I posted last, and my gut is twisting and turning in that weird way. My inner child is whining.

"Nobody really cares. Just drop it."

The other child is full of reminders.

"Here you go again; another on the long list of Things You Don't Finish."

They both need to shut up.

Here's the truth: Although the reading we - I mean I - chose is good and true and solid, the truth is that I am finding it less than inspirational.

The truth is that I am doing a completely different Advent devotional.

I feel incredibly hypocritical, continuing to copy and paste words that just aren't stirring my heart in this particular season. This is not to negate the value of Piper's devotional guide for anyone at all. I may well encounter his writing again next Christmas, or the year after that, and find it fills me. Different strokes for different folks; some things resonate more than others. It's an issue of timing, a seasonal thing.

But the truth is, I have shied away from blogging these last few days because it feels like I'm not telling the truth. And that is not okay; not here, not in this place where the words I choose are those that echo the authenticity of my life, the reality of who I am.

This is so important to me. And here's what I found myself doing, these past few days; hiding, of a sort.

Hiding from myself, from my intentions, from my tendency to play a part rather than be a person.

Writing keeps me healthy, somehow. I'm not a "real writer"; there is nothing of value that returns to me because I cast these vowels and consonants out into the internet. Not a "real writer"; but there is this: Writing keeps me real. I have to do it.

So here's the truth; you can read John Piper's Advent devotional every day. If you can navigate to a blog, you can certainly make your way to the Desiring God website and download Good News of Great Joy. It really is excellent, solid truth. I do highly recommend it.

But me? I'm going to lean hard into the wind and whisper that God seems to be burning into my soul, in this particular season of Advent. I'm going to continue reading Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift, and I'm going to encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself. Even though we're eight days into Advent, you can still join in. I'm going to keep reading, and sit still in my rocking chair as God continues to lead me beside the still waters that soften the hardness of my busy heart. And I will blog what leaks out.

Here's the truth:

I feel freer already.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8.32 (NIV)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

December 5 - No Detour From Calvary

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2.6-7 

Now you would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn.

Yes, he could have. And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do.

God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8.9).

God rules all things— even motel capacities— for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that he said, “He who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross” (Matthew 16.24).

We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15.20).

To the one who calls out enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go!” (Matthew 8.19). Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8.20).

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.

 John Piper. Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December 4 - For God's Little People

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child." Luke 2.1-5 

Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige?

If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people— the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children.

Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21.1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

 John Piper. Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent


I love that line, "He is a big God for little people." 

I was struck, as I looked at this photo of my five children in front of our Christmas tree, by a daunting realization: They are big people.

I remember when they were small, tiny, newborn, toddlers, 10-year olds. I remember when the world was yet unknown to them. I remember the days before cars and college and jobs and engagements and independence.

As little people, it was easy to teach them about God. So much of life was out of their hands and beyond their understanding. Childlike faith is a no brainer for a child. They were little, their God was big, and so it was.

As they become big people - physically taking up more space, emotionally maturing, intellectually more astute - the temptation to apply a reductionistic template to faith looms large. God was big when they were small; now they are the big ones, the roles are reversed, and perhaps there is little need for God. They've grown into themselves; perhaps they have grown out of God?

The challenge is to remember - all of us to remember - that we remain, always, the little people in this equation. The universe is vast beyond the stars, even; and He is God beyond our imagination and understanding. He is not a simple God, explainable by political demands or theological boxes. He is, was, and is to come.

Somebody created all this. Somebody holds the reins.

He is a big God; I am a little person.

I stand amazed.
David, once the smallest. Now the tallest.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 3 - The Long-Awaited Vistation

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us…” Luke 1.68-71 

Notice two remarkable things from these words of Zechariah in Luke 1.

First, nine months earlier, Zechariah could not believe his wife would have a child. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, he is so confident of God’s redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he puts it in the past tense. For the mind of faith, a promised act of God is as good as done. Zechariah has learned to take God at his word and so has a remarkable assurance: “God has visited and redeemed!”

Second, the coming of Jesus the Messiah is a visitation of God to our world: “The God of Israel has visited and redeemed.” For centuries, the Jewish people had languished under the conviction that God had withdrawn: the spirit of prophecy had ceased, Israel had fallen into the hands of Rome. And all the godly in Israel were awaiting the visitation of God. Luke tells us in 2.25 that the devout Simeon was “looking for the consolation of Israel.” And in Luke 2.38 the prayerful Anna was “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

These were days of great expectation. Now the long-awaited visitation of God was about to happen— indeed, he was about to come in a way no one expected.

 John Piper. Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent


I had a conversation with a friend recently that touched upon some hard things. A family member was struggling with another family member; as my friend confided in me, he shared that he longed to see forgiveness and restoration. It was hard.

We talked about this: that God makes the impossible, possible. That people change.

There is always hope.

I am convinced of this, that any of us who follow Jesus are continually in process. We are changing. If we are not changing, we are static, stuck. We are branches of a vine; we are straining towards a future that should include fruit. Sweetness. Joy. Goodness.

The God we follow is an agent of change. And one of the greatest, most visible proofs is an honest look at our lives - at my life.

We grow. We change. We live. We learn. There is always hope.

Monday, December 2, 2013

December 2 - Mary's Magnificent God

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. 
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm; 
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones 
and exalted those of humble estate; 
he has filled the hungry with good things, 
and the rich he has sent away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 
as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1.46-55 

Mary sees clearly a most remarkable thing about God: He is about to change the course of all human history. The most important three decades in all of time are about to begin.

And where is God? Occupying himself with two obscure, humble women - one old and barren (Elizabeth), one young and virginal (Mary). And Mary is so moved by this vision of God, the lover of the lowly, that she breaks out in song - a song that has come to be known as “the Magnificat” (Luke 1.46-55).

Mary and Elizabeth are wonderful heroines in Luke’s account. He loves the faith of these women. The thing that impresses him most, it appears, and the thing he wants to impress on Theophilus, his noble reader, is the lowliness and cheerful humility of Elizabeth and Mary.

Elizabeth says,“ Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1.43). And Mary says, “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant”  ( Luke 1.48).

The only people whose soul can truly magnify the Lord are people like Elizabeth and Mary - people who acknowledge their lowly estate and are overwhelmed by the condescension of the magnificent God.

 John Piper. Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent (Kindle Locations 194-200). Desiring God.

Humility - a virtue that is much valued in my line of work. It's a necessity.

I have actually heard someone say, "I'm really humble. I think it's one of my best traits."

I have been tempted to strive to be humble. So that I could be good at it.

True humility is of great worth. God esteems it. And the world needs it.

I consider people I have known who are truly humble, and the powerful impact they have had on my life.

I still can't quite get over the fact that one of the most humble, servant-hearted people I've ever known chose me to be be his wife. I look up to him, as he represents the light of Christ. And I am thankful.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December 1 - Prepare The Way

"No doubt about it; children are a gift from the Lord..." Psalm 127.3
My children were all home for Thanksgiving; the three who are away at college returned, two with boyfriends in tow. Our house was full.

My heart was full as well. I had eagerly anticipated their arrival, the feast on Thanksgiving day, the familiar banter between siblings.

It was wonderful, as expected. And last night, we began preparing anew. The boys had ventured out to cut down an evergreen; it found a place of honor in the living room. Holding to tradition, we put on the first Harry Connick Christmas album as we hauled down boxes from the frigid attic, examining and exclaiming joy as we open boxes of ornaments and lights.

We decorated the tree; we set the stage. And now we wait.

I'll be blogging Advent this year, connecting personal observations with the "official" Advent Devotional readings PCC is offering. We're using John Piper's Good News of Great Joy. You can read it here on my blog each day, print out a copy of your own here or download it to your Kindle or eReader. 

Advent Devotional For December 1 - Prepare The Way

“He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1.16-17 

What John the Baptist did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready! 

That you might be prepared… 

First, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior. 

Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139.23-24) Let every heart prepare him room…by cleaning house. 

Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home - especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children. 

Fourth, be much in the Scriptures, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord!” Jeremiah 23.29 

Gather ‘round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling 

John Piper. Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thank You

Coming up on a big ol' holiday; my favorite. Christmas is beautiful and holy and wonderfully twinkly and all that, but it's work for me, and so I have claimed Thanksgiving as The Holiday That Is Best of All.

I try to live in a state of gratitude, anyway - and now that some of my kids have grown up and left home, this Thursday in November marks a time when we are together again, whole in some good, solid, primal way. It is the food, yes; but it is the time, more. It is right now, with bodies draped across couches and blankets and a favorite show on TV, with comments and statements and a general lightness to the world. It is waking them up in the morning, catching that rare innocence while they sleep that reminds me of their smaller selves, the days when they fit in my arms. It is somehow the air itself, lighter. Sweeter.

So these next few days will be full and fat with love and hope and laughter. Too many people will be crammed in a house that is built to hold love, and we will burst with the joy of it all. And I am thinking tonight of the things for which I must give thanks, the things outside of what will fill this house this week.

Thank you for inviting me into the world of music, for teaching me about partnership and accompaniment; it was great training for learning to lead from the second chair (or the piano bench).

Thank you for writing me letters that were witty and personal, welcoming my adolescent self into adulthood with your unique voice.

Thank you for being a friend as you cared for me; your teenaged job was an investment in my maturity, and to this day I believe you always believed in me.

Thank you for being bold enough to stand in the church driveway and say, "I don't think He is finished with you, yet..."

Thank you for telling me that the power of charisma and persuasion and leadership is not to be taken lightly; considering it as a force to be used for good or evil has tempered me on more than one occasion, and that is a good thing.

Thank you for letting an hour-long piano lesson be a counseling session, and never letting on that you knew I was ashamed.

Thank you for sending me $150 and never, ever asking why I needed it.

Thank you for asking me a hard question about my faith and not letting me get away with my lousy answer.

Thank you for forgiving me.

Thank you for giving me your words.

Thank you for welcoming me, for never asking when we would leave, for never letting me see an end to your love and grace.

Thank you for seeing me, and for loving what you saw, and for convincing me that you'd never stop.

Thank you for singing your heart for me.

Thank you for your generosity, for showing me how to be open-handed.

Thank you for forgiving me when I neglect our friendship, and for still calling it a friendship.

Thank you for coming home.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Women, Sitting Around A Table, Talking About God

My husband is asleep, in bed. I think he's run himself to the end of his rope. He doesn't feel good. I'm glad he's resting.

My youngest child is in bed, moving towards sleep, freshly showered and done with homework, chores, small group and endless skateboarding.

My eldest son is working his job, spending late nights being a Responsible Young Adult. He'll deal with more homework when he gets home.

And me? I'm home, content and fulfilled after a day of conversation, personal attention, communication, instruction, music, and women sitting around a table talking about God.

Women, sitting around a table, talking about God. And ourselves. And the rich story of Life, filled with sorrow and joy, pain and injustice, fear and confidence. Raising children. Wrestling with relationships. Karma.

The holy part of religion, of church, of life itself, is not found only in the ceremony. It doesn't reside solely in the assembly. It's not just a Sunday morning thing.

Holy and pure looks like women, sitting around a table, talking about God.

And men, doing the same.

And sometimes, men and women together.

Sometimes you don't have to look too hard to find holiness. Sometimes it's sitting right beside you.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Today I Did A Dangerous Thing

Oh, yes I did. Very dangerous.

But before revealing that information, I'll share this: It was a wonderful day.

Up early. Raking leaves (a euphemism, because what the boys did was NOT raking; it was drive-the-tractor-and-vacuuming leaves, thanks to my dad. But it counts, and the yard is leaf-free. Mostly. Temporarily.)

House cleaning. Re-organizing, because yesterday I rearranged the living room (again). I like change, and there are times and moments in my life when I hear change calling my name and I respond. I don't have money to decorate, although I'd love to spend $80 on new, colorful pillows to accent the couch. I don't have money to spend on the house, although our tiny little 5' x 7' rug, purchased in a valiant (and cheap) attempt to 'center' the room and focus a little color, it looks sad. And pathetic. It tries so hard, but it's just. too. small.

I'd love a big new rug; a room-sized rug. Some day.

Anyway, there are many things I'd love to do to decorate, to make things more comfortable, to make our home pretty. But there are no house-decorating funds, and even if there were, I'd probably be paralyzed. I feel incredibly inept when it comes to home decor.

So, what I do is change things.

I have done this all my life. As a child, I used to rearrange my bedroom frequently. As a young parent, I kept my sanity by mixing up the furniture in the house.

Since my marriage to Tony and the combining of our households, the possibilities are more challenging. I get to be more inventive. So with a fall chill in the air, the prospect of my family being home together in just a few weeks for Thanksgiving, and a general itchy feeling for change in my spirit, I started pulling around the furniture.

I am deliberately leaving the pile of folded clothes on the coffee table
as well as the piano bench in the middle of nowhere. And the
little stool. Keepin' it real....

That's the TV antenna laying on the floor by the TV. Which is probably
why the TV reception is not so good.
I like it.

(By the way, I am not so impressed with myself that I think that people want to see pictures of my living room; this is for the kids, who WILL want to see pictures of the living room.)

(Or not.)

Between the furniture moving and the general cleaning and laundry folding, I got some chicken stock simmering on the stove, only because I found a lonely chicken breast in the kitchen that needed cooking.

I put away all the clothes that had been scattered around our bedroom. That took a while. I worked a bit, in preparation for tomorrow.

Then I left to run errands. Goodwill - where I gave away more than I brought home, but I scored a beautiful pair of soft, luxurious leather shoes, a sweater, a book for my son and a chunky, oversized sweater. And a print for the bathroom. All for under $20. And I went to Kroger, where I worked hard to save $56.11.

I came home to put the finishing touches on the soup. And it was then, as I moved toward the stove, that I realized what a dangerous thing I had done.

That's what's left of TWO loaves of pumpkin bread I made this morning. Between David and Tony (and me, with the first few tastes), we polished off an entire loaf of pumpkin bread. Plus some.

The danger?

It's the best pumpkin bread I've ever made.

I'll share the recipe here, although I lay no claim to being any sort of food blogger. I'm just telling you - this is a GREAT recipe.

Slight modification: I didn't have any mini-chocolate chips. In fact, I only possessed 1/3 of a bag of regular chocolate chips that had coagulated into some free-form chocolate sculpture. Somehow, they got hot and morphed into a massive mound of chocolate. I smashed the blob to smithereens with a meat hammer. It worked.

So, uh...if you don't have mini-chocolate chips, don't let that slow you down. Improvise!

And a quick tip - don't skip out on the cinnamon-sugar touch at the end. That sends this recipe from really good to absolute bliss. 

Absolutely dangerous, actually. It's just too good to resist. And nobody needs to eat an entire loaf of pumpkin bread every day.

That would be dangerous.

I stumbled upon the recipe here.

For the record, her pictures are quite fancy. Mine are not. But it sure tasted good.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Guest Post: People Still Hurt

Pastor Brian Hughes and
Matthew on his birthday
Matthew O'Donnell is one of the most talented people I know. Thanks to the encouragement of his mom, we got connected through music at PCC. Matthew's talents are considerable; his passion is contagious and his heart for people and for the things of God is obvious. It's been an absolute joy to work alongside him for many months now. I am in awe of how Matthew is growing in his awareness of himself, of the greater good and of the kingdom of God.

He is a brilliant musician; if you're around PCC, you've seen evidence. However, not many folks realize Matthew's giftedness as a writer. He is the magic behind many of our skits and dramatic pieces, as the resident writer on the Creative Team. 

This week, Matthew shared a passionate piece of prose that encouraged, inspired and invigorated me. I'm biased because I am witness to the work that God is doing in Matthew's life; regardless, this is a fine piece of writing and an exceptional dose of truth

I hope you'll read it, and find yourself inspired. Here's Matthew:

We all do our best to care for and pray for the people around us who are in need. We do a good job of reminding ourselves of these peoples' presence in our lives and in our church, even remembering them when we go before God. Even so, people slip through the cracks. We are not God, and we'll never have His heart for people, so our capacity for care, consideration and compassion is psychologically and spiritually limited. Everyone needs a reminder from time to time, so consider this yours for the day.

We pray for people who are in surgery, experiencing financial turmoil or turbulent work and home situations, navigating broken marriages, coming to terms with difficult diagnoses, watching loved ones suffer, figuring out how to keep moving after they're gone, but time, no matter how much we may will it to stop in those chaotic moments of desperation and despair, keeps ticking. There are others to be remembered and prayed over. The natural triage of our attention shifts to more pressing needs. It's not something to feel guilty about. It's just something that is.

God knows the hair on each of our heads and the hurt in each of our hearts, and as impossible as it is to remember every person you've ever prayed for, it's important to acknowledge that in a perfect world, we'd still be praying for each and every one of them. So take a moment. Think about those who have had their tour of duty on the prayer list and floated off the other end.

The man who lost his wife, and still, after all this time, has to wake up in bed every morning and be reminded that she's not there beside him.

The kids who grew into teenagers and adults, but still bear the scars of their parents' divorce.

The woman who was diagnosed years ago, and wonders how many she has left. 

The parents who carry the lifelong badge of having attended their own child's funeral.

The man whose injury dramatically changed his life in a day, and it's never changed back.

The woman who's a lifetime away from the abused little girl she once was, but still feels powerless and haunted.

Take a moment right now to remember them. If you want to wait and devote some time later so you can think about it more, go ahead, but make it a priority to stop and pray for these people. If you can't remember their names, it's okay. God does. Intercede on their behalf in front of the King today. It matters just as much or more so now as it once did when their wounds were fresh. We won't always remember to do this, but today you have a reminder. Take a moment. Remember them. Pray for them.

Thank you.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fall Festivals And The Devil's Holiday

I wish I could find my scrapbooks.

I was once a diligent and very creative scrapper. It was my hobby. I loved me some Creative Memories, and most of my creative energy went into cutting pictures and finding fancy paper and hand-lettering captions.

Those were the days when I seemed to have a lot more free time.

The days before Facebook....


Anyway, if I could find my scrapbooks, I'd scan photos and show you some pictures of my kids in the early days of Halloween festivities. It was something else - especially the first few years.

Here's the backstory: When my kids were younger, we were part of some very traditional, fundamental Baptist churches. Good people, holding fast to some firm lines about right and wrong, good and evil, moral and immoral. One of the lines was wrapped around Halloween.

It was the devil's holiday. A night for Satanic rituals and sacrifices. A bastion of evil. Worldly and pagan.

A good Christian did not participate in Halloween, under any circumstances.

And I was fully bought in.

I was that mom, the one who didn't let her kids go to school on the day of the Halloween party. We went to the movies instead. We kept the lights off on October 31, kept them far away from experiencing the frightening, sinful, shameful festivities designed to honor the devil and his minions. We didn't even say the word "HALLOWEEN".

We dressed up for the "Fall Festival" at church, which was, indeed, tons of fun. When I was eight months pregnant with Daniel, I went as a pregnant lady. (I really wish I could find my scrapbooks...) We did our Fall Festival thing and stood proud, tall and righteous.

At some point, the grip loosened. We fell into some grace. A lot of things started to loosen, in fact, and we relaxed even more. And so, one year when Sarah and Shannon were in elementary school, we decided to let them go trick or treating.

They'd never been.

Daniel, on his way
to Kroger as a nerd.
Here were these adorable eight and nine-year old girls, with little Syd and Daniel tagging along (and David just a few months old), experiencing a fine American tradition as if they were foreigners in a strange land. They understood dressing up; they did it all the time. They loved candy.

But when we put a plastic pumpkin in their hands, walked them up to a stranger's door and told them to ring the doorbell and say "TRICK OR TREAT!", they looked at us like we were nuts. It made no sense.

However, as they followed through and realized the incredible, amazing joy - people opened the door and GAVE THEM CANDY!!!!!! - they quickly became believers.

They've loved Halloween ever since. We've never gotten much into the scary stuff, but dressing up and trick-or-treating has always been a family favorite. After we moved to Virginia, it was usually a last-minute thing; October 31 would roll around, they'd get home from school and start scrounging around to improvise a costume. We had some fun times in our old neighborhood, with some amazing friends.

I wish I could find my scrapbooks.

And I don't know what I think about that fundamentalist box we used to live in. On one hand, I'm glad we're out.

But on the other hand, it can be really nice and safe inside the lines.

I'm still no fan of scary and creepy. We haven't done the trick or treat thing now for a few years; David is a tall young man and Daniel's way past the age of ringing doorbells. But I'm no longer scared of giving the devil his due by delighting in a little make-believe and getting free candy. I'm okay with Halloween; as with everything, it's a matter of balance.

I just wish I could find my scrapbooks.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

31 Days: I Shared

Today I noticed the beauty of social media and how it TRULY helps us help one another.

A Facebook friend who is a friend in real life posted a status update bemoaning the lack of available pumpkins in our little community.

Walmart ran out of pumpkins.

It's the night before Halloween; go figure.

We bought pumpkins when we went to Carter Mountain, but we never carved any. I had four sitting around, looking pumpkin-y.

I offered a pumpkin to my friend, who seemed truly despondent over his pumpkinless state.

He drove over and picked it up. The gift came with a condition; I told him he'd be the topic of tonight's blog post.

He posed.
All you kids in Spanish class tomorrow: Know that is a BRAWLEY pumpkin.

Morale of the story?

Share your pumpkins. Please.

In other news, here is a photograph of David and his "perfect toast"; when it came out of the toaster oven he said, "YES! Perfectly golden!"

I know.
And in other news, here is my new favorite: Apples and Nutella.

You're welcome.

And finally: This is - technically - the final post in the #31 Days experiment. It's going up on October 30, but my first one went up the last day of September. I've always been one ahead....

I can't believe I made it. I'm generally not a finisher of things. I'm amazed and astounded and there's something very complete in me tonight.

Yesterday's post received over 300 views. That's some kind of record for this blog, and I'm blown away. As I sat down to write tonight, for one fleeting moment I thought about All Those People who read my words yesterday. If they come back for THIS post, they're going to be sorely disappointed; Mr. Miller holding a pumpkin, my skinny son and some apples. 

Deep stuff. Not.

I considered making up something more "writerly", something artsy and deep and profound. But all along the month of October, I sat down and simply wrote what came bubbling up. It's been one of the most honest and authentic things I've ever done. 

I like that you read; it honors me and I appreciate the encouragement. 

But it never was about you. It was about me and my words and my lack of discipline and the fact that I had been running through life in ignorance. It was about me taking note of the beautiful, the mundane, the glorious, the simple, the pain and the joy. It was about me paying attention. The minute it becomes about making you happy or impressing you or pleasing you, I'm done. 

But I will say again that I like that you read. I have been grateful for your comments. Deep down in my tiny little heart, there is this:


Right now, I feel like I am. 

Thanks for being a reader.

Happy fall!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

31 Days: Please, Be Kind

I recently read an essay by Anne Lamott that referenced the impact of a devastating fire in a community. Four teenage boys failed to extinguish a campfire; it turned into a blaze that destroyed 12,000 acres of wilderness and 50 homes.

As the town gathered to recover, the president of the board of firefighters gave a speech honoring the firefighters, and then referenced the community itself.
"He talked about how in ancient times, people who did damage to a town were sent to live outside its walls, beyond community, beyond inclusion and protection. He mentioned the four young men who had started the fire, and that he had heard that their families were thinking of moving away. His opinion was that the town should make it clear to the families that they should stay, that they were wanted, that they were needed. There was sustained applause. People who houses had burned down came up to say they agreed with this plan. The town wanted these young men inside the ring of protection." Anne Lamott

That is grace. When we fall, when we make mistakes, when our judgement is poor, when we let ourselves down, when we let others down. When we fail. To be welcomed back into community, into the 'ring of protection' - that is breathtaking, awe-inspiring, overwhelming, too-good-to-be-true grace.

And it's all well and good for someone to hope and pray and long for such grace; but if the members of the community are unwilling to offer grace in a tangible, audible, visible way, there is no win. Grace softens and inspires. It makes people better. When grace is withheld, bitterness and doubt take root. It is a hard, hard thing, for a broken person to have to claw themselves out of the well of shame and self-recrimination without a hand to hold. Or two.

Indulge me for a moment, and forgive me any offense. I intend none. And I write not from a position of holiness, for I have missed the mark myself on many occasions. Just consider this a heartfelt request and reminder.

When the circumstances of life present to you the opportunity to extend grace, consider carefully how you will respond. For those who ascribe belief in the words of the Bible, remember this passage from James; paraphrased by Eugene Peterson, it reads:

A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

Whether you believe the Bible or not, it's quite simple: Be kind. When you have an opportunity, choose to be kind.

Grace can change the world. You can change the world if you choose to extend grace. Take a step. Say the word. Be kind. It costs you nothing.

Except, perhaps, your pride. And whatever slight joy you might derive out of talking about the faults and failures of others.

It's personal for me today. So be kind.


(thank you)

Monday, October 28, 2013

#31Days: Chocolate Milk

I expended a great deal of writing energy on another project this evening. I don't have much left as I reflect on the day.

But here's something that made me smile. I was up and awake before my husband was really coherent. I kissed him goodbye while he was still struggling to find his morning sea legs. It wasn't really that early - compared to some - but when a guy stays up until 2 or 3 in the morning, 8:45 does seem early.

We usually talk once or twice during the day, but I didn't hear from him. I was in meetings all day long and didn't text or call. I went straight to the music store as the afternoon was winding down, ready to teach several piano lessons. He wasn't there - out working on other projects.

During my last lesson, the door opened quietly - so stealthily that my student didn't even notice, as she worked on her bass G hand position. He didn't even come in the room, just stuck his arm in, holding a Sheetz bag.

Inside were two Nutrigrain bars and a bottle of Galliker's chocolate milk.

He loves me. He thinks about me during the day.

He brings me chocolate milk.

It's 10:30 and he's still not home; it's small group night, so he's hanging out with a group of guys, wrestling with the Bible. I can't wait to see him.
thanks to Anjie for the photo

Sunday, October 27, 2013

31 Days: My Time Is Up

I'm almost at the end of this little experiment, this #31days of blogging. I picked a topic for myself - "31 Days of Moments" - and designed this little icon

which is a quick photo of my dishes in my kitchen. It always delights me when I see my fellow blogger Jayne's posts, because she has hung in there every step of the way in this October adventure, and her writing has encouraged and enlightened me (seriously, go read her latest post about her son and the way he currently sees his place in the world - and prepare to be filled with joy). And on each of her posts, she plants this same "31 Days Of Moments" photo, a crappy lo-res picture of my dishes...and thus, we have a branded blog series. With a crappy picture.

But it's working for us.

Anyway, here we are, on October 27th, and I think you'll have to excuse me for a minute while I ramble and recite some various things.

First of all, writing every evening has become my daily ritual over these last few weeks. It's generally the last thing I do every night; I'm just so pleased that I haven't yet forgotten or blown it off because I was too tired. It feels good to think that I might finish all thirty-one days with a consistent, unbroken commitment.

Things are winding down here at home tonight on this quiet Sunday evening, and Tony just said, "Make me a promise. Promise me that you won't have any interaction with computer graphics for the rest of the evening. Promise." I think, essentially, he was saying GET OFF THE COMPUTER AND STAY OFF, but I haven't been on it at all today, since I got home from church, unless you count the iPhone, which maybe you do....anyway, I went to visit my parents with David while Tony took a nap, and when we got home he decided there would be a moratorium on computer time.

"You want me to spend time with you?" I asked.

"No. This is for you. Just to give yourself a break" he replied.


We negotiated fifteen minutes, and the clock is ticking. I have fifteen minutes to relate the moment I experienced today.

Too much pressure, honestly.

So, a list:

  • I was working today but not on the platform. I went in early, helped get things ready, and then sat in the second row beside my eldest son, behind David and Courey, next to Erik Edwards and simply participated in the corporate worship experience. It was such a gift - inspiring and uplifting and convicting and relevant, in so many ways, to my life. I understood a particular passage of the Bible in a more powerful way after the service was over. It was a good church service, and it felt like a privilege to partake and participate fully as a member of the congregation.
  • There are few things more encouraging than a group of people working together for a common goal who a) like one another, b) are unified and c) believe that what they do matters. The tech team at PCC nails all three. I love being back in the booth to experience the thrum of energy as they put the pieces of a service in place.
  • I napped briefly this afternoon; in the chair (not comfortable) in front of the tv. My eldest son had commandeered the couch. Tony napped in the bed. I blog truth, people...
  • Time flies. I noticed this while sitting on the couch at my mom and dad's house, my 6', 14-year old son stretched from end to end with his feet resting on my lap. When we first moved to Powhatan, we lived with Mom and Dad. David was five, and he was attached to me. If I sat, he was in my lap. If I laid on the floor, he crawled on top of me. My mom was always saying, "David, GET OFF OF YOUR MOTHER!" If he crawled on me now, he'd kill me. I can hardly believe that much time has flown by and that he's become a young man. A TALL young man. With large feet.
  • We met with a group of artists today, a last-minute conversation over pizza about the future of visual and performing arts in the Powhatan community. There was a tangible excitement. It was beautiful, to see that an ethereal dream had already taken root in some individual's lives. We opened the window today and a great spirit blew in. Artistic people are fun, especially when they are excited.
Lastly, without a bullet, I'll say this and put this rambling to an end: I have less than a week left in this project, and I can honestly say that it's been life-changing. Throughout the day, I am more mindful; more present - because moments unfold, and I find myself taking note, thinking perhaps this is the thing that will stand out today. Perhaps this is the one thing I should notice. Maybe I will write about this moment.

But here's what's happening. It's never just one thing, it's a thousand different things, all day long, moving and flowing together. It's life, and this discipline has caused me to pay attention. Nothing different is happening externally, but internally, there's been a huge paradigm shift.

The moments that happen every day, they matter. They are finite, but the impressions they leave are lasting and sometimes definitive. 

Noticing them has changed me.

Reading Jayne's blog every day has changed me, too. Catching a glimpse of her finite moments, and feeling connected to a woman living out her days and her calling in Georgia as she practices this same discipline - it's a unique and new sort of community I am feeling here.

And I find myself wondering what I'll do come November 1....

Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 Days: How It Gets Better

Today I noticed that there are people who are willing to tell you about the hard places in their lives, because they know about the hard places in yours.

There's a peculiar kinship sown in difficulties. It seems to loosen the cracks around the edges and expose a bit of vulnerability between people that you might not otherwise see, in folks that you may have seen a hundred or a thousand times in the course of daily living.

I've been the recipient of such grace on a few occasions over the last week. I got a bucket dumped on me this afternoon. It's been a beautiful thing, really; it reminds me that most of what we seem to need as we navigate our own personal sea of troubles is, really, quite simple.

No pithy statements.

None of that "Everything happens for a reason" or "God never gives you more than you can handle."

No lectures.

No fixing.

Just a small story of resonance; a quiet "Me, too....

...and it will be okay."

Grateful for real lives and honest, caring people.

Friday, October 25, 2013

31 Days: Whatever I Want

On Fridays, I love to mess up my kitchen. It's my official day off. Although I almost always tend to a few work-related things on Fridays, I generally give myself the freedom to do very little. Mostly, I like to cook. But other than that, I don't do very much.

Or, more accurately, I do whatever I want. Because today I made two batches of brownies and a dozen cookies for the marching band's Fall Classic tomorrow. And I folded four loads of laundry. And I made a new chili recipe for dinner. That's actually a lot of stuff, just that right there. I also went grocery shopping and ran a few errands. I managed some work email. I washed some dishes.

But it was only what I wanted to do, and that makes all the difference, doesn't it?

Because what I did not want to do was take a shower, or even put on clean clothes. I pulled on dirty jeans. I'm still wearing the same shirt I wore yesterday. And I slept in that shirt.

I washed my face and brushed my teeth - because I wanted to. And this evening I used a little hairspray and put on a nice sweater and I went to watch the marching band play at the final home football game.

But I didn't put on a clean shirt.

It sort of feels like a little victory over the daily grind, you know?

I live on the edge.


Here's what I noticed most today; this is a REALLY good recipe! It flashed by on my Facebook feed -thanks, whoever posted it - and I thought I'd give it a try today. Delicious; spicy in a perfect-for-a-cold-night kind of way. 

And it's very, very pretty.

You're welcome.
Two-Bean-Buffalo-Chicken-Chili - find the recipe here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

31 Days: Shipping

Seth Godin writes with efficient wisdom and aplomb. He tackles topics like productivity and marketing. I follow his blog, which he updates daily.

Through his writing, I was introduced to the concept of shipping for creatives; the notion that at some point, you have to quit dilly-dallying, improving, tweaking and perfecting, and just ship. Let it go. Deliver the goods.

Here's Seth:

"Shipping is fraught with risk and danger.  
Every time you raise your hand, send an email, launch a product or make a suggestion, you're exposing yourself to criticism. Not just criticism, but the negative consequences that come with wasting money, annoying someone in power or making a fool of yourself."

Today, I shipped something - finally. And I've been dancing a little happy dance all day long.

Here's the story: The Christmas season is the bane of my existence. I hate to admit it, but putting together a series of Sunday services AND Christmas Eve is probably the hardest thing I do all year. It makes me anxious, it fills me with all sorts of unpleasant feelings, and causes people to say of me things like, "Oh, Beth hates Christmas."

I really don't.

But it does give me fits. See, Christmas means something different to everybody. Family traditions, expectations, sorrow, joy, carols, mangers, angels, candles, communion, stories...everybody has their own idea of what Christmas ought to feel like. Sound like. Look like. People have a lot of expectations at Christmas, and when they are not met, it's a big deal. Bigger than a regular Sunday experience. I feel like I can never please everybody.

But we're a creative church, and so we embrace the idea of being creative at Christmas, finding a new way to tell the old story from fresh perspectives. Incorporating the arts in relevant ways. Being authentic.


The second year I was involved with Christmas at my current workplace, I ran with the authentic / creative idea. We wanted to meet people where they are, and so we wrote a Christmas Eve service that was honest and raw. It was also somewhat depressing.

Because it was honest and raw.

It was called Better Days, and the stories we told wrapped around that Goo Goo Dolls song, which I'd caught on The Today Show and never forgotten. We shared moments and monologues, stories and songs of people looking for hope in midst of pain. Loss of loved ones. Divorce. Real struggles.

We answered with hope, of course; we didn't leave people hanging. It was beautiful and poignant and powerful. I was so proud of our team and thrilled that I worked in an environment where we were free to take risks to create moments.

The next day, I left town to spend some time with my brother in Chicago. I'll never forget the phone call from my boss...who told me that people were not happy with the Christmas Eve service.

And they were letting him know. They did not like Better Days. They did not like it at all.

And they were leaving the church.

They were furious. Insulted. They felt taken advantage of and hijacked. It touched emotions, but they weren't the ones we wanted to touch. They came on Christmas Eve looking for mangers and babies and swaddling clothes and angels singing, and they got pain. There was hope, but it was buried underneath a lot of dusty rawness. They did not leave feeling encouraged.

This was crushing to my boss, to my team...and to me. I had created and offered something in an effort to honor our values and the season, and I failed. In a big way. We had actually offended and hurt people.

Not a good thing for a church.

Now, later on, I did hear of people who were profoundly moved by the service; people who came for the first time that night and decided that this was a church worth coming to. They came back. There was a lady who said that she gave her life to Christ that night, because the service resonated.

So there were positive things, but they were crushed under the heels of the ones who stomped out the door and never came back.

Since then, being creative at Christmas has frightened me. I've been all those things in the Seth Godin quote: afraid of criticism, of negative consequences, of annoying my boss, of making a fool of myself. Because I got burned with Better Days, something that I'd poured my creative heart and soul into.

There's this vulnerability that comes with creativity that feels so dangerous, so shaky. You wouldn't think so, in the church; but it's there. And I've carried a huge burden every year...about Christmas.

So, yesterday I holed up in Starbucks for a long time, just soaking in the season...the story, the songs, the advent candles.

And today, I took my ideas and another couple of hours (interrupted, but that's okay) and fleshed things out. I scribbled on the white board. I got a big piece of 11 x 17 paper from the copy room and hand-wrote the entire series, using different colors and "fonts" as I wrote...making it creative. I hummed and thought and took a walk.

Finally, I bounced it off of my officemate. She understands my terror. She understands that in telling it to her, I am rehearsing telling it to The Boss. She likes it and affirms me and smiles and then we laugh a little bit and my nerves settle down.

In my weekly meeting, he says, "So what do you want to talk about?", and I unfold my 11 x 17 paper with a Christmas tree scrawled on it. I smile weakly and say, "Ta-da!" and he cheers me on.

I have a brief window to cast the vision, to get what's in my head and my heart in front of him so he can see it and hear it and decide, in a split second, whether or not he can work with it.

Halfway through, and he was still with me. I knew there was hope...

I made it the entire way through. He said, "Ummm....I like it."

Bells and whistles, people. Bells and whistles.

I don't live to please my boss, but we are creative partners, and he has to be on board for it to work. I've had some great ideas and I've had some stupid ideas. So has he. But it's October 24, and we're past the point of guessing which ideas will work. It's shipping time.

He likes it. I like it, too.

So Christmastime is here; happiness and cheer. And we have a Christmas series, a chance to tell an old story in a meaningful, relevant way. We'll be creative.

It scared the crap out of me to ship today, but I did. I walked across the hall and pitched the idea to my boss.

I shipped.

And it felt like a VERY good day.