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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

31 Days: Leave Me Alone (Please)

Tony asked me if I'd had a good day. I affirmed that I had, and that most of it was spent alone. I said that like it was a good thing. And it was.

But I thought through that statement as I walked out of the room, and realized that it's not entirely true. It just feels like I spent most of the day by myself.

I'm not complaining. It actually feels good. A little alone time goes a long way.

I actually only had about four hours to myself. This morning I worked from home with my family moving in and out of the room. I spent another two and-a-half hours with piano students, and then another couple of hours with small group people. Tons of them. I hung out to speak with a beautiful 13-year-old who wants to be a singer, gave a kid a ride home and then got back to the house to check email and figure out what I missed.

In between all that, I had four hours to myself. I sat at a table, earbuds in, people milling all around me. First at McAllisters, over a bowl of vegetarian chili; then at Starbucks, clutching a skinny vanilla latte. I worked and focused, in and out, on a couple of major projects.

I made great progress.

And tonight, I feel energized and most happy about the fact that I had that time alone. Even though it was less than half of my work day, it feels like the biggest part of all that I did today.

I guess it's true. I have to admit it. I am, truly, an introvert.

I'm energized when I have long stretches of time by myself. I like having people around me; in fact, I think I'm most productive being alone in a busy place full of people and noise.

Weird, that. I often feel guilty about this, because I never feel like I can get anything done at the office.

Except I talk to people a lot, and I love that. So what I get done is getting to know people better. That's important, and I like that. But I don't feel like I can get focused work done on the larger projects on my plate.

If I could, I think I'd sit at Starbucks three days a week, earbuds in, getting work done.

On weeks when I have small group (two of them now) or rehearsal, I'm very "other-focused". I'm listening and looking and caring and sincerely trying to be about the other people. It feels very "giving", at the risk of sounding all uppity. But that's how it seems to work; I function in those moments as someone whose main focus is equipping other people. I wouldn't say that's necessarily hard work, but it does seem to deplete my resources somewhat.

So I really like being all by myself. I think it helps me get my work done. It seems to energize me.

I think that makes me sort of weird. So I try to be more normal, and work some in the office. Except I don't get my work done.

Somehow it balances out. I'm just thankful for my job, and the flexibility, and the opportunity to help people. Balance is the name of the game.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

31 Days: Making Art

This was the day in which much mercy was revealed.

And grace.

And there was beauty, as well; along with a change of scenery, a new perspective and thoughts of shadows and light.

My creative team meets each Tuesday. We plan services - song ideas, skits, videos, transitions. It's fun and challenging and the best job in the world, but for a creative person, it can be exhausting. The every seven days cycle is inescapable. I have no fight in me for those who would say that the liturgy is pointless, that a set plan for worship lacks creativity or meaning. I respect and admire and have worshiped sincerely in a liturgical service. But our calling in this season is to do things a bit differently - not better, just different - and so we stretch ourselves creatively to find ways to connect Truth and Beauty and Grace and Jesus to a room full of people who are often longing for some vibrant, meaningful encounter that they have missed in other contexts.

Context is everything. And sometimes, we forget. We get in a rut. We see things the way we've always seen them. We forget to be surprised.

We forget what it's like to not know something.

So today, I took my team on a surprise journey. We piled into the Big Red Suburban (I felt like their mother, rather than their leader...) and we found ourselves at Sunshine, Art and Lessons, where my friend Shelly Crawford was waiting for us. She gave us a brief overview of how to use the tools she provided. She gave us paper.

We sat around the table and it felt like kindergarten again. Except, not really; because instead of a five-year-old's joy and anticipation of "getting to color", there was a sad undercurrent of insecurity.

"I can't draw."

There we were, a table full of highly creative and talented people, suddenly stilled by fear that we couldn't do art.

(At least I felt that way.)

(And I know I wasn't alone.)

But Shelly was gentle and kind, and she told us how to look at an apple but not really look at an apple, to simply look at an object. To squint and look for the dark and the light. And then to circle the darkness, to wrap the charcoal around the shadows.
Our teacher.

"Make it dark first. Then pull the light out."

It was all about the eraser. And the metaphors; oh, the richness of this creative process and the raw parts of simply being human and alive.

"Don't worry about making a mark that you think is wrong. There is no wrong. It simply becomes part of what you are creating. Just blend it in and keep going."

This is deeply resonant for me this week. And I noticed this; that I have to be reminded, sometimes in blindingly painful ways, of the need to surrender to the process.

Whether drawing an apple with charcoal or sketching a life.


A man and his apple.

Ben colored outside the lines and broke the rules. It was beautiful.

Ben and Elijah.

The finished products.

My team. I love these people.

Monday, October 21, 2013

31 Days: Treasure

Today I noticed a man who marries a woman with five kids moved to the point of tears when speaking words of affirmation and encouragement regarding one of those said kids.

Such a man is a treasure.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

31 Days: A Nap

It was a beautiful day in central Virginia. Our church gathering was wonderful.

The sky was blue, the leaves are on fire.

After church (which is, for me, also work. Which is, for me, always a bit odd...) we spent some family time in the kitchen. My girls set off for Harrisonburg and we went outside for a bit.

Sunday afternoon naps are a rare luxury; I take one every chance I get. Today, I did a bit of work while the football game was on (go Steelers!) and began to doze off. Eventually, I gave up; put the laptop down and curled into a corner of the chair. The football game continued; the phone rang; the door slammed.

I napped.

When I awoke, I had a quick flashback of Sunday afternoons in the late 70's and early 80's. The football game would be on and I'd be stretched out on the floor with one of the oversized pillows my folks kept for that very purpose. Every Sunday, it seemed, I'd sleep on the floor; I would have stayed up late watching Saturday Night Live, gotten up to sing in the church choir and ended up "exhausted".

(My teenaged self had no idea what exhaustion was...)

My husband believes in naps. When he takes one, he goes into the bedroom and closes the door.

Me, I take my naps on the couch or the chair. I don't do the floor much anymore; hardwood doesn't have the same allure as a nice, thick-pile shag. But I park myself in a noisy place, a central location where I can hear my people move in and out of the afternoon. Of course, it doesn't end up being much of a nap...but I think I appreciate and enjoy it more, because I'm essentially awake while I nap. And therefore more appreciative of the nap.

And that makes no sense at all.

But that's the truth.

Am I the only weird one who prefers napping in the midst of a bunch of noise?

The afore-mentioned husband and me, before the napping began.
It was a beautiful day.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

31 Days: Life Goes On

This morning I woke up early (for a Saturday) and made bacon and eggs for David and one of his friends. We heated up the pumpkin bread that I'd made yesterday. We had a big pot of coffee.

It was a very nice morning; it moved slowly. The air is cool, the leaves are littering the yard. The cat sits pensively, staring into the distance. I move from basement to bedroom, through the kitchen, into the hallway. There are clothes to wash, dust to collect, dishes to dry. I multi-tasked and threw together an apple crisp with the tart, tangy Granny Smiths we brought home from Carter Mountain last week. The house smelled good.

Later in the day two of my daughters came crashing through the door. It is good that their university is an easy, two-hour route through the mountains and a gentle interstate highway. My mom walked in an hour later, and we all piled into her car.

There's a traveling Brides Against Breast Cancer bridal gown show in town, and Shannon felt sure she would be able to find something she liked.

She did.

So today, I made bacon and eggs, and apple crisp, and then when we got back home I gave this new recipe a try and we had potato soup for dinner. It was amazing, if I do say so myself.

And I do.

So, today, we bought a wedding dress. And I cooked a lot.

And what did I notice today?

There was this: In spite of a wonderful day, a memory-making day, a day full of rich family connections and delicious food and notable aromatic atmospheres, it was difficult to be fully present. Sometimes, when I get a very good night's sleep (like eight full hours, after a week of only five or six per night), I cling and claw through a peculiar fog all day long. No amount of coffee clears it. Today felt like such a day. Underneath every beautiful thing was a clingy molasses, a tinge of something slow and sad in spite of all the beauty.

And I felt guilty, and sorrowful.

But then it occurred to me; perhaps this is not a particularly notably bad thing. There is a point, I guess, when all the jumping and shrieking and overflowing effervescence belongs to the bride who simply cannot stop beaming because she loves the way she feels in a beautiful wedding gown. Or to the sister, who is literally jumping up and down, babbling about getting her cartilage pierced and her hands on some diet Pepsi. Maybe to the grandmother, who walks through this new experience with a calm wisdom and a happy smile. To the assembled group in the kitchen who drink down the rich soup and say, "Yes. Yes, Mom. This is good." and then tear out the door in search of another adventure. There is still great, precious value to a day when someone carries the joy. It doesn't always have to be me.

Sometimes I just get to watch, and take it all in.

We are given these days and these moments, and regardless of our focus, our distractions and our attitudes, time marches on. Joy and wonder slip into the cracks somewhere in the room. We buy dresses and cook meals and clean kitchens and good music seeps into our ears; and whether we are surrounded by friends and family or left sitting alone in an empty, soup-strewn kitchen,


I guess thought I'd start this post with a doleful attitude, some measure of regret that an entire day has moved by with me being somewhat preoccupied. But here I am, at the end of the post, and I think perhaps I have discovered more gratitude than sorrow. Life goes on, indeed, and we are blessed to reach out and catch hold of the things that are precious - whether mundane or momentous.

Today, I made good food, and my daughter found her wedding dress. Simple and complex, mundane and extravagant. There are many things, beautiful and true, that I hold in my hands; many people who surround me. Three strong daughters, two talented sons full of promise, a sturdy, handsome husband, extended family.

Life goes on.

This is grace.

Friday, October 18, 2013

31 Days: The Ultimate Comfort Food

My husband made a quick run to Walmart.

A case of water, eggs, coffee.

He took care of the list, and added this:

He set it on the counter and said, "The ultimate comfort food."

I noticed this: My husband knows me. He loves me. He gets me.

I had a bowl.

(Then, I had another.)

My posts this week are, by necessity, a bit more perfunctory than they have been. My energy is focused in a different direction. My family is grateful for your good thoughts and prayers. Sorry to leave you with brief posts about cereal, but that's all I got right now....

Thursday, October 17, 2013

31 Days: Empty

My eldest daughter lives out of town. She met her boyfriend at school in Savannah. He finished school in May and headed in to the Army. He was stationed at Fort Lee, just 45 minutes south of us. My daughter remained in Savannah.

When he came to Virginia, he hadn't figured out where he would live. We invited him to live with us.

He did.

When the government shut down, it complicated his plans. He had to leave earlier than we anticipated.


He put on his camo fatigues this morning and headed out the door. And I noticed this thing; that someone can enter your life - and your home - for a relatively short period of time and bring a great deal of joy and laughter and positive energy. Some people just have that spark.

He does.

Tonight, our house feels very empty. Very quiet. We miss Max.

But I have a daughter who is, tonight, undoubtedly thrilled that he is within arm's reach.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

31 Days: Sing Like Never Before

On Wednesday nights, we do small groups at my church.

Actually, we do small groups almost every night of the week, all over the place. But for about a year now, we've had a specific meeting on Wednesday nights.

Originally, it was Wednesday Night Ladies. We started small. And then we grew.

And grew.

And then, for a short time period, we decided to invite Those Who Are Not Ladies.

In short, we opened the doors to men.

And they came.

We divvy up in groups of 8 - 12. We sit separately - one table for couples who want to be together, one table for men only, and seven other tables for women.

And we sing.
Now, at our church, we like music. We do loud, energetic, spirited music on Sundays. As part of the very reason we exist, we do songs you wouldn't normally hear in a church on Sunday. If it connects with the message, you might hear "Roxanne" or "Freebird". Or a John Mayer tune. Maybe a Billy Joel song (one of my personal favorites). We sing songs to and about God and Jesus as well. We sing hymns, too. It's deep and rich and wide and meaningful. It's worship. It helps us connect with, understand and appreciate God; we focus our attention and affection on Him.

There's a little bit of everything, stylistically and traditionally.

Because it fits our purpose, mission and goal, we create a Sunday experience that is much like a theater. Yes, it's sort of a production. No, we don't claim that all churches ought to be like this. Yes, we realize that it's not for everyone.

We have a very focused mission and vision and we believe we best honor God by adhering closely to the strategies we feel He has led us to in order to accomplish that mission.

We do church for people who don't go to church.

That doesn't change everything, but it changes a lot of things.
On Wednesday nights, we unplug everything and keep it casual. There are no screens with words and fancy moving pictures - there are papers with typed lyrics. Sometimes with typos.

I sit at the piano and play. And sing at the top of my lungs. Tonight, my friend Matthew stood beside me with his acoustic guitar - unplugged - and played. And sang at the top of his lungs.

And standing all around me are women (and men!), 60 or 70 of them, singing at the top of their lungs. It's not the smooth, polished, generic vocal tones you hear on the Christian radio station. It's not the amplified, equalized voices you'll hear at our church on Sunday morning.

It's real people, singing. Gathered around the piano in clumps. Some close, some as far away as they can reasonably stand. They can and do sing. They have voices. They sing.

It's my friends; people I know, lifting their voices, finding a harmony line, following the melody.

It's Jamie, lifting her hand towards heaven.

It's Ginger, voice soaring and shimmering.

It's Susan, with a lifetime of passion for worshiping God echoing from her soul.

It's Jen. It's Miranda. It's Donia. It's Meg.

It's all of them.

And here's what I noticed, and this is true: There is no more meaningful, potent, energizing corporate worship for me than what I experience on Wednesday nights.

It has nothing to do with style or volume or production values.

It is because we sing songs together, and then we go sit at tables together and tell the stories of our lives. Honest and vulnerable. Slowly, at first, while we test the waters and determine whether or not we are safe.

We trust the Creator, as we raise our voices, unhindered and allowed, imperfect. And then we learn to trust each other, voices whispering, confiding, truth-telling. Encouraging.

And that, my friends, is the essence of church. We are learning, together, to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. And we are learning, carefully and messily, to love one another.

I am so grateful for this church that welcomes me each week. And I am so grateful to reap the benefits of diverse experiences that continue to shape and inform and make me who I am. It keeps changes.

New mercies, indeed.

Grateful for such grace.

Every day.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

31 Days: Done

Today I noticed that there is, in fact, a point in time at which I really have nothing more to say.

Mercies are new every morning; that is a promise I believe. I trust you'll see evidence of that here tomorrow.

Monday, October 14, 2013

31 Days: A List

Today I noticed a few things. Rather than wax poetic, I'm going to make a list.

  • I have lost all trust in our elected officials. And I really just don't care any more. 
  • It bothers me that I don't care. I am not a fan of apathy. 
  • I miss my eldest daughter so much. I need to see her.
  • It was a long day. It started in the dentist's chair. 
  • I need to floss more.
  • A fight that became an important discussion interrupted my entire day. It was worth it.
  • I didn't eat all day, because of the interruption to my carefully-laid plan. 
  • That's not entirely true.
  • I ate a banana.
  • I had a late meeting at church, so I didn't get home until 9PM. it was worth it.
  • The fridge was bare, and dinner didn't get cooked, because of the afore-mentioned best-laid plans. I threw together an individual serving of homemade mashed potatoes for dinner. They were epic.
  • Watching The Voice with my family makes me happy happy happy. Daniel even texted me from his job about tonight's show (he was watching on break).
  • Speaking of The Voice, Christina's boobs are back. Oh joy.
  • I've been a little grumpy all day. 
  • I know why.
  • I'm sad.
  • Because this guy is leaving.

  • It was worth it.
Being grumpy does not make for a good blogger. I'm sorry. We'll return to our regularly scheduled cheery updates tomorrow.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

31 Days: Giving Value To Survival

For you to fully understand what I noticed today, you've got to review a little
David, Bill and Daniel; and a box of pirate booty.
family history with me.

The easiest way to do that is to have you read this post, written in April of 2008.

Over five years ago. It doesn't seem like a long time, but oh-so-much has changed.

Go on, take a look. Read the post.

Click here.

And here it is: What I noticed today is that sometimes connections are made.

And they don't break.

C.S. Lewis said, "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival."

Shannon, Syd, Louise, Pat, Bill, Beth, Tony and David.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

31 Days: Just Feel

Tonight, I noticed a gem of grace.

I had a precious few hours of alone time in my house. It was quiet. I journaled. I thought.

This #31days thing is stirring the pot a bit; I'm finding some thoughts and emotions and....things...floating to the surface, prompted by my friend Jayne's posts and my friend Diane's posts and the things I'm reading here and maybe, just maybe, by the work of the holy spirit.

Okay. Definitely a spirit thing.

Anyway, the quiet was a gift. I journaled - with a pen and paper - and found myself getting real about a few things. Seeing them in print, written by my own hand, stirred that pot.

And then my husband came home.

And in a quiet house, we had a rare and wonderful thing.

A conversation.

I shared a bit of what I was thinking and feeling, in bits and uncollated pieces. He listened. He made a few comments.

And I realized some of the truth of what I've actually been writing about lately, things I've noticed in others. I need that face-to-face time to get my own junk out of my head. I need to feel that love of my brother/husband/neighbor for me.

And it was so, so good.

We're both playing music tomorrow at the Riverside Campus, so after talking, we sat down and rehearsed together.

There was a moment there, running through an instrumental version of "Nothing But the Blood", a coalescence of beauty and shared spirit and soul connection and melody and harmony and rhythm...and all was right with my world.

You know what I mean? That connection between a piece of art or music or a moment in a film or a book, and you just feel.

I get that when I make music. Sometimes, it seems to be more a rarity than a normal occurrence; you'd think that wouldn't be true, considering what I do day in and day out. Lately, it's rare. But it happened tonight, and - best of all - it happened with someone I love.

The quiet continues. I'm drinking tea to soothe my throat, and the one I love is on the phone with a friend. His laughter fills the room.

Life is good.

31 Days: Love Your Neighbors

I'm a bit late with this post, but - in all fairness - I have been a day early all along. So, technically, I'm not really late....

I'm still battling a cold, and between the normal pace of life (which hasn't really abated) and the constant sneezing / hacking / coughing, it's been a bit of a struggle to stay focused lately.

But there are moments, daily, and I find no small amount of joy in making note of them. Lately, there has been a unique duality of joy and sorrow mixed in with some of those moments. All too often, it seems, the human experience comes in all its fullness, with the good and the bad mixed together. One man's treasure is another man's trash. One person's delight is another's mourning.

I am well aware, in some cases. In others, you hardly realize, until it's over, that someone's heart had been breaking right in front of you.

I would not wish these things away; we are in the midst of a push to consider it joy, a sheer gift, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. "You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors." So there is the promise of fullness, of knowledge and wisdom and a fuller faith.

It just comes, almost always, at the expense of some thing, some trial, some hard moment.

That is our human experience, the gift and curse of our walking this earth. It makes us who we are. Clinging to that, wrapped in the grace represented by Jesus - that is the essence of this faith that blooms in me with tenacious, extravagant ferocity, in every halting, trembling step I take. I am learning to embrace the mud-covered mess with no less gratitude than the bright and shiny beauty.

And so, in the midst of the chaotic rhythm of human noise, there are these faces:

They are specific and unique, each one important to me in individual ways. I love these people.

They have come into my life, one by one, due to various circumstances. Connected through family and through the church, I have met these men and found a deep sense of love and respect for who they are and what they mean to our community.

And that's the thing I'm noticing, that people just come. For whatever reason, we meet people, and our life journeys intersect and we get to play a part in one another's stories and that doesn't change. It becomes our history, for good and bad, for joy and sorrow, for the clean parts and the messy stuff as well.

More and more I am understanding how vital this is to my understanding of my faith and the life I live as a follower of Christ. That whole "love your neighbor as yourself" can't happen unless you have some neighbors to love.

I'm glad these are some of mine.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

31 Days: Noticing Soup

Last week, I had vertigo.

This week, I have a bad cold.

What's with the recurring annoying illness theme?

Here's what I noticed: When something's important, it gets done.

I tried to work today. Our amazing team picked up the slack on the biggest project on my plate and got it done. I went in for my weekly report meeting with my boss and he sent me home to rest.

God bless him.

What I knew I wanted - and needed - most of all were two things.

1. My own homemade chicken soup.
2. To fulfill my responsibilities for Sunday.

I stopped by the store for orange juice and egg noodles. It took me about 45 minutes to whip up a big pot of soup. I firmly believe there are healing properties in that soup.

I laid down to rest, in between coughing spells.

I got up in time to ride with Tony and Max out to PCC's Riverside Campus, where we're all playing on Sunday. In all my time working with PCC, I can think of only one occasion when I didn't show up to sing or play. (David was sick, and my responsibilities as 'mom' trumped my job.)

But tonight, I went. I believe I'll be better by Sunday, and what we do matters. So we worked through our five or six songs, with both the drummer and I fighting colds. We wrapped it up and made the 50-minute drive back home.

It was time with my husband. It was worth it to feel prepared.

It was important. Regardless of how I felt, both making soup and running rehearsal were imperative. And I noticed this; that while I was immersed in both of those activities, I wasn't quite so cognizant of my cold symptoms. There was certainly an issue when I sang with a frog-like, cracking voice; but overall, while I was doing, it was just getting done.

At the moment, I'm well-aware of the fact that I'm sick. I feel like crap.

I've got time tomorrow to rest and take it easy. Today I did what needed doing.

The afore-mentioned soup.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

31 Days: Face To Face

Here's what I noticed today:

There's nothing that matches a good, face to face honest conversation.

Email doesn't cut it.

Facebook won't do it.

Texting is woefully inadequate.

Tell me something that matters, something I need to understand, and look in my eyes while you do it.

Take a deep breath in and breath out your truth, that thing that binds your anxiety; release it, and look at me.

Let me give you not only the benefit of the doubt but also the benefit of the subtle shift in your eyes, the  pursing of your lips, the way you clutch your hands together.

Share your worry and your concern with more than letters strung together, typed in frantic emotion; let me see your face.

Let me see your heart.

We were made for this.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

31 Days: Glory, Glory

This was a busy day, one that started with my youngest missing the bus. (It happens about once a month, and I don't blame him. It's hard to get up at 6AM.) I had to be at work early, so I just got myself ready quickly, dropped him off at school and started things out with coffee and eggs at The County Seat.

I don't think I could get through a morning without coffee.

I wouldn't like to try.

I went non-stop all day long, and the hours flew by. One meeting melded right into the next, and before I knew it, 4PM had arrived. It was a productive day, but I'm concerned that without any time to process, I'll not be as effective with the outcome of all those meetings as I ought.

I was home long enough to thank Max profusely for cleaning the kitchen.

We went to the 2013 Powder Puff football game, to see my senior son dress like a cheerleader and be thrown into the air repeatedly.

It is terrifying, and I'm glad his cheering career is over.

Here's what I noticed:

Glory, glory. It was stunning. No filter, no editing, straight from my iPhone.

As my friend Connie said, it's an interesting juxtaposition: the silly fun of boys dressed as girls, acting goofy, and the intense, supernatural beauty of nature.

I noticed the beauty first.

The rest, I was just living.

It was a good day.

Monday, October 7, 2013

31 Days: Vertigo

Today I noticed that I did not have vertigo.

About a week ago, I started feeling sick. Unsteadiness, nausea, dizziness. Terrible vertigo at night.

First, I thought it was the new iOS 7 on my iPhone update (seriously, it's making some folks sick). I switched the settings.

It didn't help.

For a week now, I've felt off. And extraordinarily grumpy. And every night, when my head hit the pillow, the room would spin violently. It was horrible. And it continued, any time I moved during the night.

Convinced it was some sort of ear infection, I got some amoxicillin. I tried decongestants. But every day I was grumpy, and every night my world turned. Way too much.

I decided I'd go to the doctor Monday morning, so I spent some time doing research on vertigo last night (God bless the internets). Based on my symptoms, I decided I likely had benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Essentially, some "debris" in my ear had entered one of the semicircular canals, causing vertigo.

At least that was my diagnosis.

So I figured I knew what I had; but I also wanted to know what to expect in terms of treatment.

God bless youtube.

I found videos - lots of videos - demonstrating the typical treatment for vertigo. It's an adjustment made by a licensed professional - like my chiropractor - that would reposition the calcium carbonate debris and solve the problem. I watched several videos, all of which showed the same basic technique.

I had a thought. I think I can do this myself...

Dangerous words, I know. But it didn't look that difficult.

And it wasn't.

I did the "treatment" once and it didn't work. I decided to try again.

It worked.

I slept better than I had all week long. I felt good - really good - when I woke up. So good that I was astounded to comprehend how awful I had really felt the week before.

I saw the doctor anyway, and we talked through my self-diagnosis and treatment. He applauded me (and boy, was I proud of myself) and told me to continue to do the treatment for three consecutive days. We talked a bit about the hidden impact of vertigo on the body; when neurological paths are interrupted even just a bit, the body functions with a "ghost" self that keeps everything, every day, just a bit "off". Things don't line up. Moods are altered. Reflexes are dulled. Fog is prevalent.

That explained a lot.

This is a long blog post for a "what I noticed" series. However, I thought maybe it would be helpful. I've heard of people suffering vertigo before, but never experienced it myself. Of course, my circumstances and outcome may not be typical, but the doctor thought it was absolutely fine to have treated myself. Maybe somebody else needs some encouragement and information.

It's called The Epley Manuever. Here's the actual video I watched (about seven times). I did it alone, although I suppose it would be nice to have somebody hold my head. Maybe I'll ask my husband to help next time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

31 Days: Family

I didn't get much sleep last night; I'm guessing maybe two hours. We had a house full of JMU students and decided that the safest bet was to cede the entire place to them and leave the premises. Our girls could sleep in our bed.

We walked next door and availed ourselves of my mother-in-law's guest bedroom, abandoning the comfort of our home to a wild pack of 20-something college students.

Who were watching "The Land Before Time" on Netflix when we left. Kids these days. Sigh.

Hard partiers.

(Great kids, seriously.)

It was a good idea in theory, sleeping next door - but in practice, it didn't work. It was too quiet, for one; I'm used to a house the creaks and groans with human and structural sounds all night long. I like the slightly noisy ceiling fan and the peculiar squeaks of our bed.

And I was stressed, because I knew my husband was not exceedingly fond of this idea. He'd rather have been home in his own bed, with the kids sprawled out on the couches and floors and tables and not in our bed. So I was worried and anxious that he was mad and frustrated...

And I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and recited scripture in my head, did the ABC's, relived my wedding....nothing worked. I picked up my phone (BAD IDEA I KNOW) and checked Post Secret, because it always comes out in the wee hours of Sunday morning (it had).

I think I drifted off around 4:00AM. The alarm went off at 5:55.

I was a zombie all day.

Church was, nevertheless, awesome, because God and spirit make church in spite of us, and it was a great day.

We came home to gather round, all the students except my own gone back to JMU, and we moved - naturally - into the kitchen. Leftover sandwiches were on tap for lunch, and we grabbed what looked good and began to eat. Somebody said, "We didn't pray....", and we hadn't - we'd just started grabbing and chewing. Somebody said, "Oh - thank you God for these sandwiches."

My mom and dad walked in to say hi, and I laid my head on my daddy's chest and said, "I'm tired, Dad." He hugged me.

Shannon and Travis were bubbling with ideas for their upcoming wedding. They are both beaming constantly these days, hope and dreams for their future sizzling in the clutch of their arms around one another. Sydni, as always, engaged with everyone, smiling, eyes shining, adding value to every person in her line of sight. Courey and David and Max, moved around the kitchen in the comfortable dance that only comes with familiarity with cupboards and silverware drawers and what's in the fridge. Daniel, beside me, alive and all smiles, more talkative, happier.

I noticed this: That the synergy of our family when we are literally together, is a palpable thing. It changes us.

There is a spirit, something that hovers above us, a joining of our spirits together - I believe that this is thing unique to our faith, settled in the truth of the Spirit that lives in us. Family becomes not just us together, but a separate, tangible thing.

And we are changed, because we feel it. It is precious. We feel alive and more ourselves when we are together.

Is this unusual? Are other families like this? Is this my unique perspective as the mother, the grounding force, the ballast at the center?

Or is there something to this?

I felt it in my own family of origin, between my brother and my parents and I. It is still there when we gather for reunions and vacations.

And now it is this larger thing...

Maybe it's just me. Perhaps I'm a little skewed in how I attach value to our time together.


I like it.

(I do deeply, awfully, miss Sarah, who still resides in Savannah and was not here today...except in spirit.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

31 Days: The Heart

The room held somewhere around 450 people.

Most of them came expectantly.

I think that makes all the difference.

It was a 'night of worship'. If you're a person who follows Christ, you probably have a perspective of 'worship' unique to your upbringing, your experience, your history and your culture. Even if you are a Christian who does not go to church regularly, you have some connotation of 'worship'.

If you are not a Christian, you probably have some idea of what 'worship' looks like. Or feels like.

Culturally, anyone in our Western civilization has probably experienced a form of something like 'worship' - at a sporting event, a John Mayer concert, a political event.

'Worship' is attention paid and affection given. It's focus.

And it's preceded, I believe, by expectation.

So people came out to this venue tonight, expecting to see something or feel something, maybe to be given something. It was billed as a night of worship so there were probably few surprises...

....unless your experience of worship wasn't anything like what happened.

The band and the production values were excellent. The flow of material and content was well-planned. The songs themselves were well-written, melodic and easily singable - even for those hearing them for the first time.

On a personal level, it was powerful. I decided to set down the responsibility I had as a staff member and simply be in the moment. I had a seat in the fourth row and it was a brilliant place to observe, engage and participate.

I was convicted; reminded of things that slip to the periphery, things like What if we really believed this?

I had an opportunity to look around, as I stood next to a woman whose friendship was walked us in and out of many moments of worship (including our first encounter with All Sons & Daughters at STORY in Chicago. I  saw standing in the next row three young men who inhabit a tender place in my heart. Across the aisle I saw my daughter, standing with members of her own tribe, hands raised high and face radiant. I saw other musician friends to my right. Every where I looked, I saw attention and affection. We made room and space for that tonight, and what I saw around me echoed my own experience.

But here's what I noticed, after a day engaging with young men and women living out the minor celebrity of an immensely popular contemporary Christian worship band. In the midst of the production, the gear, the graphics, the lights, the hazer - all to be expected to create the expected environment - there was this:

After the final song, a huge, big sing-along, they invited the opening act out to join them for the expected big finale...

....which was not the expected big finale.

They unplugged the guitars, moved away from the microphones and stepped into the audience space. The house lights came up and we all looked into one another's eyes.

And the church sang, honestly, compassionately, authentically, these words:

When the music fades and all is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring something that's of worth 
That will bless your heart
I'll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within, through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
All about You, Jesus

The end.

This was one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had. Well, that sounds sort of cliche...

It was awesome.

It was meaningful.

Here's the deal: It was simply solid and very, very good. Tim Timmons and All Sons & Daughters are hosting a 'Night of Worship' on this tour. It is not expensive. 

If you are a follower of Jesus, this will fill you. If you are not a follower of Jesus, it would give you a glimpse into a gentle, honest style of Christianity that often gets shouted down by the loud, harsh, mean, angry voices of people who identify as Christians.

If they are coming close to your town, you should go.

The tour includes:
Allentown, Leo, Ann Arbor, Canton, Grand Rapids, Columbus, Waco, Austin, Waxahachie, Houston, Kentwood, Birmingham, Toccoa Falls, Gainesville, Tampa and Apopka. 

Details here.

You will be blessed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

31 Days: Filling The Third

Today was harder.

It was my day off, and that should be a good thing, but I woke up grumpy and it seems like I stayed that way most of the day.

I'm noticing that I am a lot moodier these days, and I tend to feel tired and lethargic - and grumpy - more often than I used to. I'm sure it has something to do with my age. I'm embracing it and trying to eat better, exercise, take vitamins, etc. But it happens, I suppose, and you gotta go with the flow....

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to post about.

Here's what I noticed today:

I always fill the third.

For the musicians out there, you know what I mean; for the rest of you, here's a brief primer. A regular triad or chord has three notes (hence the name). Harmony is created when two tones sound together. You can add extra notes to your hearts' delight, but typical Western music builds it's foundation upon thirds in harmony. It's called homophony; in choirs, you'll have sopranos, altos, tenors and basses to sing those thirds. Usually the top voice carries the melody and the other parts fill out the tones of the chord to create a supporting harmony.

Here's an example; this is the sort of thing that happens around my house when the kids are home.

That's harmony.

And here's what I noticed, when I was listening to music earlier this afternoon while cooking chicken and rice (that thing that I do well). The All Sons & Daughters playlist was tracking - they are coming here for a Night of Worship tomorrow - and as a duo, their harmony leaves a wide open space for that third tone of the chord. So I cooked and I sang and filled in that empty space. On every song. At the top of my lungs.

The girls arrived home from school, and after dinner Syd said, "Mom...come play!" She meant the piano, and so I pulled out the bench and moused around with some chord changes. I asked what she wanted to hear, and she said, "I want to sing." So she started throwing out song ideas, and here you go:


Every last one of them, except Kari Jobe's "Oh The Blood", which isn't technically a hymn because it's a newer worship song, but the lyrics lean heavily into a hymn style. So it counts.

And Max came up and stood behind me with his guitar, and Shannon leaned against the wall, and for 20 minutes we sang hymns.

I'm not the only one who likes to fill those empty chords; there were three parts on every song, coming from one voice or another.

So I noticed these two things, tonight, connected. One is that two-part harmony always seems incomplete to me. I am compelled to fill that third, every time. It's not always the right thing, but it always fits. It's like a empty silence that needs a sound.

And the second thing is this: What is it with kids in their early 20's finding this huge passion for singing hymns? Those ancient, archaic, long-dead, impossible to sing tunes that we think turn people off of church? I noticed that these kids knew every word, and sang like they believed it.

I'm chewing on that one for a while.

For the record, I love hymns, too. They connect me to history, to the trenches of my faith, to a sense of nostalgia. I find a great deal of meaning in them. What impresses me is that as songs new to people like my kids, they still carry incredible weight and a lot of traction. Fascinating...

After dinner; the end of the chicken and rice.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

31 Days: October 4

Here's a bonus, coming before the regularly scheduled Thing I Noticed:
Reviewing the day to reflect upon the things I noticed in order to share one singular item is a very enlightening practice.
Seriously - it's a bonus that I did not anticipate.

Now, on to our regularly scheduled blog post.

It's 10:43PM, and I just got home about 15 minutes ago, and that's pretty typical once or twice every weekday. I've got to have some down time, or - in some cases, there's stuff I have to do. Work or personal, either way, it seems there's always something. So, it's almost 11PM, and I'll be up. For a while.

I know you feel my pain, some of you hardworking people out there.

I've always considered myself a night owl. But as I - ahem - "mature", I am losing my fondness and capacity for pushing through to midnight or 1:00AM with some consistency.

My husband has a fixed internal clock; his preferred mode of operation would be functioning until 3:00AM and sleeping til 10:00.


Unfortunately, until we retire and can do whatever we want, whenever we want, we're at the mercy of work schedules and bus schedules. For me, that means up at 6:00AM to get David on the bus.

And, truth be told, "get David on the bus" often means stumbling into the kitchen to say hello, prop myself up on the counter while he eats Fruit Loops and packs his own lunch, kiss him goodbye and say, "I love you have a great day" while I stifle a yawn, and then collapse on the couch, my second alarm set for 7:30. I steal 45 minutes of more sleep, which apparently fools me into thinking I got a good night's sleep...but six hours just doesn't cut it.

And it seems I cannot get into bed before midnight.

And then I often don't fall asleep until 1:00AM.

And the vicious cycle continues. Here it is, 11:00PM now, and I'll be in bed in an hour and up again at 6:00AM and not very happy.

And I think I've just gone off on a long, boring rant, rather than tell you what I noticed

Today, I dragged myself out of bed at 6:00, even though I'd been awake until 1:00AM. Unfortunately, I didn't have sufficient coherent thoughts to cook David breakfast, which is the one thing he really wants me to do every day. But I stayed awake, and I saw him out the door, and I knew I had a busy day ahead, so I walked right past that couch.

I went in the kitchen and emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it. I washed some pots and pans that were two big for the dishwasher. I drank what was left of the coffee Max had made when he had to get up at 3:00AM (don't even get me started on ARMY). I made more coffee. I walked outside and prayed underneath a glorious, fragile, pink sky. I worshiped with some powerful new music. I took care of some work emails. I did some reading. I caught up on some work assignments. I got dressed and got my face and hair ready.

And by 8:30, I was awake and ready for the day. It was a slow process, but it worked. I walked into work ready for coherent conversation, which is unusual (I have a reputation for being brain dead until about 10:00AM).

I worked hard all day - accomplished a lot - and I think giving myself time to wake up slowly instead of steal a little more sleep made all the difference.

My boss says that the holiest people get up early.

My mom gets by on four or five hours of sleep every night.

I'm not saying they are right, but maybe...just maybe...I see the benefit of being awake and alive in those early morning hours.

It worked today, anyway. It changed my mood, and I noticed.

And now I'm going to bed.

Well, in a minute...