Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Songs: Back Home Again

As a teenager, I joining the Columbia Record Club - unbeknownst to my parents. I slipped a ragged
$1 bill into an envelope, agonized over my selections and used my signature to make my first financial commitment.

All day, every day, I waited anxiously for those 13 records to show up, all the while trying to figure out how to explain it to my folks. As I recall, this is where I first learned to "act first; apologize later".

This is not necessarily a good thing. When I look at my kids and hope they behave better than I did, the Columbia Record Club comes to mind.

That, and the Dillard's credit card I signed up for at 18.

(I didn't really understand that I'd have to actually pay for those clothes.)

(Common sense - not my forte.)

Anyway, I sent off my little envelope. It seemed like a lifetime, but finally the box arrived.

Honky Tonk Chateau
The Eagles Greatest Hits
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

And two John Denver records; Greatest Hits, Volume 1 and Back Home Again.

I had the sheet music to Sunshine On My Shoulders and Annie. I loved Poems, Prayers and Promises.

/ / /

And this memory just came back like a sucker punch, as I researched the track list for John Denver's Greatest Hits on Wikipedia.

I sang 'For Baby (For Bobbie)' as a duet with my dad.

I had completely forgotten that until this moment, as I write.

/ / /

Just a few days ago, my uncle (Dad's brother) gave me a few old photos. I saw my dad, in a way that my husband never knew - before the stroke. I was reminded of that big personality, the sense of humor, the flashing, charismatic smile. The big hugs and the gentle teasing.

I visited my mom and dad tonight and recognized, again, that time is moving rapidly. The hemorrhagic stroke changed my dad; tears come more quickly. Words are slower.

The impact of the brain bleed is still obvious. My dad is a different man now, in some ways. Different.

But still my dad.

And I have this memory, sparked tonight by a list of song titles; clear, classic harmony - the centered place where I learned to sing harmony. With my dad, it was simply there. You sought out the harmony because the melody was too safe, too simple. In church, standing side by side, we sang the first verse by the book. Verses 2, 3 and 4 were for experimenting. We alternated -  alto, tenor and bass; we sang strong and loud and, too often, irreverently.

My dad sang in the church choir most weeks. Looking out at the congregation in his robe and stole, he would stick out his tongue and make faces at me when the choir director wasn't looking.

My mom would sigh and roll her eyes.

These days, at 74, dad sits back in his recliner and explores the past. Just tonight, he showed me photographs and genealogies of his maternal ancestors. Sometimes he looks at a photograph and chokes up.

He doesn't sing much anymore.

But there is harmony in the way he points to the photo of his mom - my grandmother. There is resonance when he laughs, that particular sound that is as much a sob as a chuckle, when I say, "Dad, your brother spoke highly of you..."

There is everything in me that was grounded in the deepest, heart-and-soul connection with music. It lived in my dad, too; and it bloomed in my brother and in me because of my mom's determination to water it.

My dad loved John Denver. I know that I chose two Denver records from Columbia Record House because it would appeal to (and maybe appease) him.

We sang all these songs. In harmony.

I started this post thinking of Back Home Again, but it has obviously spiraled into something different. But I am glad that these lyrics are true:

...hey, it's good to be back home again...

I felt it tonight, in my parents' home. I felt it in my own home, with my little family. And I feel it settled in my soul, in the dwelling place of my spirit. So it's an appropriate title.

But the song singing in my memory tonight is the one that I hear with the strong, clear tenor voice of my father beside me.

I'll walk in the rain by your side
I'll cling to the warmth of your hand
I'll do anything to help you understand
And I'll love you more than anybody can

And the wind will whisper your name to me
Little birds will sing along in time
Leaves will bow down when you walk by 
And morning bells will chime

Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days: I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

We're home, after two weeks of driving a gazillion miles.

No, wait.

Three-thousand six-hundred twenty-nine miles.

Seriously; 3,629 miles.

So that's a lot of miles.

And we're home now, and the bonus of home, sweet home and our own bed and familiar places is maximized by the presence of my eldest son and two of his friends. They're hanging in the kitchen and this song is pulsing through their computer speakers.

I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more...

I'm glad I'm home.

PS - Now they're listening to Sleeping At Last's cover of "Safety Dance" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart". Music is an incredible thing; it transcends trends and decades and speaks the same language in fresh ways. 

This is a cool album. Check it out.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Songs: Things Left Undone

The last few days of our life together as a couple and as individuals have been remarkable. There's been a theme, of sorts. It's centered on family, mostly, along with a few unique friendships.

Some of those friendships have been, until recently, little more than memories of the good ol' days.

In the past week, those friendships have been resurrected. And the impact is remarkable - not just on the major players, but those of us who are watching from the sidelines.

My husband reconnected with three men that he hadn't seen for over 30 years. I stood back and watched as they embraced one another with a unique affection and power, a masculine expression of love that I'm not sure I've ever seen before. The words flowed back and forth, with inside jokes and nicknames flying, along with the occasional high five and fist bump. I saw a side of my husband that I've never known - through new eyes - in the way a few of his oldest friends appreciate and love him.

And then today I connected with a friend I've "known" for a few years - whom I've never met in person. We moved quickly toward one another in the parking lot and when we hugged, I didn't want to let go. Words and pictures and videos and status updates and blog posts can go a long ways towards getting to know someone when authenticity is highly valued and expected - but only so far. At some point, you have to look into someone's eyes and hug them and hold their hands and marvel at what almost feels like creation, right there in front of you.

It is, I guess; the creation of a reality, flesh and bones, life and substance.

Life and substance.

It's been created on a daily basis during these travels. And deep in my soul, I know that it matters; that there is something important about this time that goes beyond a short vacation or a road trip.

Over pizza and beer today, one of my husband's old friends talked about people who have moved on, those no longer with us. In the course of the conversation he mentioned - twice - a song by Paul Thorn. I didn't know it; but now I do. And I won't forget it.

Life and substance.

It matters.

And we sleep well tonight, knowing that the list of things left undone - and people who deserve our attention - got a little shorter in these past two days.

When your life is over, you're reaching the end
And the river of Jordan is around the bend
Will you be counting all the trophies you've won
Or will you look back on things left undone

When a stranger came knocking did you let him in
Was there food on your table for a down and out friend
Did you hide in the shadows, did you walk in the sun
Or do you regret the things left undone

Somebody you cared for broke your heart
You let foolish pride keep you apart
Why didn't you learn how to forgive someone
So many years passed with things left undone

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Songs: That's The Way Love Goes

We climbed up in the pickup truck and rode, all three in the front bench seat, through the creek crossover and up the hill. The scrubby mesquites and the oaks stretched their gnarly branches towards the sky; cactus grew wild, scattered everywhere.

The road was little more than a cleaning, a scattering of rocks and gullies dug into the dirt from the last good rain.

Which has been a while.

We saddled up two horses; well, they saddled them up. I watched. And then I climbed aboard, some 20 years since I'd been on a horse.

I remembered galloping through the fields outside of Tolar, Texas, with Dawn Tanner, proud and excited to show me her horse and the wild land she rode.

I remembered little more; I couldn't recall the last time I'd been on a horse since that time with Dawn.

It was hot - not for Texas, of course, but for this girl whose Virginia and Ohio climate conditioning has led to mild expectations for October. It was hot, and it was beautiful.

The horses were strong and sure, and at the top of the bluff there was no sound; nothing but the breathing of the horses and the rocks as the scattered past their hooves.

Utter quiet. No cars, no noise, no phones, no music.

Silence and stillness.

Such a great gift.

When we got in the truck, a Buddy Miller tune was on the radio. It's only fitting; he just oozes Texas to me, and one of the most powerful songs I know came out of time in Texas, when he and his wife Julie sang Is there any way you could say 'no' to this man?

I am seeing Texas with fresh eyes.

I am grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Songs: Best Of Friends

I am perched on a wooden bench facing the front door of a house nestled into the rise overlooking a creek that flows into Lake Travis. This house sits in the heart of the Hill Country of Texas.

There is a fire burning hot and smokey in what once was a propane tank; converted to a useful object by the owner of this house with its wide front porch littered with rocking chairs and wicker.

We ate outside this evening, ribs smoked on the homemade grill. The scent of mesquite and the sound of the frogs and crickets made the atmosphere thick; the chocolate lab ran up and down the creek bank chasing a golf ball that we threw again and again and again.

This home and everything around it and in it grew out of a vision for the way life could be lived. Scavenged materials became walls and doors and sinks and floors. Sweat and labor laid stone. Rain water collects on the roof to serve the house. There is an art and a craft to the way everything within my line of sight has become house and home.

Flesh and blood here; ministry happens, people are loved, children are raised.

I have held these friends in my heart for 20 years now. We lived first as neighbors, right across the railroad tracks from one another in a little Texas town where religion raised us up and broke our hearts. We met again, seeking Jesus, and spent time in one another's homes. Our kids spent a few years of their lives together and our boys, promised of God, are the same age.

Live has dealt difficult cards at times and we have moved in and out of contact with one another. We've moved all around the country.

And now I've come to visit, with a major fault line in my life and a new introduction into the long line of our friendship.

After the dinner, after the fire and the laughter, I mentioned to Diane that I needed to go write my blog post.

"What's your blog about?" she asked. "Well," I replied, "It's about me. My life. My perspective. My stuff."


"Sometimes I write about parenting. About ministry stuff. About God..."

"I'm going to write a book someday."

I'm going to write a book someday.

I've never said that out loud before, but it came easily tonight. It was natural. This quiet, calm space and time with friends who have known me over many, many years made room for that still truth to slip out.

Billy Crockett has long been one of my favorite singer / songwriters; his music is exquisite. Unfortunately, some of the old stuff - including tonight's song - is out of print. I have the cd somewhere at home, but it's tough to find the song online.

But I remember the words, and I have the song hidden in my heart. We share beginnings...we share the's worth it all, in these days to be best of friends....

Hide and seek, snakes and ladders
I remember when
You and me and all that matters
Best of times, best of friends

These days of sunshine, these days of rain
We pull together in days of pain
We share beginnings. we share the ends
It's worth it all in these days to be best of friends

Stand and fall, hurt and healing
Say goodbye again
Through it all, the gift of feeling
Worst of times, still best of friends

Here and now, make a promise to take it to the end
Heart to heart, God is in us
All this time, still best of friends...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Songs: The Power Of Two

So we're in Texas, and I could go all sorts of ways with the blog tonight.

Such as: I've been singing the opening lines of this song - loudly - at random times throughout the day, just because; I remember Dad singing it and I remember doing a little swing dancing to it and who doesn't love a little Texas swing and the master of it, Mr. George Strait?

But other than blurting out the first four lines at random, there's not much resonance here. I suppose I do have a few exes that live in Texas, but I'm not very concerned with them. In fact, now that I think about it, I ought to delete this and start over, because talking or thinking about exes is not a direction I was interested in going. At all.

The other possibility is this tune from the 70's; it was playing at IHOP tonight and I mouthed all of the lyrics - with great dramatic flair - to my partner, over pancakes. It was a moment, for sure.

He rolled his eyes at me; and then Olivia Newton-John started singing "Have to believe we are magic..." and we decided it was time to leave this land of maple syrup and bad pop music...

Here's what I really wanted to write about tonight; follow my short rabbit trail.

Cruising the flat land between Little Rock and Texarkana at 6pm, I did my usual Saturday night routine; I found an NPR station. Prairie Home Companion is one of the most rewarding, stimulating, entertaining and engaging two hours of my week. I love the whole premise of a variety show; I am a big fan of Garrison Keillor's story-telling, and I just get the humor. It's my happy place.

I also discover a tremendous amount of good music - there's the thrill of turning on the radio and finding out that Chris Thile is with Garrison, or somebody like Emmylou Harris. Chet Atkins was always a favorite, and I'm quite partial to Rich Dworsky's mad B3 and piano skills.

I love this show.

Tonight, we heard a new-to-us singer/songwriter, Lera Lynn. Her voice was magical, and I made note of her record and intend to buy it and listen deeply in the next week. The songs - and the singer - made me think of The Indigo Girls, a band I discovered in college and rediscovered in the late 80's.

But here's the point, for this post; I remember, with amazing clarity, hearing their tune The Power of Two for the first time. I was in a dressing room at JC Penneys at Chesterfield Town Center. My ear caught the rhythmic pulse of the acoustic groove; I recognized the voice and knew the band, but hadn't heard the song, although it dated back to the mid 1990's. I stopped trying on clothes and stood still to listen.

So we're okay, we're fine 
Baby I'm here to stop your crying 
Chase all the ghosts from your head 
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed 
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart 
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart 
Adding up the total of a love that's true 
Multiply life by the Power Of Two

At the moment I was standing in that dressing room I was working through the possibility of new love in my life; love and partnership that would be permanent and steady.

I was skittish. Not because of him, but because of me. One of the things I had learned in counseling after the end of my marriage to my kids' dad was that I'd likely take the same baggage and the same issues into any new relationship - and end up with the same problems.

(That statement provided motivation to continue counseling and get better...for sure. Because it was true.) 

I knew there were tremendous risks. But I also knew that there was something significantly different about this man and this relationship.

Standing in the dressing room in Penneys, trying on clothes, I had a powerful moment. This became - for me - "our song". We have other songs, thank the Lord, because he never connected with this song the way I did. But, for me, the lyric encapsulated almost everything I was feeling about the great, grand step of faith into a future that included him, and included us, together.

You know the things that I am afraid of I'm not afraid to tell 
And if we ever leave a legacy it's that we loved each other well 
'Cause I've seen the shadows of so many people trying on the treasures of youth 
But a road that's fancy and fast ends in a fatal crash 
And I'm glad we got off to tell you the truth

So today, flying down the highway on a road we'd never travelled together, I heard Lera Lynn and thought of The Indigo Girls and had a moment of deep gratitude for the man in the driver's seat. Now my husband, he is the necessary halve of the power of two that works in my life. The closer we are bound in love, the closer I am to free; and I believe that I am privileged, in this coupling, to sense the grace and glory of all that God promised when he created us and said, It is not good for man to be alone. I love this man, and I am grateful.

We left IHOP and walked the short journey on broken pavement to the Motel 6. We were laughing about something ridiculous; a swimming pool that had been filled in with dirt (Motel 6 is apparently giving up on outdoor recreation). I grabbed his hand and leaned into his shoulder.

"I love you. I can't imagine being anywhere else, with anybody else but you." 

Nothing like a road trip to make you fall in love all over again.

Now the parking lot is empty 
Everyone's gone someplace 
I pick you up and in the trunk I've packed 
A cooler and a two day suitcase 
'Cause there's a place we like to drive 
Way out in the country 
Five miles out of the city limit we're singing and your hand's upon my knee 

'Cause we're okay, we're fine 
Baby, I'm here to stop your crying 
Chase all the ghosts from your head 
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed 
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart 
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart 
Adding up the total of a love that's true 
Multiply life by the Power Of Two 

All the shiny little trinkets of temptation, something new instead of something old  
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface and it's fools gold 

Now we're talking about a difficult thing and your eyes are getting wet 
I took us for better and I took us for worse 
Don't you ever forget it 
 The steel bars between me and a promise 
Suddenly bend with ease 
The closer I'm bound in love to you 
The closer I am to free

31 Songs: On The Road Again

So, we started a road trip with a fairly well-thought-out plan. A wedding, a short time with family, a quick stop to see a newborn baby and his parents, touching base with some friends along our route in multiple states, eventually ending up in the Lone Star State, where we'd revisit old haunts, hang out with some church people and eat as much Mexican food and chicken fried steak as possible before returning to Virginia.
Headed southwest...

That's how we thought it would go.

And it did, up to the point when we left our first stop, drove three miles down the road and realized that the request that we stay "Just a few more days...." came from a place and a person worth listening to.

And so we did.

Already packed, already headed south - we turned the car around.

"We came back. We decided you were right; we need a few more days."

There was much rejoicing.

/ / /

But today, we did leave, for reals, and we went to visit that little miracle of a 2 pound 7 ounce baby. I cupped my hand over his tiny little head and his heart rate accelerated. He squirmed. I cupped his bottom instead and he calmed; I felt the fragile body underneath my suddenly ginormous hand. I sensed the tremendous gift of life, of that I knew you before you were born line that always seemed to refer to something prior to conception, before time, within the heavens. That word shifted for me this afternoon, in the rapid breathing and the determined passion for life I sensed in little Elliot. Born at 27 weeks, by all rights his little body should have been nestled within his mama, still; but here he was, wide-eyed, greeting the world. Tiny. Fighting.

Holy and sacred.


/ / /

And so now we point the big red Suburban south and roll down the interstates in relative ease, thankful for the gifts we've been given. The car runs well. The company is good. We have Malley's chocolate and fresh brownies in the back seat.

Nothing like a road trip to remind yourselves of why
you love one another. #wearethebestoffriends
I've run up and down this road many times; when my family moved from western Pennsylvania to Texas in the 1970's, we drove back home about once a year. Columbus, Cincy, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock....then miles and miles of Texas. I remember the sheer joy of navigating - when I was old enough to read a map - while Dad drove us homeward. I loved the heavy atlas, the way the bigger states would get two pages and the big cities got their own cut-away section. I loved to see where we'd been, where we were going, and then calculate - with the little triangle markers on the highways - how long it might take to get there.

(Will anyone born after GPS and smart phones ever know this joy? I suppose not)

(Sigh. Feeling old...)

The intrigue of the surrounding towns fascinated me, whether on the map or through the window as we passed by. All my life, I have found myself drawn to the idea that an entirely new life was possible - if only we lived in this other place. I have easily - maybe too easily - imagined what life might look like in pretty much any town I've ever visited. Or driven through.

The world is full of possibility, and I am drawn - always - to what is possible.

What I know for sure, halfway through this trip, is this: Sometimes it's good to turn around and stick with what's familiar, at least for a few days. We forfeited a good bit of our intended adventures, and there are several friends' faces we will miss seeing this time around. But I am confident that we will never, ever find ourselves in a place where we regret spending just a little bit more time with those whose blood we share.

The road was waiting for us all along. We're on it, again; and richer for the delay.

And the song is more than just a phrase; it's three minutes of melody and harmony that I learned, driving up and down these interstates with my dad. Willie and Waylon and The Eagles Greatest Hits and the Beach Boys and my dad imagined his own possibilities, back when he was younger than I am today, the trickle-down of the songs he loved engaged and shaped my own soul.

No regrets.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

31 Songs: Autumn Leaves

My mom.

She's the one who said, "You haven't posted. For two days."

At least I know who is paying attention. And isn't it great - that's it my mom?

Moms rock. Always.

Within a 24-hour span, I talked to all five of my kids on the phone. I'm away from even the youngest at the moment; but we can connect on the phone, and it means more than I can say, to know these young people, to have a glimpse of their lives as they broaden and swell with possibility. And to know that it matters to them, too, that we talk.

And then my mom calls and says You haven't posted on your blog. Are you okay?

My mom has always been in the periphery of our musical adventures. My brother, my dad, the kids - we all explore our emotional landscapes with music. Family gatherings almost always include bursts of music at some point.

Mom is usually there, but one step back. She might sing a little bit, but she's never carried on with us in a loud or extravagant fashion.

But she loves music; and of a certain type. Mention Doris Day or Barbra Streisand, maybe a little Louis Prima and Tony Bennet, and her eyes light up; somewhere in her generous heart flickers the passion of a young woman whose soul stirred with melody. She likes the great voices, mostly those of the past, because there aren't many of them singing their songs in our current musical landscape.

So here's a little Doris Day, for my mom; and for the season. I am surrounded by the red and gold of summer's farewell, and it will indeed be time for winter's song.

Monday, October 13, 2014

31 Songs: Poison And Wine

Is it possible to see your life in two very separate but closely aligned places?

Is it possible to feel so at home and settled in two different towns - at the same time?

Is it possible to believe that you belong in one place and yet belong, just as much, in another?

The truth is this: There is ego, and it longs to be satisfied. There is affirmation that seems a necessary thing. We lie to ourselves, all the time.

But in the midst of the selfishness is a resounding truth that cannot be ignored.

Many truths, in fact.

There is family, the tug from all directions.

There is the arc of memory, the feel of the road and the knowledge of every curve.

There is the sweet sticking point of moments that marked turning points, points of no return, the very place the paradigm shifted.

There is the sense that the soul was knit together in certain surroundings, and that it truly and finally came to life when it returned.

I'm reading and living in the midst of a book called Yes, And these days, and though I find great comfort in the theological context of what leaks into my soul out of Rohr's writing, it seems to be causing more consternation in the tangible circumstances of my own life.

So the song, the one singing itself, is a definitive pronouncement of what is. And what is not. And the strange, compelling dissonance of what, in this moment, seems to be tugging at my heart.

I don't love you but I always will
I don't love you but I always will
I don't love you but I always will
I don't love you but I always will

Have you ever wanted to be in two places at the same time?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

31 Songs: So Tired

It's a song I made up in my head. 

I'm too tired. 

I can't dig deep enough to write anything meaningful. 

It's been an awesome day. 

I'll reboot tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

31 Songs: Grace Has Called My Name

We all harbor a unique story. Our pain and our joy, the regrets and the things we got right; they combine and fuse together to create life. It is a gift, a privilege.

Sometimes, it is just day to day, one sunrise at a time.

Sometimes it hurts.

To live in the tenuous truth that indeed, all things work together for good; to believe, in spite of evidence otherwise, that we can and will endure, that things will get better, that a change is going to come - this is the tremolo that quivers within the most beautiful among us.

And often, those that radiate beauty, that leak the steadiest grace - they are also the ones who carry the most pain. I am thinking, tonight, of the great privilege of seeing that pain in the eyes of those who are willing to show it.

/ / /

My day peaked with an unexpected, take-my-breath-away commingling of past and present. I played music on a platform I never thought I'd walk upon. I led worship in a room that had held many of my tears, my regret, my apologies and remorse, but never my solo offering. Voices that I knew from a decade ago sang words of praise and worship and the harmony was sweet, the melody was true, and a sincere layer of resurrection lay underneath our voices.

It was a wedding, and it was not about me, but at the end, in an empty room, it was my moment. Tears leaked out of my eyes and I tried to find the words to tell Tony, in his own place of grace, but I just sobbed and sat in the mad swell of emotions and feelings, a strange and brittle mix of sorrow and joy that funneled down into a sense of something surreal.

I wiped my face off and whispered, "It feels like we have unfinished business here."

/ / /

I walked, alone, towards the car, and I stopped short. A moment slipped into my mind, one eleven years ago, when my pastor and I stood in that very spot, right there in the driveway. I remembered,
and it was all grace.

He stood before me and said, "God isn't finished with you yet."

He spoke sincerely, but I received  those words as little more than niceties, general encouragement, a pithy statement of hope that we Christians tend to throw around like pieces of candy when we've nothing else to offer.

But I was wrong. Today his words echoed in my mind, as the One who really spoke those words reminded me of His faithfulness. It has always been true, but today it became real.

Throughout the day, I tried to open myself to what other things I might need to hear, and they came. A story of a clutched hand and broken hearts and tears shed throughout an entire service - an occasion I remembered, but one I never understood, because I never knew the back story - until tonight. Honest words that became a blessing and a balm.

There were others; broken words from a broken heart that I have known and loved for all these years, and a reminder that my prayers matter and my listening ears matter. The general sense that all will be well, and the gentle statement from a solid man of God: It's good to see you smile.

Today's song, for me, is not from the wedding, and probably not one you know. But it has resounded and circled around my brain throughout the day, as the truth of the lyric came to life over and over and over and over again.

We all need a fair measure of grace in our lives; some times more than others. But we are all in need.

/ / /

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

Grace has called my name 
When all that I had left were just filthy stains 
Grace has called my name 
When hope had all but faded far away Grace called my name
Wounded by words that left their mark upon my soul 
Dreams overturned by empty promises 
Well intentioned things I'd heard a million times before 
Just left my heart to grieve alone again 
But with one touch You set me free 
You met me in my deepest need 

Friday, October 10, 2014

31Songs: Here I Am To Worship

Out of town and blogging from my phone, which I find challenging. So - short and sweet.

"Here I Am To Worship" - powerful song that has stood the test of time. I'm singing it tomorrow, at a place where I lead worship weekly. Until I could no longer. 

It will be a powerful moment. It will be true. 

I'll never know how much it cost...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

31 Songs: She's Life

Things are really busy around here, so I don't plan that this post will be wordy. Of course, I've said that before, and it never really works out...

But I think I'll leave you with this:

I have a brother.

He is profoundly talented.

Musically: He is an exceptional guitarist and vocalist; he can lead worship from a powerful place and play rock and roll like he was born that way. Because he was. Even though he needed me to teach him his first three chords on the guitar.

Brainwise: He is so stinking smart. He's on this whole other level, and his philosophical / ethical / theological wanderings give us a fascinating, insightful and educational rabbit trail of wisdom. (Read all about it here.)

Personal stuff: He's an excellent, loving father. He is half of one of the strongest, most real marriages I have ever seen. A good uncle to my kids, he is a very constant male presence in their lives. He's a good brother, too.

Writing stuff: Oh, he has a gift there. He can string together some awesome sentences. His sermons are killer. And his songwriting - his work with his band Maida Vale still and always will be some of my favorite of ALL songs. "Down In the Valley"  - about my grandparents and our hometown - makes me cry, even right now, this very minute, as I listen....

He's honest and authentic. He's not perfect.

He's my brother. I love him, and I'm proud of him, and he makes my life better. He makes this world a better place.

And he's just released a new song. So today, my post is about my brother and his gift for mixing his passion for the church and the Creator with the tangled mess of artistic yearning and his commitment to strive for excellence in his craft.

I would be honored, if you would read my words and listen to his song.

Go ahead. It's got a groove....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

31 Songs: Tell Him

We kicked off a new season of small groups at our church tonight. This is how we do church; the weekend services are great times of praise and worship, an opportunity to invite folks who are not necessarily interested in church to check it out in a safe environment. But real church - the nuts and bolts, wrestling, face-to-face interaction with the scriptures and our experiences and understanding of God - this happens all over the place, in weekly small groups. A few years ago we started a Wednesday night 'large group/small group'; now, we have 60 to 80 people gather to sing a couple of songs around the piano before splitting into smaller groups of 8 to 10 for discussion. We're working through Soul Detox, which looks to be relevant, applicable and full of truth. I'm excited for the next few weeks!

After small group, I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of my favorite people. I don't see much of her unless she comes to small group - our church is large, and we don't seem to be in the same place at the same time on the weekends. I was happy get a big hug; and then she said, "I think I need to talk about something...."

So we made time, right then and there. She shared a story, one full of some very real pain and hurt that she still carried. We talked about where it came from, and what happened, and why it mattered, and what she still struggled with. We moved toward the inevitable conclusion, and she pre-empted my advice before it even came out of my mouth.

"I'm not going to talk to him. I can't tell him."

We danced around her feelings a bit more, discussed the implications of what had happened to her, and what needs to happen next.

"You know, you have to tell him. I'm not going to tell him. You have to do this. Consider the have to tell him."

It terrifies her.

/ / /

Earlier this week I spent time with a man who shared the hurt he was feeling about an important relationship in his life. We discussed circumstances and situations and feelings. He sincerely strives for a healthy relationship, but keeps running into brick walls. I listened, gave a little feedback, and then he said, "I really don't know what to do."

My response was a bit like a broken record.

"You have to tell him."

/ / /

So the song that ran through my head all the way home was a simple phrase. "Tell Him", originally recorded by The Exciters in the early 60's, was the 10th track on one of my favorite albums of the early 80's. I started listening to Linda Ronstadt when I got hold of her 1976 record, Hasten Down the Wind. I was a nut for that entire LA folk music scene - Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Jackson Browne and the rest. I loved Ronstadt's voice and, most especially, the lyrical pop ballads she sang. Karla Bonoff and Waddy Wachtel and Peter Asher and Kenny Edwards and David Lindley and Danny Kortchmar...I knew these names and the roles they played in her recordings. I loved Simple Dreams and Living In the USA. My affection started to wane with subsequent records that moved away from folk ballads and more towards the grainy punk stuff.

(Remember, I'm a girl who loved Barry Manilow in high school. That explains a lot...)

Ronstadt's "Ooh, Baby Baby" was my choice to sing - along with my buddy Terri Hodges - in the SGPHS talent show one year. I played piano and sang the alto part while Terri handled the lead.

We rocked it, as I remember.

Technology is a beautiful thing; thanks to Spotify, I can re-listen to all these songs. The albums are in the attic somewhere, but these digital versions offer a quick glimpse into the past and immediate transport to another time and another place. These songs spark things long forgotten; I know I sang Ronstadt's version of Jimmy Webb's Easy For You to Say in some version of an early 80's bar band, but I haven't thought of that song in 30 years. I remember the opening chords of Alison (from Living In the USA) and the incredible crush I had on Shannon Hooks, who played and sang the Elvis Costello version in one of those 80's college bar bands.

That era of Linda Ronstadt music provided a great soundtrack to my late adolescence. It's funny, how little we probably know about the impact of lyrics upon our ethical and moral development. For someone wired like I am, I found profound truth in all of these songs. They were, as much as anything could be, foundational to my philosophy of life in my early 20's.

It was never just a song.

Ironically, the impact of a phrase like"Tell Him" - as a title, rather than the full lyric - is powerful still today in my life. Revisiting these records tonight is like hearing old, familiar conversations; they are incredibly, surprisingly resonant. Much of what is woven in my soul is the harmony and melody and rhythm and the rhymes of these songs.

Powerful stuff.

Oh, and I loved her sweater.

(Back then.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

31 Songs: España

Currently, I am employed by a church. I direct Creative Arts ministries and lead teams and coach people and sometimes play piano and lead bands and sing songs and write scripts and edit sermons and make videos and plan strategy and frame baptism photos and talk to people and listen to people and cry with people and cast vision.

And lots of other stuff.

I love my job. 

But I didn't start here. I've been a musician since I was about 10 years old; my first gig was playing carols for the Cub Scout Christmas party. I started doing weddings and funerals in high school and was astounded at what 30 minutes of well-played music was worth to people. 

I went on to earn a degree in music education; I've taught in private schools, overseas and stateside, public schools and early childhood schools. I've directed musicals. I've taught private lessons. 

I play by ear, and I can hold my own at a standard jazz gig; but I also studied classical piano and can read fairly well. 

The diversity is a blessing, and yet it's a bit of a drawback. I am, I think somewhat mediocre at most of these things, in the grand scheme of life. You just can't do it all, and I've tried - too often - to do it all.

You can't. 

But I have the experience, and as I grow towards maturity (I'm gonna get there one day!), I am realizing that the experience grants appreciation, in different settings.

So tonight's venture into Richmond to hear the VCU Symphony was not uncomfortable or unusual for me.

Except for the fact that my son was performing. (insert huge smiley face here)

I was so proud of him - intense, focused, doing his percussion thing, looking great in his tuxedo. He moved to Richmond and enrolled in school to do just this - play music - and tonight he had a chance to perform. It was excellent. Very little room for error; I never fully understood how stressful it could be to have four or five cymbal hits that must be executed at EXACTLY the right moment...but when it was MY son holding the cymbals, I was stressed on his behalf.


Anyway, the program was excellent and not completely unfamiliar. I coached David and Courey on some basic concert etiquette (not always on display at the Powhatan Band Concerts - for example, do NOT yell, "YEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHH DANNNIIEEEELLLLLL!!!!")

(Actually, they knew better. I didn't need to tell them that one.)

So we enjoyed a short program of excellent music, conducted by an incredibly expressive and joy-filled Daniel Myssyk. I enjoyed every bit. 

The song for today therefore, is, more properly, a piece. Emmanuel Chabrier, a French compose, created España - a crazy, intense, beautiful, expressive six minutes of action. It was a brilliant closer.

It's not three verses and a chorus. It had no lyric.

But it speaks. And it's worth our time, as humans, to listen to what music like this might have to say. To me, apart and aside from the pride and joy of watching my son play a role in the workings of a talented team of artists, it sang delight and joy and the uninhibited  elation of being alive. It put a smile on my face.

Give it six minutes. See if you don't smile, too.

And watch the conductor.

Monday, October 6, 2014

31 Songs: Come On Come On

I met Mary Chapin Carpenter at one of the lowest points in my life. Somebody handed me the album on CD.

My kids were little then, and time to listen - and to really hear -  music was limited. One night after everyone was tucked in, I popped the disc in a portable player, grabbed some headphones and pressed play.

I liked what I heard; impressive, tight pop/country/rock and a rich female voice that knew a thing or two about life.

I remember exactly where I was when the final track came on. I sat down, slowly, on the edge of the kitchen floor where it sunk into the living room. The velvety burgundy carpeting felt lush under my feet. It was dark, outside and in; I'd turned off all the lights in the house.

Some people remember the first time
Some can't forget the last
Some just select what they want to from the past
It's a song that you danced to in high school
It's a moon you tried to bring down
On a four-in-the-morning drive through the streets of town

Come on, come on it's getting late now
Come on, come on take my hand
Come on, come on you just have to whisper
Come on, come on I will understand

I'm not sure what Mary Chapin Carpenter meant. I don't know what prompted the lyric when she wrote it. But I know what came over me as I listened that night.

There is a deep, visceral melancholy woven throughout life, I think. For most everyone who has ears to hear, it thrums. From time to time the buoyancy lifts this sleek sorrow upward, and we taste and see it. We cry. We mourn and grieve.

Maybe there is some connection to the deeper knowledge that we are temporal, that this world is not our home. Maybe it is the accumulated sorrow of all we've lost, and the surety that there will be more pain. Whatever the source, we know that some music sets that sorrow free.

Come On, Come On is such a sorrow song for me. I've never really focused on the actual meaning of the lyric she sings, but I know what my heart aches for when I hear it.

When I heard it the first time, I was in the midst of losing.

Losing my way. Losing my focus. Losing my focus. There was an unknown something stirring in me, a thing that demanded attention. Later, my counselor said it was a matter of survival; a powerful need rooted so deeply within me that even without my consent, it would rear and roar and insist that I notice.

I did. But not on that autumn evening. It was a whisper, a hushed half step. The crescendo came later.

That was over a decade ago. I thought it was a seasonal pull, one that I'd always mark down as the theme song of that era; that's how I felt then.

But I find myself drawn, again, to that mournful ache. These days, this day, I hear that whisper again.

It's a need you never get used to, so fierce and so confused
It's a loss you never get over the first time you lose

Sunday, October 5, 2014

31 Songs: All About That Bass

I am exhausted, after a night of NO sleep, three intensely exciting worship services, a trip (and a traffic jam) to Carter Mountain Orchard (HELLO 18 LB. PUMPKIN!!) with the family and a long drive home.

So, this post will be short and sweet. And maybe a little bit grumpy.

Shannon and I were talking about this song (and humming it, because how can you not?) as we drove home. It's catchy, for sure. And on the surface, it's a great empowerment song.

Don't be defined by your size!

Be proud of who you are!


But I have a few issues with this tune, and I will list them here, in order of what-irritates-me-most:

"My mama she told me 'Don't worry about your size / 

boys like a little more booty to hold at night' "

Hey, Mama? That's really lousy parenting. What mother tells that to her daughter? How does that empower a girl? How about this: Don't worry about your size because your size doesn't define you - NOT because some boys "like more booty".

I mean, really? UGH.

(And yes, I know it's a song with made up lyrics. But, still...)

"I got that BOOM BOOM that all the boys chase / 

all the right junk in all the right places"

Hey, guess what - your 'boom boom' is not for the boys to chase. And I can only guess that you're tying the 'right place' comment to what pleases the boys? Come one, girl; your body's purpose is NOT to attract boys. You're more than that!

Lastly, I'm not even going to bother to cut and paste a quote; just stop calling women b----es, okay? Can we PLEASE stop this? It makes my ears hurt and makes me wanna smack somebody.

I'm all for the premise of empowerment in this song. I love the general idea. And the video is cute as all get-out. But when we still cast every good thing we have in terms of whether or not it'll draw a guy's attention, and if it all still comes at the expense of comparing ourselves to other girls (and calling them names to boot), well, it seems like the same ol' same ol'. 

We really aren't all about that bass, are we?

Full disclosure: I LOVE the hook. It's incredibly well-crafted. It works. It just feels like a waste.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Songs: Be Thou My Vision

This is so much harder than I thought.

I mean, seriously: I am surrounded by music.

All day long.

I play music. I listen to music. Music streams in the kitchen and I dance around like crazy. 

And today - the FOURTH day of blogging a song a day - I'm already dry.

Mind you, this comes after a day in which I literally played music with my fingers on the piano for just shy of one hour. It's a day in which I've practiced the music I am playing tomorrow for church, both literally and in my head.

It's a normal day, in which there are snippets of tunes playing in my head ALL STINKING DAY LONG.  Even now, as I type; the chorus of a relatively redundant and simple song that we're doing tomorrow is doing cartwheels around my brain, twirling and twisting of its own accord. I'm not really thinking about this song; it's just there, making noise.

/ / /

I think that's it. Four days in, I'm learning that the thing I take for granted - the constant melody and lyric - might be nothing. more. than. noise.

All this music, all day.

And there is NOTHING that draws me to write. Nothing that compels me to share, to wax poetic. None of the, "Oh my gosh, I can't WAIT to blog about this because it was so incredible!" that I experienced last October.


Is it all just noise?

/ / /

Because I can't bear to break the rules (of my own making) so early in the game, I will mention this: I played 30 minutes of pre-service music for my friend's wedding today. I have fond memories of playing hotel lounges for happy hour; solo jazz improv, killing 45-minute sets with meanderings and wanderings of all sorts. The invitation to "just play something" for the 30 minutes prior to a wedding is a glorious, welcome offer. It's all in my head, and with a few basic boundaries, I play whatever comes to mind.

For weddings, I always try to move the mood to the awareness the this is, indeed, holy ground; a covenant moment. I sometimes even play the old classic Southern Gospel tune, "We Are Standing On Holy Ground", but hardly nobody knows it anymore, and it doesn't mean much if the words aren't resonant in someone's heart. So I move in other directions.

Today, my favorite part was right before the wedding party began, the place that I always feel is the most holy and sacred. We sit, we wait, we anticipate, and the bride and groom take deep breaths from where they are, separate, before moving to where they will be together. I was in the key of G, playing "How Great Is Our God / How Great Thou Art", and then I found my way (through an F minor chord) (and yes, I realize that about three people understand what I'm talking about and why bother?) (but just indulge me, it's my story!) to Eb. Which, in my estimation, is the brightest and purest key to play in. It shimmers, somehow, on every piano I've ever played. I love Eb.

And I love "Be Thou My Vision" in Eb.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise
Thou my inheritance, now and always

I love this song, especially for a wedding, because it reduces the clutter of all that seeks to distract and destroy us down to a simple plea for focus. I don't care if you're Christian or not - how can you argue with this heartfelt desire?

I've come to love the version Ascend the Hill recorded a few years ago. I'm not a huge fan of the militaristic drum stuff, but I am crazy for the tag.

Oh God, be my everything
Be my delight
Be Jesus, my glory
My soul satisfied

I played today, and found it - again - to be the most precious time for me, to make this music, solo, from my heart, for a room full of people waiting for a wedding.

/ / /

Hmmm. Seems I wasn't so dry after all.

Friday, October 3, 2014

31 Songs: Marry Me

Now that the weight has lifted
Love has surely shifted my way

Marry and every day
Marry me

Tomorrow, I'll partner with two of my friends, each one of the finest musicians I've ever had the pleasure of working with. This lyric and the gentle melody will carry another of our friends and coworkers down the aisle, toward the man who will become her husband.

They are blending two families; all girls, growing up in the shadow of this new, gentle and glorious love that their parents have created.

They met at church. They fell in love.

But they've worked to create an environment for their relationship to thrive, for their girls to prosper, for their lives together to find favor.

We fall into love. The feelings propel us and persuade us.

But love that lasts, even when rooted in the firmest of foundations, is a daily re-creation.

They take the first steps tomorrow, and we'll sing this song from our unique vantage point. On the platform, we see it all; the groom, as his heart quickens and he spies her for the first time, and the bride, as she takes that first step towards her future.

Sometimes it's good to be the piano player. I get the best seat at the wedding.

Now that the wait is over
And love has finally shown the way
Marry and every day
Marry me

Thursday, October 2, 2014

31 Songs: All He Says I Am

I came to this town a decade ago; I found a job teaching school for the first year. Newly separated (and headed for divorce), I had my five kids in tow in search of a fresh start. We moved in with my parents and got ourselves situated.

I was a flat out walking disaster. My identity split into two, almost diametrically opposed halves: On one hand, I was a survivor. A single mom, with five kids and minuscule financial support, re-entering the work force after a decade as a stay-at-home. I found a job teaching. I managed to buy a house. I kept the kids together and moving forward.

On the other hand, I was filled with shame and feelings of failure. At the end of the day, it wasn't the thrill of victory and survival and accomplishment that infused my thoughts; it was the agony of defeat.

I was a failure. A disappointment to friends and family. Marked by a scarlet letter, an embarrassment to the faith. 




/ / /

I started attending church shortly after we arrived in this county. A radioactive, hot mess, I snuck into a row by myself and cried by myself for a good six months. Every Sunday. But every Sunday, I heard a constant, consistent message of grace, a slight paradigm shift of what I'd been taught in years past; a continuation of the grace-filled message I'd begun to hear and understand from an influential teacher at a previous church. As a piano player with "Worship Leader" on her resume, church was a familiar place. Contemporary church felt like home. 

But I was on the outside, and I never believed I would ever deserve a place on the inside again.

I didn't. 

I still don't. 

But here's the thing: You don't earn your place in this kingdom. You inherit it.

And bad behavior, though it comes with painful consequences, doesn't negate your inheritance. The birthright is yours.

It was mine. 

And here's the other thing: There's no 'inside'.

We're all insiders. We get to open our hands and choose to move a little closer to the center. Some of us weave in and out from time to time, but we're in. 

/ / /

I have worked in the same place now for nine years; after that first school year, I was offered a different job. 

I've never worked anywhere for this long.

I love this job. The people I work with are more important to me than anyone other than my family members.

I wear several different hats. I am on the Senior Leadership Team. I am a manager. I have been ordained. I have been afforded every opportunity to grow and advance in my role. I have been affirmed and encouraged. 

There has been resolution to my identity crisis. I have a new name.

/ / /

I learned much about resilience and redemption and restoration. I learned about grace and what it means to live and walk and breathe in forgiveness. I am different now.

But it's not because I have a position of leadership. It's not because I have a job, or influence, or that I get to be on a platform. That is not restoration; that is responsibility. It is my burden; my calling. 

It is my life's work now, this movement of grace. The great privilege of sitting eye to eye with someone as they release their own pain, promising that the greater good lies within the letting go. The immense and awe-filled joy of putting melody and lyric and rhythm into a room of people, gathered with expectancy. The tremendous implosion of purpose that sneaks up and overwhelms me, leaves me sobbing, after 90 minutes with a young woman who is willing to tell you her truths so that she can find her way forward.

It is what I will do, for all my days, out of gratitude. To serve.

Because I learned what it means to know who you are. I lived in the wretched despair of divorced, broken, failure, unfaithful, liar, betrayer, unworthy, unlovable, ugly, not enough.

And someone came along beside me and said, You are more.

Someone came alongside me and gently pointed my face upward, and there it was -  the truth, the miracle, the magic. 

I will never stop telling this story.

I will never stop singing this song.

He whispers in my ear, tells me that I'm fearless
He shares a melody, tells me to repeat it
And it makes me whole
It reminds my soul

I am all He says I am...
and He says I am His own

Note: The GREATEST joy I have had with this song was watching my son and his sister - my children - sing this song together, on a Sunday night, filled with passion and conviction. I watched and listened and my heart trembled. I was proud, for sure. Their ardor and commitment inspired me. But I knew this, even as they declared their truth: They will have to learn this again and again and again. We all do. And that's okay. There is always a safe place to land.

We will sing this song on Sunday, as we close our services. I will be looking upward.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 Songs: Walk Of Life

Welcome to Grace Every Day! For the month of October, I'll be writing about different songs I encounter in the normal course of my day. As a musician, married to a musician, MOTHER of musicians, it's inescapable. There's ALWAYS music around! I'll take what comes and write what follows. Below is the first installment; you can find the rest of the month's offerings here:

All He Says I Am
Marry Me
Be Thou My Vision
All About That Bass
Come On Come On
Tell Him
She's Life

Walk Of Life

It was a familiar sound, the iconic Farfisa organ riff from the introduction. I heard it through the babble of some talking head trying to convince me to ask my doctor to put me on some sort of medicine.

I think, anyway. As advertisements go, it sucked; I have no idea what the product was. But I've been thinking about the song, and the band, all day long.

Dire Straits.

Brothers In Arms came out in 1985, the year I graduated Texas Tech University. I bought a copy fairly soon after the release, prompted by my affection for The Police and Sting's presence on "Money For Nothing", the first big hit off the album. That falsetto voice, pleading "I want my....I want my MTV..." over that crazy, lush Metheny-esque haze - I was smitten. Most hardcore musicians approach Dire Straits as a vehicle for one of the most accomplished guitarists of our age, but for me, it started with Sting.

Any band that's a friend of Sting was a friend of mine.

Prompted by the commercial, I listened to "Walk of Life" a few times today. It's a good, strong song - simply, basic rock and roll chords. My biggest discovery today was an abrupt realization that there was no bridge in this song. It startled me, because I was listening (on the elliptical) and tracking right along with the tune: verse, chorus, second verse, chorus - and right where it was time for the formulaic bridge, they slid easily into the third verse, instead.

I was taken aback. Those of you who work in the same field might feel my pain - I am so accustomed to the formula of pop music that I was physically startled when there was no bridge.

How weird is that?

Another discovery: It's about a guy busking.

Here comes Johnny singing "I Got a Woman"
Down in the tunnels trying to make it pay

I never made that connection. These days, I'm fond of those who busk, as one of my favorite musicians (and coworker), Matthew O'Donnell, makes his weekend musical home on the streets of Carytown or Charlottesville with his guitar or accordion or violin or concertina or whatever new instrument he's learned this week.

I went back and listened to most of the album today; "Walk of Life" never was my favorite song. It's not a bad little tune, but here's the deal: It's surrounded by INCREDIBLE songs. Fascinating chord changes, somewhat daring instrumentation for a rock and roll band - opening trumpet solo on '"Your Latest Trick" as example number one, with that scratchy, angry guitar underneath. It was the Brecker Brothers, making their rounds of all the best 80's music, putting their stamp of excellence in the oddest places; and then a thick, lush groove that would fall into the hole of elevator Muzak were we not paying close attention to the horns, Knopfler's aching rasp, and that lurking guitar, in all the nooks and crannies.

"Robbery with insolence..."

This is one fine piece of music, y'all.

I think "Why Worry" lulled me to sleep on more than one restless night. I didn't give much thought to the brilliance of the guitarist, but now that I'm older and wiser (and married to a guitarist) I recognize his skill. One of the world's top 100 guitarists, according to Rolling Stone.

"Ride Across the River" prepared the musical soundscape for Peter Gabriel's So, out the next year - at least for me. And the title track - "Brothers In Arms" - has always been, for me, one of the most beautiful, ethereal and poignant songs of the 80's. The big orchestral beginning and the thunder segues into a deep sorrow; I remember it being all about the vocal, but listening again today, I hear the open chord changes and the Farfisa again - and always, as throughout the record, the punctuation of the guitar.

This entire record feels, to me, like a conversation. The engineering is rich and true; listening today, I felt tugged deeper into the recording that I am with any, say, Taylor Swift song, where there's so much going on that you can't keep track of much of anything. There is genius all over this record - from composition to lyrics and fresh chord changes and timing, to the incredible guitar sound - but more than anything, I found myself amazed and astounded and happy to be able to feel the music. The old-school recording and arranging allows for an incredibly visceral experience.

I'm sure it's tied to memories; my 22-year-old self remembers the imprint of these songs on a soul that was fresh and open and just a little bit raw. But there's an innocence and a definitive quality of excellence and beauty in these songs, of this record as a whole.

It's a lot more than a stupid commercial, that's for sure.

Do yourself a favor and go give it a listen - the entire thing. Put on a good pair of headphones and experience the album. If you've never heard of Dire Straits, consider this part of your musical education.

And if you were a fan, take a trip down memory lane.

What was YOUR favorite song off of this record?