Work And Worship

My work is wound around spiritual journeys, collective and personal.

I am part of a community of faith, a gathering of men and women and children who identify as followers of Christ. Imperfect, fractured.

Hopeful.

Human.

My work is intertwined tightly with my life, which is the great joy and occasional strain of anyone who has the great fortune to do what they love. It is all-encompassing.

By trade, training and passion, I am, first and foremost, a musician. The artistic wiring in my soul tends to trump most everything else, regardless of the time I spend developing leadership and team-building skills, in spite of my intellectual or organizational growth; music and art drive me. I receive life from it, I bleed life into it, and my daily comings and goings are tinged with this particular mindset.

So, there is this thing; I work, and it is a peculiar design of artistic endeavor and creativity and teamwork and leadership and institutional management and organizational structure, and it blends together in this apex of a weekend corporate experience that we generally, casually, call “church”. Or “worship”.

It is a gathering, a time of focus and expectant attention. It is a time for revelation and teaching and acknowledgement of the One who is Creator, the Genesis of ourselves.

Work and worship. It is a weekly enigma, the working out of my salvation and calling that leads me through valleys and up mountains and into wilderness and all over, everywhere, but never out of the reach of the One who made me.

Within me is a mounting excitement, because I believe in the power of a focused waiting, a gathering of humanity with faces turned toward heaven, with eyes watchful and ears open. A gathering of people, under the umbrella of mercy, hoping – needing – desperate for the reality of the supernatural God of our faith. God of our fathers.

Our God.

This next Saturday, I will be in that crowd, led by those called and anointed, dedicated, carrying the evidence of the covenant to the people of God. I fully expect we will rise up.

If you are within a reasonable distance, I really hope you’ll come. Something amazing, life changing, legitimate and awe-inspiring will happen. I feel it in my bones, I trust what the spirit whispers.

I cannot wait.


Next Saturday evening, 7PM, at PCC’s Powhatan Campus
 More information and tickets available here.

Where I’m From

My daughter, Shannon, did this prompt a few years ago at college. It was powerful, reading history from her perspective. This evening, I stumbled upon a post at She Loves Magazine with a few examples. I was moved again, this time reading words from people I’d never met and marveling at the richness of a life.

And I saw the directions for the prompt.

I thought I’d give it a try.

If you’d like to respond in kind, you’ll find the directions here.

I am from so much…and I am grateful for it all.

Eric, Mom, me, Dad

I am from a Baldwin piano, layered with four decades of my fingerprints
from my mom’s green jewelry box
and stainless steel cookware
corningware
and green bakelite bowls.

I am from a house-in-town
to a split level in the country
to a mini-bike through the window
from a clothesline
from a kitchen that waits to be filled
from chicken and rice simmering on the stove.

I am from cool Pennsylvania grass,
a blanket for my imagination;
from Stone Road
from my ten-year old skin and bones stretched out on the asphalt
smelling the rain steaming off the pavement.

I am from Big Rock, half a mile behind the house,
covered in woods, hiding my imagined Indian warriors.
I am from the stump buried in the trail that threw me from the mini-bike,
once,
and then never again
I am from learning to look for the things that would keep me from success
and mostly winning.

I’m from Merle Haggard and the Beach Boys
and harmony in the car
and around the fire.
I’m from meat, potatoes and green vegetables.
I’m from the sour taste of buttermilk, spit across the table.

I’m from my brother and his imagination
and my mother and her ability to string thread into garments of glory
and my father as he drove outoftown every Monday to return on Thursday.
I’m from very superstitious, don’t watch him drive away because he might not come back.

I’m from a wild, excess of Christmas
and spendthrift virtue eleven other months of the year.

I’m from you can be anything you want
and from you can’t be what the boys can be
and from good thing you’re so smart
because, God bless you, you’re homely.
I’m from Old Shep and A Boy Named Sue
and don’t sing so loud.

I’m from Franklin, Pennsylvania and a four-block walk to kindergarten
and a 10 mile bus ride to elementary school
and an entirely new adolescence in hot, cramped Texas suburbia.

I’m from chicken-fried steak and chicken strips and gravy
from cookies and cheesecake
from chocolate-covered cherries.

I’m from the golf-ball hitting Gommer’s leg
from jumping off the bridge
from Aunt Betty never rallied
from taking a tractor ride
from Aunnie Kay’s cherry pie
from Charlie Tuna and Uncle Graham.

I’m from a string of pearls at forty,
from grace all the way around,
from the long line of grace down in the valley
through the Texas sun
braided into the red dirt of North Carolina
buried in the sand of Emerald Isle
resting in the hills of Virginia.

I am from three years in the third world,
changed.

I am from strong stock and snarky comments.

I am from preaching and pointing.

I am from endless harmony, ringing out over
all the noise.

I am from a calling of the Spirit in a fortress church
from a tenacious grip
that never did let go.

Just Bend Your Knees

Part of our job requirement is to send around a schedule update every Sunday evening. Because ministry work is often so fluid, we give a general idea of our plans for the week to one another – the entire staff – via email. It has become a great way to stay in touch, to keep abreast of what everybody’s working on and who they are connecting with, and what we are celebrating.

Often, these schedule updates become quite entertaining. Anna’s often make me cry; Matthew’s are like reading fascinating works by an English major. O’Rear’s attention to detail is inspiring, and Elijah’s are laid back and relaxed. Brian ALWAYS tells a story. With lots of words.

I’m a words girl, too, and often my schedule updates are more like journal entries. After a day like today, in which I was funky and petulant for no good reason – until we arrived in Cartersville and went into the James River for baptism – I needed to process a bit. It came out in the weekly schedule update, which I’m sure my coworkers enjoyed.

Or maybe they didn’t.

They probably take one look, think, “Ah, it’s more of her creative nonsense…” and file it away to be read later.

I can go on. And on. And on….

Anyway, at one point in my list of highlights from the day, I wrote, “I probably should have just written a blog post….”

So here it is.

(The blog post.)

Our church tradition is to baptize in the James River, by immersion, twice a year. The line is usually long, and that in itself is powerful. Our church’s very existence is rooted in an evangelical passion to reach those who have been untouched or unaffected by traditional churches. Baptism shows us raw data, in the faces and stories of people whose lives have been transformed by Christ. 

Photo credit: Jack Bellamy


We gather in a large group at the top of the hill, and Sammy gives instructions; hold your handkerchief here, listen for these words, simply bend your knees and lean back, trust your pastor will lift you up.

I had the incredible honor and privilege of baptizing three people today, and we went first. We stepped into the water, gasping at the initial chill, and then moving out towards the deeper part. Here is a thing: being so close to a person, holding them as they move under the water, helping lift them out – close like that, you have a unique perspective. I have baptized before, but today, for the first time, I looked. I saw up close the joy and surprise and the truth of that “newness of life” sketched on those three faces, beautiful, precious people whose stories are somewhat known to me. The cold water makes you gasp, for sure; but there the symbolism has endured for good reason. It is a holy and sacred moment.

Making my way out of the water, I stood at the edge and watched the rest of the group, some forty people in pairs, alone, with families, with friends. A family – the husband and wife baptized together, then their children, one by one. A teenager who came out of the water in tears, overcome with emotion that rendered him speechless – but somehow sanctified. I stood there and watched and thought; such an odd thing, this ritual of being put under water. It means so many things – the “buried with Him in baptism”, the cleansing, the new life, purification…going under baptismal waters is a ripe, rich act. But as I watched today, an odd thought occurred to me. 

We say, “Do this thing to represent your decision to follow Christ”, and we explain the history and what it represents. Our church does not get all hung up on obedience to church rules and regulations. We passionately avoid legalism, because we believe that Jesus was not a fan, and we know that many people have been hurt and driven away from God by the harsh imposition of rules of behavior. So we strongly encourage believer’s baptism but we never say, “You must do this thing to be accepted by Christ, to be saved.”

We say, “This is a powerful symbol, important for you and for the church, a public display of your decision to follow Jesus. We encourage you to do it. We will do everything we can to help you get there.” 

And people say, “Yes. Okay. I will do this thing.” And they line up at the water and walk into the river with all their clothes on, which is – in itself – sort of crazy. They stand there and say, “JESUS IS LORD” and they believe it and they let somebody fold them backwards into the water and they trust that they’ll be pulled back up, and they are, and they gasp and rub their eyes and all the people cheer and shout and then they fight for purchase on the slippery rocks and stand on the edge of the water, dripping wet, hair a mess and drenched clothes clinging to their body. And they are baptized.

And there are no heavenly voices, no doves, no opening of the skies, but they are somehow changed after this act of obedience.

This submission.

That was a dirty word to me, not too long ago; I felt it’s full force in subtle and overt ways. Submit falls in line with those rules and regulations and rigid expectations of behavior, or so I believed. So I had been taught.

But baptism is this powerful act of submission, to the community, to the command of Jesus, to the history and holiness of a long-standing ritual.

To Jesus.

Something clarified for me today as I stood and watched, dripping wet from my own walk into the water. Submitting to a somewhat odd act of corporate identification was a defining moment, not just because of the baptism, but because of the willingness to say yes. To bow. To relinquish control.

To submit.

My attitude towards submission has changed greatly; eight years in a community that strives to submit to one another in love regardless of gender, three years in a marriage that spins on mutual submission and honor – these things will teach a girl to put her weapons down. I am okay with submission – more than okay. I see it in action, in what I believe to be the truest spirit of the teaching, and I cannot argue with the beauty of submissive relationships.

It starts with this crazy act of baptism. 

I pray the morning light will baptize me anew tomorrow, and that I might walk the hours of the day simply bending my knees, folding backwards, trusting that somebody will lift me up.

I Cannot Be Replaced Because

I have always worried, deep down inside, that I’m not enough.

Perfection was my idol, a lying, thieving bitch (pardon my language, but there it is). She beckoned me as a child, lived with me as a teenager, settled in me as a young adult, warping my ambition and convincing me that hiding the truth of my imperfection was an absolute necessity.

I aimed for perfection and fell short. No surprise there. So I believed I had to lie, to myself and others, and I got pretty good at it. All along, it seemed that I was protecting myself; my salvation came through denial. In reality, I was wrapping myself in a shroud of non-reflective, suffocating insulation; choking on self-protective gear that did nothing more than make me more susceptible to the inevitable slings and arrows of life. My wounds – things that normal people experience and simply grow through – became disasters that warped my understanding of myself, devastated relationships, and left me wrecked.

Broken.

And what was I lying about?

I was desperately frightened of the relentless, rhythmic voltage inside of me that whispered, lest someone else might hear, You should be perfect, you were born to be perfect, but you’re not you’re not you’re not you’re not good enough because you. are. not. perfect. You are not enough.

I believed it. In spite of being raised “right”, growing up “in church”, achieving good grades and scholarships and honors and accolades; deep down, that voice never stopped.

I’m so much better than I used to be. In fact, I’d like to think that I’m past all that now. I have experienced a deep level of authenticity in places where it matters most, where healing begins. A deep, honest friendship rimmed by a lifelong commitment. Spiritual leaders who have revealed their own imperfections, and allowed me to love them (helping release the logic that if I love them in their imperfection, maybe it’s okay if they love me in my own…) A community of faith that is built upon – rather than avoids – an awareness of brokenness – for there begins our need for grace.

But I remember. It’s like the faint image of a bruise that’s still a little sore from a lifetime of banging the same anvil across the same delicate tissue.

I remember, and I recognize the sound and the sight as I see others struggle, hear it in their voice, understand the warped logic of the lie of perfectionism. I hear Brene Brown speak and it’s not just me it’s not just me it’s not just me overtakes the voice inside my head; there is strength in numbers, and I’m not alone, and that knowledge makes me stronger.

We help one another when we’re honest – about one another, and about ourselves. It has helped me to become healthy.

And so: It is National Suicide Prevention Week, and although one might think it a big leap from a short blog post about perfectionism, it’s not, really.

It’s not.

And I know many of you who read these words, and I know that you struggle with your own shame, your own weakness, the places where you believe you fall short. I know that there is A Thing that whispers it’s lies to you, too.

And I think it’s time we take a step forward, in the middle of so many good, healing things around us, and I think we reach out and do something that will help us help one another, because when we share our stories, we shout that we are not alone, none of us. And sometimes, that’s the one thing, at the one moment, that somebody needs to hear.

So let us do this one thing, men and women and teenagers and young adults and my children – all of us. Simply finish this sentence.

I cannot be replaced because
That voice that’s saying, “Forget this – how self-absorbed and narcissistic do you think you are? That’s stupid. That’s selfish. Say something like that and people are going to think you think you’re all that. You have no right….you ought to be ashamed…” Yeah, that’s the same crap she tries to tell me. As my mom would say, STOMP HER and make her shut up, and then answer the question, here in the comments or on my Facebook page or on your own.
Own your value. Accept your worth. And if you have trouble, if your broken places have clouded your vision so that you have no answer to that question, know this: it’s just cloudy. That’s all. You have an answer. If you cannot find it, ask someone you trust. We will gently push away the clouds and help you see.
When we understand our own value, we make room in our hearts to understand someone else’s. 
And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I cannot be replaced because
  • I am their mother.
  • My voice is unique.
  • He only has one sister.
  • I make the best chicken and rice.
  • I am his portion.
It’s your turn. One thing or ten. Why is it that you cannot be replaced? 

Eric’s New Music

Me. My brother.

Anybody who knows me knows that I have a brother.

Whom I adore.

Who is an excellent writer.

Who makes great music.

Who is a powerful worship leader.

He’s got a new EP out, and like any artist, he’d love for you to hear it.

Four hundred pennies will get four new songs in your pocket.

It’s a win/win for all. Return To You is giving voice to the current desires of my heart. I hope you’ll find it meaningful as well.

Click here. You can listen. Then you can purchase.

Note: There is one quite obvious problem with this recording: WHERE ARE THE KEYBOARDS? I can only assume he is waiting for me to visit Florida and lay down a few nice piano licks for him…..

JK. It’s perfect. And Eric left lots of room for me to harmonize with him. 🙂

Happy Anniversary, Brian

My wedding,
my husband,
my pastor.

Today was this guy’s eleventh anniversary at his current job. Thanks to the efforts of Leslie Mann, our staff is doing a much better job celebrating things like anniversaries and such. Last month, I got the surprise of my life when I walked into a meeting and found a cake (made with care by one of the best bakers I’ve ever encountered – my boss’s mother, Teresa Farris) and a speech that made me cry.

Today, I was in on the surprise. I got to write the speech today. I thought I’d share it here. My goal was to make him cry. I didn’t quite succeed, but every word I wrote was sincere.

We’re blessed around here. It’s a good thing to remind ourselves now and again.

Here’s the text of my little speech, in case you’re interested. If you cry, let me know. I’ll count it as success.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today is Brian’s 11th anniversary at PCC. Nobody will ever beat him in the competition for who has been here the longest; you get to ALWAYS claim that distinction when you start the church. Being a competitive guy, we can be certain that this is very pleasing to him.

 Brian Hughes walked into my life on the Powhatan High School stage in June of 2004. One of the first things I noticed is that he – or somebody on the production team at PCC – did not know how to spell. Some people reach out at church to try to get connected with small groups or to serve; I reached out in an attempt to explain the difference between “EXERTS” and “EXCERPTS” in the hopes that these people at this little church would stop embarrassing themselves. My working relationship with Brian was defined in that moment of spelling correction.

 He received it well. To this day, I follow Brian around and try to help. I fix spelling errors on his blog posts and on his message manuscripts – half the time, he doesn’t even know it. He often needs assistance with the accuracy of musical lyrics – as recently as last week, he was quoting the words to the Jackson Browne set up piece completely wrong. I think he is finally convinced that pleated pants are completely unnecessary. He knows he wears ugly sweaters, although he continues to wear them defiantly. And perhaps you have heard the story about how I had to keep him from embarrassing himself with a snotty, runny nose in the middle of my own wedding; I had to hand him a Kleenex in the middle of the ceremony.

Brian has his weaknesses. But, then again, don’t we all? And, then again, isn’t that part of what makes Brian who he is? One of the first things he ever said to me – and he’s said it many times since – is, “One of these days, I’m going to let you down.” And he has. And I have REALLY made him angry, on more than one occasion. But he’s always been willing to fix it, to work through the conflict and the frustration, to say, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you”, to do whatever it takes to make the relationship healthy again.

 Brian knows and understands his frailty and his humanity; and he understands that the world is full up of broken people – including himself. He believes – with all his heart – that God loves those broken people. He believes – with all his heart – that too many of those broken people have been overlooked, forgotten, shut out and shut up. He believes in this mission – to reach people who are untouched by traditional churches and guide them to become followers of Jesus- with all his heart.

 See, we know that as the mission statement of our church – this place where we work and live out our own calling. But we don’t always consider that for the man who took the lead; the one who started this church, who was the first to catch the vision – those words are more than just a mission statement that we all memorize and internalize. Think about it: God breathed the specific mission of PCC into one man, first. And he has shared it with you…and you…and you…and you…and me.

 And now we are part of a movement that impacts over a thousand people each week, in a wide variety of ways. People have encountered Jesus, made new friends, met their spouses, started families, mended relationships, been freed from addictions, found forgiveness and embraced the love of God. Children are being raised to know and love and believe Jesus, to feel excitement and joy about their church. People will be in heaven because they have encountered Christ through the people and programs of PCC. It’s an amazing place, staffed with incredible people doing exciting things, serving a wonderful God… ….and it started with Brian.

This anniversary today is special, because it’s Brian Hughes, and he is special. He is a whirling dervish of energy and vision and passion and focus. He is a gifted communicator and an inspiring leader. He is a loyal friend and a humble follower of Jesus. He is a good husband and a good dad. His skills as a chicken farmer are….well, don’t ask the chickens. But there’s opportunity for growth there. He is not a good electrician, but that’s okay, because he knows his strengths and weaknesses and limitations and that makes him a wise man.

It’s his anniversary, and he is special. However, as we all know:

It’s not about you. 

At least not completely. Brian taught us one of the most valuable leadership lessons I’ve encountered: BYSSIW, this idea that our teams are stronger when we get on board – after heated conflict and debate – and we say to our leader, “BECAUSE YOU SAY SO, I WILL.” That phrase suits Brian and his passion for loyalty. It has served our teams well, as it’s helped us build unity and moved the church forward.

We always attribute ‘Because you say so, I will’ to Bill Hybels from one of the Leadership Summits; it’s one of those axioms that we’ve adopted in leadership so that it’s become part of our DNA. We know how much Brian respects Hybels, so it makes sense that we’d lean into his words.

 But almost 2,000 years ago, someone said these words:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up 
their cross and follow me.” 

That would be Jesus. And there’s our leadership lesson, and the real reason for this anniversary.

Eleven years ago God called Brian to join the work that He was already doing. It seemed unlikely and crazy and almost ridiculous. But Brian was just crazy enough to do it.

“Because you say so, I will.”

That was the day that axiom came to life for this church – in Brian’s response. God spoke, Brian said, “Because you say so, I will”, and this particular movement of God got a name and a structure and a leader and started out on an incredible journey of life change and rescue and restoration – for you, for me, for all of us….and for countless people in Powhatan, in Midlothian, and now in Fluvanna and Buckingham and Cumberland….and beyond.

The future holds much promise. Brian’s decision to follow God put him in a unique place of leadership and influence that he probably couldn’t even imagine eleven years ago. But it was never just about Brian. 

Just look around the room. Today, just embrace the joy of knowing that when Brian said “yes”, God brought Chauncey…and Angie…and Susan… and Beth…and Darlene…and Anne….and Anna…and Matthew….and Elijah….and Tony….and Matt….and Ben….

So, congratulations on eleven years, Brian Hughes. We’re glad you made it this far. We celebrate you and your work and your leadership and all the happy, happy, joy, joy you get at an anniversary. But don’t just count the years. Count the lives.

And start with us, the staff of PCC.

We love you. Happy anniversary.

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Read Brian’s thoughts about the eleventh anniversary of PCC here.

Back To School

The air was hot and humid today, dense upon us as we watched the annual Powhatan County Labor Day parade. I confessed to my friends and family that tears and emotion choked me up every time; there is something so eternally optimistic and hopeful about a small-town parade. “Look!”, it seems to say; “Here is the very best of us, the finest memory of who we used to be and the promise of what is to come.”


It was the Shriner, in his tiny car, whipping around with precision and grace and a smile that might mean this was the best thing he’d done in months.
It was the fireman, leaning down carefully to place a lollipop in the outstretched hand of a toddler; the powerful notion of our civic pride and power and the most vulnerable among us.
It was the high school dance team, synchronized in movement and makeup; for me, this year, the Anti-Miley. Shy smiles and no agenda other than pride and joy, beautiful, fresh-faced girls on their way to adulthood.
The politicians and the Queen of the Fair – both the Senior version, beautiful in a floor-length gown and a full head of gray hair, and the younger, new model, an entire lifetime ahead of her.
The ROTC kids with their rifles, the Army band, the flag, the high school marching band and my own snare drum captain, in his last Labor Day parade…
Today ends a season. The summer is over, and tomorrow we get up early and reclaim the rhythm of public-funded education and a culture ever-changing.
Earlier today, I was explaining the concept of the Columbia Record Club to my youngest. It required a lot of backstory; what is a record? An eight-track? What was it like to only be able to hear music on the radio or a rare tv experience? What was a world with no digital media, no internet? 
It’s hard to relate; it sounds like old times, old days, another lifetime. It many respects, it was.
But here’s the thing: Tomorrow, my boys are going back to school. This is something that I did and my parents did before me, a connection point of similar emotions and familiar context.
It’s September, and it’s time to go back to school.
God bless us all, in the beauty of a fresh start and a chance to get it right and learn something new.

Nothing Is Wasted (Vegetable Version)

Here we are, at the end of August, and another summer has gone screaming by. The wind blew tonight, and thunder shook the house as the calendar turns us back to school and schedules and cooler weather and the approach of a darker, slower time.

Maybe.

My schedule stayed relatively clear this weekend (for me, the weekend comes to an end in these next few moments, as Saturday becomes Sunday and the most important day of the week amps up for me). Yesterday, I managed to get all of the laundry done, which is no small feat. I cooked and cleaned and enjoyed the open, empty and quiet space of our home. That is sabbath for me, the refuge and the slow movements from one room to another.

No running, no rushing, no deadlines. There is rest for me in that kind of openness.

The vegetables I roasted yesterday, the bounty of peppers and tomatoes scattered on the stainless steel table at the church with a, “Come and get ’em!” invitation; the eggplant, which rode up I-95 with my parents on an adventure out of my Aunt Barbara’s garden into my kitchen; the local squash… All combined and cooked to be absolutely delicious the first time out of the over, around midday yesterday. However, upon reheating and serving four hours later, what was firm was less so, and what was delicious became something less palatable.

Mushy. Not worth eating. Past it’s prime.

But nothing is wasted, you know; I have learned that in life and I am beginning to understand it better in the kitchen. So tonight, what went from perfect and fresh to mushy and tired was granted new life. Soggy veggies became a puree, a base for soup laced with fresh spinach and cilantro, a kick of chili powder and a pinch of curry.

All things new, y’all. Works all over the place.

Never forget the power of a second chance and a bit of creative energy.

I sent the above photo to my eldest daughter, the creative master of the kitchen, encouraging her to BE PROUD OF YOUR MOTHER. It’s pretty amazing, to be at this juncture in life where I am inspired by my offspring. It happens all the time.