Knees, Soup and Such

Monday morning bullets (so what if it’s already Monday afternoon):

  • So thankful today for the flexibility of a job that allows me to work from home when necessary. It’s a good day for that, as the rain has just begun; according to the radar reports, we’ll have a wet few hours this afternoon.
  • I’m working, trying to catch up and plan ahead. But it’s slow going.
  • Started the day with a terrific early meeting with huge implications for the future of the Worship Arts team at PCC. Had one of those “duh” moments that relate to the whole “I know the plans I have for you. – God” parts of our faith. Looking forward to what happens next.
  • Still basking a bit in the glow of last night’s service. The band was incredible. I enjoyed every minute. It was really, really cool. And my parents sat with me in the front row; Mom, Dad and my husband, all of us together. That meant so much to me. It was a good night.
  • My three girls sang together as part of the service last night. They were awesome. I was proud, but they were just awesome as worship leaders, regardless of my maternal pride. Daniel was right behind them playing percussion. How cool is that?
  • Potato soup on the stove. Yum. Thanks to a mom who believes in handing down good books, magazines and ham bones.
  • My daughter Shannon is safely back in Harrisonburg after a great weekend at home. I appreciate that she was here for the ordination service. She brought friends with her; they are extremely cool. They got themselves up and left for JMU at 5AM this morning.
  • Saw the ortho doctor this morning; surgery scheduled for next Wednesday to repair a torn medial meniscus. Looks pretty basic and uncomplicated, but it requires general anesthesia. Recover is dependent upon each individual; I could be on crutches one day and ready to paint the house the next, or I could be in severe pain and on crutches for two weeks. We’ll see.

That’s all, that’s it. It’s Monday and spring is on its way.


Chauncey and his wife Christine

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to a service at PCC. I helped plan it, but I won’t be on the stage. Along with my friend and co-worker Chauncey Starkey, I’ll be the center of attention in an odd and uncomfortable way. Both of us have commiserated about our distaste for having a fuss made about us, which is exactly what we’ll be getting tomorrow.

I blog about my life; if you read and think I’m self-absorbed and disturbingly introspective, you probably have grounds to make that claim. But I write to process, and I do it here, probably because I’m heard, and that matters. So be it.

I am on a stage in front of a lot of people almost every week. I enjoy it; I am extremely comfortable in that venue. Maybe that’s an indicator of a big ego or a desire for the spotlight. I don’t know. You could make that argument, I suppose.

But here’s the thing: I like to blog and I like to be on the platform on Sundays. I’m wired that way. It is what it is, which is good, because it’s my life. It’s good. But I really, really don’t like being the center of attention. It makes me so uncomfortable and I feel terribly awkward. Don’t sing to me in a restaurant for my birthday. Don’t take my picture. Don’t make a fuss over me. I actually have a lot of introverted tendencies, and they are surprisingly strong.

Chauncey feels the same way. But tomorrow, he and I are both stepping out of our comfort zones and sitting down for something that feels a bit awkward, but will undoubtedly be one of the most meaningful moments of each of our lives. We have each sensed that God has called us to full-time vocational ministry, to serve Him (currently through the local church) and we’ve accepted that call. We both sat through separate ordination councils, after working through written answers to a battery of questions about our faith and its practice. We defended our positions to the members of the councils and answered any questions they had.

And they ordained us. We are each “official” ministers; we have the right to be called “Reverend”. (Which is sort of weird. Because I don’t feel “reverend”…but then again, I sort of do….) The ordination itself is done, confirmed, over. But the cool part (at least for the ones I’ve attended before) is in the service, where the entire church is invited to participate in “setting apart” an individual for ministry. The way it works at PCC is we have some singing (my kids, in this case, along with Lindsay Harris and other awesome worship leaders) and a little scripture reading and praying, and a short explanation from Brian…and then all who are so inclined are invited to speak to or pray for the ordainee. Chauncey and I will sit in chairs in the front of the room, and the people will line up and they’ll speak words of wisdom. Or encouragement. Or whatever they are led to share.

It is a humbling honor to consider being given such a gift. I am not quite sure what to do with it. I received an email today in which a friend wrote,  

“Tomorrow, you are being set aside in God’s service. He has taken you on an incredible personal and spiritual journey, unlocking greater leadership gifts along the way.  Your continued obedience and daily choice to serve Him through challenges and blessings has brought you to this point. God has called you to something New. It is a story that is still being written. But your calling has been confirmed by others who recognize that new calling, and agree that this calling requires your being set apart in such a way that the world will recognize it.”

Later, my friend included this statement: “Tomorrow, when it’s time to lay on hands and speak words of encouragement, I may just hug you and cry tears of joy, and maybe whisper a little ‘I love you.’  Please know that behind those words are these prayed over and carefully chosen words that I have written here today.”

I was so moved by the words in that email. I mean really, profoundly moved. And I began to consider that as much as I’ve joked about dreading being the center of attention tomorrow, maybe this is going to be an incredibly encouraging, transformative experience.

Of course it will.

I’ve been part of ordination services for others, and they are all profoundly moving. So I don’t doubt tomorrow will be, as well.

I’m going to take a deep breath, and enter into the day waiting to see what new things God is going to unveil. My parents will be there; my girls are going to sing together. My friend Lisa is here from Ohio, my husband will be beside me. Friends and co-workers and fellow musicians who have become family to me will be there. I will be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both here on earth and above (I’ve NO DOUBT that Bob Pino has set aside time to join in; however thin that veil may be, I know that his presence will be felt. Bob was one of my biggest cheerleaders and encouragers. He and Jeannie helped me get to this place.)

It’s going to be a good day. My ordination service is tomorrow, and I’m finally excited.

Don’t call me ‘reverend’.

It’s at 6PM at PCC’s Powhatan Campus, 4480 Anderson Highway. You’re all invited. 🙂

Maida Vale: Signs of Life

With Signs of Life, Maida Vale sets the nail for their claim as a Great American Band. This sophomore release reflects a maturity and a commitment to making good music regardless of market trends. From the gritty opening of Jordan to the raw blues of Walk Resurrection, this is a group of men exploring and executing the primal instinct of making music.

And their instincts are true. The lyrics on this record are personal, thoughtful, honest. The recurring theme of falling short and brokenness, driven home in the repetitive, unrelenting hook of Never Been Good, meets a consistent counterbalance of grace and hope; it’s not always overt, but it’s there. The overall message of this record resonates with the title track – it shows signs of life, tinged with a hope that is keenly aware of the human condition.

The instrumental layers on each track offer tasty tidbits of bluesy rock and roll. From harmonica fills to luscious guitar fills, the band creates sound washes with rhythmic accents that set the stage for each story. The banjo – yes, banjo! – links an undeniable appreciation for deep country roots that gives each song a sense of history.

Maida Vale makes music that is fresh and clean, yet firmly planted in the raw roots of all that is good about American music. To listen to this record is to trace some history; songwriters for years have offered up their hearts to the world as they work out their salvation within the context of four minutes of rhythm and melody. This band enjoys the benefit of great chemistry, superior talent and applied skill and effort, and it shines through in this record. You’ll listen again and again, uncovering each layer of applicable meaning. And maybe dance a little, too.

Great record from an excellent band.

The record is currently only available as a digital download. Check it out here; the best $10 you’ll spend today. Promise.

A Blog Post About Dennis Green

These are two of my favorite men, ever. Both of these guys have had a profound impact on my life.

Brian, on the left, is my pastor. He played the role of counselor for me during a few difficult years of transition in my life, and he did it well. He’s my co-worker. He makes me crazy sometimes, but it’s all good because I make him furious sometimes. We get over it. Working with Brian has taught me a lot about a lot of stuff, and it’s made me a better person – a better minister, a better woman. I’m a better wife to Tony because of Brian’s influence.

And we’re friends.

Dennis, on the right, is our executive pastor. He has been a good friend with a listening ear on more than one occasion. He’s been a good supervisor and boss, and though my relationship with him is not full of fireworks (like with Brian), it’s proven to be just as influential. During Dennis’ ordination council, I told him that he was one of a handful of people that I trusted, absolutely and completely, with no reservation. Dennis is a unique individual. He is steady and wise, tried and true. He’s transparent without being all gooey about it. I’m a better employee and minister because of his guidance. He’s surprisingly funny. And he sings. Sort of.

Two weeks ago, Brian asked Dennis to deliver the message to kick off our Be Mine series. It was intentional – it gave Brian a little breathing room and allowed him to be at Westchester on Sunday morning. Dennis did a great job; he collaborated with Brian on the content and delivered it very well.

And then Brian got sick this week, and although he kept thinking he’d be able to pull it together, by Friday morning it was obvious that he’d be out. Dennis got the call Friday morning; he had two days to put together a message.

Two days. If you preach a lot, that’s probably not a big deal. But Dennis is our Executive Pastor – not a regular teaching pastor. Two days to prep a message would put most normal people into panic mode.

But I never saw signs of panic. Brian asked Dennis to do the message, and he had two days to do it. And here’s the thing: he did it. It was a good message, with strong content and some very funny, memorable moments – the kind of things that stick with you, the stuff that God uses to remind you of Biblical precepts later in the week. Yay Dennis.

And here’s the other thing: in spite of the fact that his schedule was already booked with requirements of his “real” responsibilities at PCC, which included parking lot work and gravel hauling and who knows what else, he did it. And I never heard one complaint. Not once did he even remark that he felt overwhelmed or even that he was tired. He just did it. No comments, no questions, no whining.

The message today included a discussion of submission in marriage; Dennis had to unpack a somewhat controversial section of the Bible and make it relevant (if you missed the service, you can see it in it’s entirety here). And as I watched him deliver this talk about how submission and humility and service can reap rewards in relationships, it occurred to me that he was a walking, talking, living example of what he spoke. Dennis does “whatever it takes”, he shrugs off any personal inconvenience and he simply moves forward. With an attitude of grace and a total lack of ego. He simply submitted to the call, regardless of how it impacted his plans or needs, and he did what was required.

We’re better for it. Not only because of the message he delivered today, but because on a daily basis, this man of character and integrity is leading our church, making hard decisions about important matters.

Dennis Green is a godly man of good character. He may not be that complicated, and he may simply need a sandwich and a Big Gulp to make him wag his tail, but he’s exactly the kind of man I want leading my church and influencing our community.

*By the way, I titled this “A Blog Post About Dennis Green” because he’s always giving me grief about being all creative. I decided to keep things simple and plain, just so he’d appreciate it. 🙂

The (Short) Season Of My Discontent

Whine alert; read no further if you are looking for something inspirational.

And now for a bullet list of my discontent:

  • I slept on the couch the past two nights. My husband is sick. He kept me awake, I kept him awake. So we slept apart. He is better, enough that he got a good day’s work in; but he’s back to a horizontal position again and I know he’s not 100%. 
  • I am not a fan of sleeping on the couch.
  • I like sleeping with my husband.
  • I’m a little grouchy about items two and three.
  • I think I’m starting the get this crud, or at least some personalized version. Head hurts, congestion creeping in. Throat burns. Eyes hurt. Of course, these may just be symptoms of sleeping on the couch.
  • I have no time to be sick.
  • I don’t want to be sick on Sunday; I love the songs we have planned for church and I actually get to sing two of them. I don’t want to be sick.
  • I don’t know what we’re having for dinner tonight.
  • My knee hurts like crazy. I have an order for an MRI, but the doc (and any educated person I ask) seems to think it’s a torn meniscus. I see surgery (EEK!), crutches and hobbling around in my future. I don’t like that.
  • My right knee is the one that is injured, which is my stomping knee. Hmmm…

On the bright side, the weather was gorgeous today. The windows are open, the bright sky gives a promise of spring.

That is all.

Book Review: Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

Steven Furtick pastors Elevation Church in Charlotte, one of the fastest-growing churches in America.

He’s passionate, effective and completely committed. With Sun Stand Still, he’s managed to put a slight, somewhat mystifying snippet of scripture into the common lexicon of contemporary churches. The concept is tantalizing, this idea that audacious prayers are not only possible but essential to engaging in a full relationship with God. Furtick advocates a bold, active faith in arguments that sometimes seem grounded in the rejection of the perceived passivity and inaction found in North American churches.

It’s a great concept, scripturally sound and personally challenging – and I bet it was a terrific sermon series. But as a book, littered with phrases like, “If you’ll do the believing, he’ll do the achieving”, it’s a difficult read. Furtick describes two individuals who are “accomplishing ridiculously amazing things for God’s glory….their faith seems to be turbocharged from some source that the average Christian never quite taps into.”  When he goes on to declare “by the time you finish this book, the same faith that pulses in Michael’s and Tonia’s everyday life will be pumping through your veins too”, I just want to smile gently, take him aside and ask him to reconsider whether or not he might be jumping the gun. It’s a bit harder to take a reader on a journey towards discovery when your starting point leans towards a preconceived notion that borders on insult.

I’m all for Furtick’s work with Elevation, and thrilled about the success the church is having in North Carolina. I’d like to hear him preach. And I look forward to the book he might write ten years from now, with a bit more experience under his belt.

By the way of full disclosure, I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Book Review: Lit by Mary Karr

“Well, drinking is like the butcher knife. You have to put it down before you can let God in. It’s like you have to break up with the guy who’s beating the crap out of you before you can scan the room and find the nice guy who’s got a crush on you.”

That’s Mary Karr, author of Lit, quoting a friend’s argument as Karr pinwheeled her way through alcoholism towards health. Lit is the third installment of Karr’s self-examination, but my first foray into her work.

Well-written, insightful, gripping and engaging, Karr weaves a great story with a unique style. I found the story itself a bit flat through the first quarter of the book, but the intimacy of the dialogue and descriptions of her flirtation with alcohol captured me. And thank God I hung on, because by the time Karr quits flirting and crashes headlong into a full-bore affair with booze, I couldn’t look away. My heart was completely engaged. Lit weaves a story that, at its core, is so honest about the human condition that there are no villains or heroes, no winners or losers running amuck in and out of her life story. There are only humans, fraught with frailty, honest and true. Good and bad, both / and. This memoir resonates with aromatic truth. I felt like I knew these people; they were my own uncles and aunts, friends and neighbors.

To my surprise, the story amps up as Karr begins to detail her self-described “journey from blackbelt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic”. I did not pick this book up because of any anticipated spiritual impact or the jolt of confirming joy I feel when I dig into a typical come-to-Jesus story. I had no idea that Karr ended her journey embracing Jesus, and the fact that it caught me off-guard made it that much more powerful.

I found myself unexpectedly, profoundly moved,  as it unfolded; Karr depicts her struggle with letting go, with relinquishing control, accepting herself and those around her as they are. Her journey rings of truth, and of a deeply personal faith journey with more resonance than the stuff I often read in “Christian” circles. Here is a woman who was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the cross – and chose to stand up and fall into the arms of Jesus. Still cursing, wrestling, running – but there.

This is a real book, powerful and pivotal. I saw much of myself in Mary Karr’s honest self-discovery. Highly recommended, for anyone who has struggled with addiction, and for any female who finds herself wondering sometimes who she really is, and what it might take to find out.

I Have My Kids

This morning, I have been thinking about from whence I have come, and I remember this day – not too long ago, only five years, in fact. Five years.

A lifetime.

From junior high to college; from kindergarten to middle school. From bicycles to cars.

The time, it does fly. And things do change, in radical ways. Just look at that photograph…

For my own sense of motion and for anyone who longs to be reminded that the future unfolds and that joy does indeed come in the morning; here’s where I was mid-February, just five (short) years ago:

I’m sitting at a cluttered dining room table (mine), surrounded by the debris of A Day. Fifty cupcakes, packed up and ready for the morning commute to the hands of friends as they honor St. Valentine with a rush of sugar, made carefully and lovingly by the Girls themselves. At this point, they only need me to drive to the store for ingredients; their independence in the kitchen is astonishing.

Back to the table….here is my own laptop, side by side with the ancient Dell with the missing ‘9’ key. FirstSon entertained himself (and me) by belting out “No Woman, No Cry” as it surged from the headphones of the old Dell. “Mom – why don’t we do this song at church?” Grin.

A copy of “Simon Burch”, with the little fellow asking of the priest, ‘Do you think God has a purpose for my life?’. The religious leader stumbles and fumbles and scorns the faith of a child, who believes that God will, indeed, use him as His instrument.

CD’s – music choices that will serve to lead the people in my community in worship for the next four weeks. It’s harrowing, at times, to make these decisions; as we gather in community, they sing what I suggest. I need to listen well as I work; it’s no small responsibility.

Valentine cards – YoungSon has chosen a Disney motif to notify his dear friends and acquaintances of his affections. The box and the leftovers await the trash.

More stuff – fake yellow flowers of some type…a jar of banana peppers with nothing but yellow-tinged vinegar swilling inside…a piece of green felt with a triangle cut from one corner…a bread bag with one piece of whole wheat remaining…my keys….a crumpled, discarded cupcake paper…

The dog is asleep in my lap. The house is quiet.

Tomorrow is Valentines’ Day. I have no man to squire me to an expensive dinner, shower me with chocolate and shiny jewelry. I have no role to play, no airs to put on, nothing to show that I fit in with the masses on this over-hyped day of demonstration. I will receive no $2.95 Hallmark card with “For My Beloved Wife” and a Victorian rose pasted on the cover. No special lingerie, no new momentos to mark the passing years of love….

I have a dirty dining room table, and I have my kids, who are not-so-furtively planning Something Special For Mom tomorrow; instructions have been given that I am not to return home until 5:00 at the earliest. Last year they had a hot bath with bubbles AND rose petals waiting – soft music, candlelight and gentle, solicitous behaviour. It was a blessing. I anticipate the same generous intentions tomorrow.

I have my kids. They are safe upstairs, sweetly dreaming or tending to the remains of the day. My five, who were once as cherubic as the little icon of love that floats around on February 14th. My cherubs have grown into young girls and boys who have laughed and cried through the best and worst life has thrown at them. They are authentic humans whose love is sometimes dirty, forgetful and even injurious. My children’s selfishness is unparalleled, as is their capacity for forgiveness. The ability they possess to take up the servant’s towel and love one another, or me, or a friend, or a newcomer, or a family member, or their far-off father…it is love. It is the best love, the truest love, the love that spreads through the very human aches and pains of community.

I have my kids. They are upstairs, asleep, and tomorrow they will get up and go to school with the same combination of chaos and responsibility that tore through the house this morning. They will welcome the day and embrace their future, and they’ll love their mom and one another fiercely.

I have my kids.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

“On a night like this/I could fall in love/I could fall in love with you.”

In The Middle Of The Night

I slipped out of bed tonight, unable to sleep. There is a strange, settled peace about this; sleep is far from me, and yet I am rested. It indicates that I am better tonight than I was in more recent times, when I yanked on the door of slumber when I needed it or not, longing to escape. I’ve been begging for sleep lately. Tonight, I let it wait for me.

I sat on the top step in a dark house for the first time ever, in this house. I listened to the dark, sensed the rise and fall of my childrens’ breaths, heard the clicking of the kitchen clock as the seconds slipped by.

I prayed, recognizing that the rhythm of the daily office I’ve come to embrace had been lost in the chaos of the past week. There is a new comfort in an old wandering; other times, when I knew that I’d slipped out of a disciplined routine, I’d be lost – disconnected, off track and always carrying some degree of guilt and shame. Neglect never feels good, whichever end you’re on.

Tonight, though, I realized that the chaos robbed me of discipline – and nothing more. Nothing has changed. The daily ritual is there, unaltered, unhindered. I can step back into the routine and relax into that same rhythm. It is even more comforting to sense the legacy, the history of the daily office – the ritual of the common prayer book. This is an ancient rhythm, and I am not alone, regardless of where I step into the tune. The past week has required a different sort of discipline, and it handed back to me a paradigm shift and several questions.

I prayed tonight for people I care for. I prayed for my husband, my hand resting on his arm as he tossed and turned, restless, his mind and his head congested. I prayed for Lisa, and for John, for Debbie and Keith, for Kelley and Anjie, for Jeannie.

And I sat on the top stair and contemplated, here in the middle of the night, what a gift we are given when we are born. Life. I remember nights of fitful sleep, nursing babies at too-close intervals, days trudging through all that children required and endless hours of wondering when I’d ever come up for air. Not long ago, most of my nights were like this: late, contemplative, with the promise of days following that would see me zombie-like, sleep-walking through sunlight.

Sometimes I feel like I slept-walk through an entire decade, with five kids born over nine years.

And yet here I am today, seemingly catapulted – but not really – into a new season, one that grew and bloomed out of all that was planted in those late nights of nursing and nurturing my children. Now I’m up for myself, chasing my own hunger. It seems to have happened quickly, but that’s only because I never had time to notice what was changing. In fact, it’s a slow ebb and flow of time, of the changing seasons, of shoe sizes and hair cuts and candles on cakes, of hash marks on a door frame and children who can literally look you in the eye. Before they grab the keys and drive the car by themselves.

I am so thankful tonight, just to be alive. To be part of the human race. To feel a sense of purpose, hemmed in by my family and a deep, true, good love.

Strange and unexpected thoughts for a sleepless night. I’ll take it.

(And I am laughing a bit, at myself, because I just heard the scratchy sound of gravel in the driveway, the muffled booming of the car stereo faintly through the window. My eldest just got home from a friend’s house, and I realized that deep down inside, I was probably awake because I knew she would be driving home late…so maybe some things never change, regardless of whether or not I feel like I’ve gotten past the kids being the primary reason for sleepless nights in my life…)

Valentine’s Day 2011

As much as possible, I tried to disengage today. Brian said, “Take a day off. Take two days off. You need it.”

My gut reaction was to wave him off, dig in and plow through…

But then I changed my mind.

So today was a quiet day, with a few interruptions and some last minute panic as I tried to get some Valentine’s stuff together (want to know where my kids’ come by their tendency to procrastinate? Just look at me…) I did laundry. I did dishes. I moved slowly. I got some extra sleep.

Tony took possession today of The Thing That Will Change Our Lives Forever (more on that later). He said, “Meet me here at 4:30. I made reservations for us.” So I put on a little black dress and a little polka dot sweater and met him (albeit 10 minutes late…)

To my surprise, our friends showed up, too. Apparently the men in our lives had cooked up a special treat for us. And then, again to our surprise, a limousine pulled up!

If I’ve ridden in a limo before, I don’t remember. This was a great treat – we had balloons and chocolate and beads (?) and a copy of the Globe, in case we needed something to read. Ha.

And then we had a tremendous dinner at Carrabas, a place where all four of us had shared meals with Bob and Jeannie Pino in the past. We raised our bread to Bob.

My husband never fails to surprise me, in unforgettable ways. He does the unexpected. He goes the extra mile. He is generous and kind. And tons of fun. And tonight, I felt special.

Which goes a LONG way to easing me out of the valley and back into the light.