Study Break 2010 – The Churning Within

Part of my study break has included spending less time online, and thinking about the time I DO spend online and giving it some purpose. Which explains why I haven’t been blogging much this time around.

I am still processing my experiences this week. It has not always been easy, although the time I spent at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art – with my mom, no less – was well spent and filled with grace all around.

Things are still churning within me, though. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is – probably by necessity – a difficult thing.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen, and I have no doubt that any present discomfort is for a greater good. In the meantime, I pray for my family members to have the endurance to tolerate me in these days, and thank God for a husband whose greatest gift seems to be patience and a deep understanding of the parts of me that I have yet to figure out.

One interesting thing that I have learned and put into practice this week concerns prayer – specifically, the notion of praying for others. Intercessory prayer.

Many, many requests for prayer come across my purview every day, often from the PCC Care team, often from church friends, family, folks all over the world. I confess that too many times these requests go unmet on my part, because I never feel like I can give them the time properly due. Because what could be more important, more deserving of intentional, dedicated time that something taken to God himself? Shouldn’t I treat such a thing with the highest respect?

Of course. And, to me, that means time, dedicated, thought-out, free of distractions. Time like this is rare. It requires discipline and quiet. I struggle to make that happen, so I line up the requests on my task list and hope to set aside time to pray properly for each one…when I finish everything else on my task list.

And the likelihood of that happening?


But what if I just prayed, then and there, in the moment – nothing “proper”, no flowery words, no over-thinking or over-analyzing, just a simple, “God, please….”

This “aha” moment came courtesy of my time at Richmond Hill and thanks to my small group friends, who have called me out more than once on my control issues. A prayer does not require a sermon. A prayer does not require complete understanding on my part.

It’s a simple request. When done in it’s purest form, it reminds me of who God is (God) and who I am not (God).

Funny, just when I think I really know something about life – just when I think I’ve gotten somewhere in this journey with God, I get knocked on my butt and reminded of just how little I understand anything.

For which I am grateful.

Study Break Day Two

I will spend my day here.

I am excited and a little anxious. In some ways, I feel as if I have an appointment to meet with the governor, or the president, or Bono.

It’s an interesting feeling, this. It is definitely different than my usual approach to the day. It feels more momentous, more important.

I am deliberately planning an encounter with God.

The mere fact that it seems outrageously exciting gives me pause for thought. I am planning out what to where, carefully mapping the route, organizing myself so that I won’t be late. Going to great lengths to prepare to be alone. With God. I’m nervous and excited.

And it makes me wonder why every day doesn’t feel like this? Should it?

Can it?

Richmond Hill is an ecumenical Christian fellowship and Residential Community who serve as stewards of an urban retreat center within the setting of a historic monastery. Our Mission is to advance God’s healing of Metropolitan Richmond through prayer, hospitality, racial reconciliation and spiritual development.

Richmond Hill is located on the hill where Richmond began in the former Monte Maria Monastery overlooking downtown Richmond. The Richmond Hill community is drawn from varied denominational and racial backgrounds. Richmond Hill is open to all who are drawn by the Spirit to seek God’s renewal and peace in a place of silence and support. 

Find out more here.

The Survey Says…

As our church continues to grow, we are carefully considering the implications for the future. One area we are investigating is service times.

We’d love to hear from you, so we put together a quick survey for your input. If you attended this week’s service at the Powhatan campus, you had a chance to fill out the survey; but if you missed it and would like to weigh in, you can!

Click here and follow the directions. The survey will only be open for a few days, so don’t delay!

And thanks -your input is very helpful!

Study Break 2010

This year has been ridiculous in terms of scheduling. The summer flew by, our vacation was out of the ordinary and unusual. The typical, tradition summer rhythm was abandoned in favor of just getting through it all.

One of the losses for me was my study break. Part of my work life includes standard vacation time and study break, which is a strategic and intentional block of time that allows me to focus in depth on an area of study, planning or anything else related to my job responsibilities. Scheduling it last summer was impossible, and I felt the pressure of too much stuff going on at church and was reluctant to break away.

It hurt me. I have felt it in the past few months; I’ve been on the edge in terms of emotional and physical exhaustion. I’m not as healthy as I should be.

We’re in a season now that offered a window of time, and I’ve grabbed it. This week is my study break – a bit unusual, in that I’ll be staying close to home. I have a plan and a schedule and I intend to lean into it.

I’ll be better for it.

I wrote about previous study breaks here and here and here. One of my favorites was this trip, which I also wrote about here. I’ll update later with this week’s experiences. But so far, just a few hours in, this is what study break 2010 looks like:

I need a shower…

Always Expect A Train

So, today I went to driving school.

I was stopped for speeding a few months ago here in Powhatan County. I was distractedly following the guy in front of me in the right lane, not intentionally speeding. I wasn’t in a hurry. I just wasn’t paying attention to my speed.

Which, I learned today, is the number one cause of speeding. Inattention.

So, today I went to driving school. And paid attention.

It was an interesting seven hours. Sort of a brief look into American culture that I found somewhat reassuring and a little bit disturbing, and extremely interesting.

There were four adults – “old people”, as one of my kids said – and four teens / early twenty-somethings. All of us seemed to be appropriately humbled by the mere fact that we were enduring the punitive effects of our choice – whether that be the choice to willfully disobey the law or just be lost in space somewhere while driving. Or, in the case of one young man, to be there voluntarily. Go figure.

Anyway, due to court order or DMV requirements, there we were, at Saturday driving school. I’m not yet certain whether the value lies in the punishment or the education; a little of both, no doubt. I felt duly punished – it was a gorgeous day, and I did not get to spend it with my family. Plus I had to sit in a hard metal chair.

On the educational side, there were a few things I learned or observed. I wrote them down, and here I will list them for you; some are direct quotes from the instructor or other class members:

  • “Why do pencils have erasers? Because they make mistakes. Humans are like pencils.”
  • Q: “Why should you not stop to pick up an injured animal on the road?” A: “It may not be fully dead.”
  • Regarding the apparent ease of talking on a cell phone while driving: “Most people say, ‘I’m not a Polack. I can talk on the phone and drive at the same time.’ “
  • “If your car gets stuck on the train tracks, what should you do?” “Uh….run?” “Which way?” “Uh….away from the train?”
  • Movie number one:  “The Final Factor”, with theme music lifted straight from The Exorcist. Movie number two: “Die Hard If You’re Dumb: Railroad Motion Tips”. 
  • Always expect a train.”
  • “Blind people cannot drive. You will need to know this on the quiz.”
  • “Blue signs tell you about services and information. For example, if I am visiting in a new town, I need to know where the KFC is.”
  • “Not everybody that runs over their husband with a car gets away with it.”

I missed two questions on the quiz, graduated and came home.

I carefully watched my speed the entire way.

It Was A Good Day

 We did something really unusual at church today – church in the round. We left the platform bare and moved to the floor, set up platforms and a separate sound a lighting system and did our service from a completely different perspective – all in order to challenge the cage of assumptions.

I am showing my bias here, but I have to say that it was, by far, the most transcendental worship experience I have had in that building. Ever.

And how that happens when you kick off a service with a David Bowie tune, I just can’t understand. But God is, indeed, the God of the impossible…

Anyway, it was incredible. And it was apparent that those of us engaged in the service from a leadership vantage point were not the only ones who were impacted. Hands were raised; eyes were teary; hearts were touched. It was remarkable, and one of those things that remind us that we serve a supernatural God who does supernatural things. I can only imagine what happened in people’s hearts today.

We continually strive to create services that are free from distractions, making room for those in the room to have an authentic encounter with God. Your feedback can help us. If you were at PCC’s Powhatan campus today, we’d love to know:

  • Did you have a different worship experience than usual?
  • Did you like it? 
  • Why or why not? 
  • What worked? 
  • What didn’t work?

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. It matters.

Part of the team that made today happen…

A New Normal

This evening as I was helping David prepare some materials for a project, we came across this photo.

It’s hard to catch a picture of this kid smiling and not putting on some goofy face. I think it comes with the territory – he’s the youngest, he’s always acting silly.

But somehow, we caught him in an authentic moment and got his glorious smile.

This is from an incredible day – my wedding in December. He’s an incredible kid. We had to crop out his cousins, and he worried that it wasn’t particularly nice to cut them out of the photo.

I think it’s okay.

And here are a couple more incredible kids. Monday was a school holiday, so we took a quick trip to the “Metro Richmond Zoo”. It’s not really much of a zoo, but it’s not bad, for being in the middle of nowhere.

David and I had been talking on Sunday about what he liked, what his passions were and how he wanted to spend his time. He’s not into sports; he isn’t a huge social butterfly. We talked about a few things, and when I pressed him for what it was that made him happy, he said, “Anytime we’re all together.” He said it didn’t matter what we did, but he was happy when we were all doing it together.

Interesting take on life from his vantage point, as the fifth of five.

So off we went to the zoo. It was fun, but in all honesty, it was somewhat bittersweet. I’m starting to adjust and adapt to the fact that rather than a rarity, it is normal now to only have three – or two, or just one – of the kids in tow. It just feels so…strange. Everybody’s trying to figure out how to be, where we all fit, without the two oldest girls in the mix. It’s not bad, but there is a sense of loss, and it tinges everything just a bit. Sort of a melancholy.

I wonder – does that ever go away? Or does it just get deeper and deeper as each one heads out the door?

But then, there’s this other part of life. I’m still adjusting to being married again, to having a partner. It’s a great blessing but it’s required a bit of negotiation at times – with myself and with him. The past several years have been hard-fought, and to release the “I gotta do this on my own” attitude has been a bit more challenging than I anticipated.

But every bit of the challenge is worth it.

I’m learning a new way to do “family”. There is loss and love and the crumbling of some old structures and the building of the new. I watch my eldest son grow into a man, looking more and more like his father every day, with a solidity and a focus that sets my heart towards his future with great expectation. I see a beautiful young woman who continues to learn about limitations – her own and of those around her – and who strives to adapt and adjust in order to soar. She is tackling a challenging school schedule with guts, working hard, dealing with her own loss (stolen iPad, still missing), learning to drive, growing up.

And there’s David, who is learning, finally, to smile.

It This Is What It Takes…

I’ve been still now for the better part of 30 hours. Mostly still, anyway.

I’ve been sick, which is not fun.

But the interesting part is that as I crawl out of the sick hole, I am realizing that all the resting/sleeping/be-ing still-ing has led to something else.

I feel sort of….human. Real. Not so stressed.

I think I’ve lost myself over the past few weeks. I have woken up a few times lately and longed to just pull the covers over my head and hide. I have felt the fingers of something dark creeping around the edges of my sanity and pushed back hard to stay safe.

It’s not so much where I am or what’s going on in my life. It’s how I’m doing it.

Or maybe it’s a combination of both. Who knows.

I do know this: there is restoration in being still, with or without the illness. It’s probably not safe to think that I can opt out of life for 48 hours once a month and just stay in my pajamas and sleep.

But this time, it’s working.

Jesus, Please Come, Please Come Today

At small group last night we talked a bit about expectations. One friend commented that she made a decision to live as a Christian when her life was a mess – and that it had only gotten worse from that point on. It wasn’t exactly what she expected.

And yet, she’d do it again. There’s something about hope and a renewed spirit that can make the worst of circumstances bearable.

My friends John and Katherine pointed me (separately) towards a song called “Hallelujah” by Heather Williams. I gave it a quick listen and, frankly, wasn’t really struck by anything unusual. Honestly, it sounded a good bit like most of what I’m hearing these days. Nothing really stuck out.

“You gotta watch the video,” said John. “You gotta hear this girl’s story.”

So I dug around, found the video and checked it out.

She tells her story. She sings her song, woven around the story. And I was completely captivated.

Williams shares an incredibly difficult, painful moment – one of the worst things I can imagine happening. The worst of circumstances. And then she says this:

“I kind of consider that day the day that I really became a Christian.”

I remember telling a room full of musicians just a week ago that their stories were what really mattered. More than singing, more than being on a platform playing, more than leading. Underneath all the music is the story. My quick judgment of a radio-ready song was replaced when I heard this girl’s story – and then listened to her worship.

How about you?

Bonus: she’s a blogger!

Bullet Points And A Song Worm

A few random Monday thoughts:

  • I woke up with a headache. What’s up with that? 
  • Well, in hindsight, I started a book last night at 11:30PM and didn’t put it down until I’d read the entire thing. John Sandford, crime novel, brand new…a nice diversion. I guess my four-hour nap screwed up the entire day’s schedule. I don’t know what time I went to sleep, but I guess that might be part of the headache problem.
  • Speaking of books, my mom is my library. She gets on the waiting list for every book by her favorite authors. She brings home about four books a week. She passes them on to me. It’s kind of like the old-fashioned BookMobile, except it’s my mom, which makes it better. My mom is awesome.
  • The kids are out of school today. We’re going to the zoo. All morning, I’ve been thinking of the song I used to teach my kindergarteners: “We’re going to the zoo-zoo-zoo / How about you-you-you? / You can come too-too-too / We’re going to the zoo-zoo-zoo”.  It’s rather annoying.
  • I am feeling very insecure today. Probably gonna do some navel-gazing and try to figure this one out.