Study Break 2013

Every year, I get a study break.

Every year, I try to take a bit of it.

This year, I’m doing it right.

(Here is a little glimpse of last year’s break…)

I’m taking the entire break in one big clump, as encouraged by my boss (who had a terrific, extended study break during his sabbatical last summer). After Easter, I tidied up a bit and then left creative planning in the hands of my remarkable team at PCC and set off. I spent the majority of the first week in Savannah, where I managed to renew my soul and spirit through connections with my daughter, her friends and an incredible church. I did some good, hard study preparing a message for City Church, and enjoyed the challenge of sharing a message from God with a group of relative strangers. Great conversations were had, incredible food was eaten and the 2013 Study Break was off to a great start.

Sarah and David…

I followed up with a trip to Raleigh – with my eldest daughter and her boyfriend – to see her reconnect with her brothers, and to see my eldest son’s drum line take first place in the AIA championships. It was a good, if incredibly exhausting, Saturday.

This week, I am mostly home. I’ve set aside specific goals for each day; yesterday, I reconnected with a husband who held down the fort (in spite of a sinus and bronchial infection) while I was gone, and I did my part at his music store by teaching some incredible musicians their private piano lessons.

You know who you are…

In this photo, you’ll see one of my students’ hands as she begins to work on a Clementi Sonatina that I played in high school. What goes around, comes around. I find that one of the greatest joys in my current existence is the privilege of working with piano students. To see music come alive for them, as the discipline of years of practice and dedication pay off – wow. It connects everything internally – my love of teaching, my passion for music, my genuine fondness for my students – and the reward is like nothing else. It is passion and purpose, and spiritual in ways that I can’t even articulate.

I took a walk through our little village. It’s no Savannah, but it’s home.

Today I was a domestic diva, staying home, listening to my former pastor preach via the magic of the internet (Jamie Rasmussen, Scottsdale Bible Church – the man God used to teach me the most about grace) and cleaning. Sort of. I’m a half-hearted cleaner who is easily distracted, so it was not difficult to interrupt the day with a conversation over coffee with a good friend who also happens to be my current pastor. And my boss. Lots of great stuff going on in life and in our church, and it was good to reconnect.

I was inspired to cook by the incredible tacos at Foxy Loxy.
These are a far cry from Foxy Loxy, but they were homemade and it’s a start….

I visited my church, enjoying very much the glimpse of the faces I love who are carrying out the mission of PCC. I visited my husband. I came home to visit my son, and I listened over the phone as my daughter read a dramatic interpretation of her testimony, which is entangled with my own, and I found myself very emotional.

The freedom to move throughout the day with the undercurrents of grace and inspiration all around me fuels the best, deepest part of my creativity. Things begin to churn and swell and before I know it, they erupt. I know I am where I am supposed to be, and expanded breathing room like this helps me to be my best.

The remaining days of the week include focused study time, artistic inspiration, a structured retreat at Richmond Hill and moments with my boys whenever I can find them.

I’m also thinking of planning a big party. I’m turning 50 in just a few weeks!

I’m grateful for every day of every one of those almost-fifty years; with each day that passes, my gratitude grows for the privilege of life, well-lived. Working, study-breaking, vacationing – it’s good just to be alive.

All These People

I am sitting in Foxy Loxy, a house-turned coffee shop, just a few steps from my
daughter’s apartment in Savannah. It’s a cool, rainy day. I’ve snagged a table on the enclosed porch. Wooden shutters wrap around me at eye level, and the glow of the apple icon on the computers around me are the only connection between those of us parked in this tiny room, coffee in hand.

All my life, I have loved to travel. I visit places and am captivated not just by the things that stand, the places and markers of history and culture, but by this tantalizing thought that always grabs hold of my imagination:

I could live here.

And I could. Really, anywhere I ever go, it comes, unbidden; this projection of what my life would look life if I lived here, in this place, wherever “here” is at the moment.

I love to imagine. The grass is always greener, it seems; and often, it’s not just the place, but some other version of me that fascinates me. Here, surrounded by Spanish moss dripping from the trees, the bulky Bull Street Library gleaming right across the street, the students carrying portfolios and backpacks dodging puddles on the sidewalk, the constant stream of movement. Cars and people. Cars and people.

Lives, intricate and important. All these people…

I’m rambling a bit, obviously. I’ve spent two full days here with my daughter, not as a tourist but as a traveler. I’ve met her friends over coffee, heard the dreams of artists who are passionate about their faith and their art, who are spending their summers serving others at camps and workshops from North Carolina to East Asia. We exclaim delight over the pastries at Back In the Day Bakery and mull over the challenges of city codes for church ministry coffee shops. I’m watching students spend their free day doing construction work – unpaid – for a church project.

All these people…

I spoke at City Church here in Savannah last night, part of a week-long intensive called Movement. I agonized and worried over what I might possibly have to say and share with anyone. My insecurities rear their heads in mighty ways and do a fine job of distraction; but in the end, after a few days of simple real conversations, real dialogue and incredible food, I stood in front of a room full of people and delivered the message. It was, in a word (or 2,833 words, to be exact), simply what I felt God told me to say. All the structure, all the planning, all the time spent molding and shaping an arc of narrative and context – all so much time and energy, reduced to an open mouth and these are the words God gave me to say to you.

And the thing I discovered is this: I have this thing in me, the truth of my life and the daily working out of my own salvation (with fear and trembling) and the small gifts of confession that I give and receive from the people in my daily coming and going and the things I have seen and felt and heard and lived. I have this thing, grounded in a foundational faith and trust in the workings of something beyond the tangible, something ethereal and spiritual and beyond my understanding or sight.

I have this life. I could live here, in Savannah, or I could live in Raleigh or Seattle or Tolar, Texas, or Chagrin Falls, Ohio, or right where I am. I could live anywhere, but I get to embrace the fullness of the life I have lived regardless of where I sit. Last night, I spoke these words: “I have walked this broken earth for almost 50 years…”

I am embracing this now, surrounded by youth and passion and energy and the incredible working swirl of creative fuel for life and Jesus. I have the privilege of speaking and sharing but far greater is the joy of a shared meal, the glimpse into the life my daughter is forging, the tiny graces of God, the energy of beauty and the lives of all these people, intricate and important.

All these people.

God, I am so blessed.

There Were No Easter Baskets

Time just keeps moving us forward. There’s no greater reminder of this for me, lately, than holidays. What once was a foregone conclusion; holiday, big dinner, everybody home – has morphed into something that requires a lot of mobility and flexibility.

Such was Easter this year. The boys are gone, off on a mission trip with their dad in New York City. Sarah is in Savannah. Shannon and Sydni came home for the weekend. Tony and I are still here, and everything swirls around us. 
No complaints. Just the way it is. And I’m okay with that.
Easter was an amazing celebration at our church. I read this post today and realized that I have moved past the emotions he describes into something that is grounded in joy and optimism, more so than in recent years. It is tangible and it is good, and today was an explosion of grace and goodness that I still find

Connie Kottman’s art

inexplicable; but I accept it for what it is and give thanks for a community of faith that gives us room to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

And a good bit of singing and shouting.
There were no Easter baskets for our family this year, which felt a bit odd. But church and a full table and good conversation made up for the absence of candy, fake grass and chocolate bunnies.
It’s been a busy few weeks around here, but I’ve been taking notes. Here’s some links I highly recommend, from writers all connected with PCC in some way:
You can watch today’s service here

Changes

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…”

To quote David Bowie.

I’ve been on staff at PCC as the primary worship leader ever since I’ve started here, seven years ago. The church has grown, our team of musicians has grown.

And I’ve grown. Sideways, sometimes. But that counts, too. I’ve probably learned as much from my failures and mistakes as I have from things we’d say were successful.

When I came to PCC I was very broken, very unsure of myself in many ways. The one thing I knew was that worship was my lifeblood. I’ve been a musician all of my life. I am most myself when I am making music. The invitation to make music at PCC – and to carefully tend a leadership role – was a pivotal point in my life, not only professionally, but also spiritually and emotionally.

So I started singing and playing and leading. And growing.

And the church grew, too.

Growing things change.

It’s been obvious that God has directed some incredibly talented people towards the creative arts team, and in order for them to grow and learn, we’re shifting a few responsibilities around in our leadership structure. These changes won’t make a huge difference in your Sunday morning experience, as you’re accustomed to seeing these folks on stage already; but I thought I’d make an official introduction to you.

Matthew O’Donnell has been at PCC for about 18 months. He came with his family, started making music with us and basically never stopped. Matthew is talented, passionate and loves God. He has a unique mix of intelligence, musical ability and leadership gifting that presented us with an obvious responsibility: To help him grow and learn to use those gifts here at his home church. That’s what we’re doing. I’m glad to share the news that Matthew is the new Worship Coordinator at the Powhatan Campus.

Matt O’Rear came to PCC in the spring of 2012.  Matt and his family worshiped at the Westchester Campus for several months; we had a chance meeting at a local restaurant. Sammy introduced Matt to Lindsay and I and mentioned that he played music. We invited him to come play for us right then and there; he got directions, grabbed a guitar and came to the Powhatan Campus and played for us. Matt’s background includes music business studies at NYU,  music production and engineering studies at Berklee College of Music and church music at Southeastern University. He loves God and is passionate about musical worship. Matt will be the Worship Coordinator at the Westchester Campus.

And although she’s not named “Matthew”, Laura Krzyston has joined the PCC staff as well. You might recall a blog post introducing Laura as our Artist In Residenceit’s been wonderful to have her on board as part of our creative team. She’s written some amazing songs and continued to grow as a part of our community, working with our musicians as well as student ministry. Laura feels strongly that God has called her to travel, but for this current season she is responding to a strong tug towards Fork Union. She will partner with Chauncey Starkey to build a team of musicians at Fork Union, and plans to be part of that community as a resident. Laura holds a degree in music from VCU, has a passionate love for God and is committed to the work of the local church.

I am thrilled to see these three talented individuals step out to invest their time, talent and resources in the work that God is doing in and through PCC. We are better for their presence among us, and as they continue to grow as leaders we will benefit from their imprint on our church. Nothing makes me prouder than to stand in the back of the room and worship under their leadership!

And that’s what I’ll be doing…on some days. Matt, Matthew and Laura will carry a large part of the scheduling and rehearsing for weekend services, and they’ll be on the platform leading consistently. I’m still part of the worship team, and I’ll still  play and sing – but, a lot of my energy will now be focused on equipping and encouraging these new leaders and helping them to be successful. I’ll continue to lead our programming team as the Creative Director and serve on our senior leadership team as we develop strategy and systems for growth.

My friend Walter pointed out that I have a strong maternal streak; I want to protect people in our ministry. I want to see them soar, too. As I grow older, I am beginning to understand that this maternal instinct is a part of my leadership style. It might not be a good fit for a Fortune 500 company, but it’s part of the unique wiring that God gave me. I think it’s a good fit for His people, too.

I’m glad for it.

I hope you’ll welcome Matthew, Matt and Laura – and I hope you’ll prayerfully support and encourage all the leaders of PCC as we move into a new, exciting year of change!

Advice To Worship Leaders

I was driving home this afternoon, and I had this thought:

I’m really humble.


No, really.

Isn’t that crazy? I mean, what kind of person calls themselves humble and is, in fact, humble? Isn’t that a big, fat oxymoron?

I remember being in a conversation once – for the life of me, I can’t remember who, but that’s par for the course these days, because I’m lucky if I can remember my own name. It’s hormonal, I think.

Anyway – where was I? Oh, right. That conversation.

Somebody was telling me about themselves in regards to serving on our arts team, and the comment they made was, “Oh, I get humility. I’m the most humble person you’ll ever meet.”


Now that is messed up.

But back to my point: It has to do with the way I do my job. I had lots of meetings this week, with lots of dialogue and conversation. I’m working on some strategic planning for the summer that involves a good bit of collaboration. And in every one of those situations, I’m investing time and energy into processing, thinking through and then pitching ideas – my ideas. That’s what I get paid for, that’s my calling, that’s my role and responsibility. I’m often invited into places where my opinion or evaluation is requested, and I tread very carefully; but I use my brain and my experience and my discernment and I offer ideas and suggestions and plans. Sometimes with a great deal of passion.

Then there’s the music leading part, too; I have strong feelings about how we’re called to serve the church and one another as musicians. I also have strong feelings about how songs ought to sound and how a service ought to flow, about who has potential and a calling to lead worship and who might not be quite ready. I’m not ashamed of voicing those opinions, of pushing through to create things that I believe will honor God and inspire people. Things that will be excellent.

But undergirding all this opining and leading that I do is a very specific underlying assumption. I rest my pride and ego upon it, and I also balance a great deal of confidence here, because I know, ultimately, that working from this premise makes me better. And makes our team better.

Regardless of all my great ideas, I always believe that somebody else has a better idea. 

I always believe that somebody else is more on top of things, smarter, brighter, more effective, more efficient. Not just that they might, but that they are. And that they have better ideas than I do.

At its worst, I’ll cling to this life-raft of insecurity and cry myself a pity party in which I am old and decrepit and useless and jealous. Oh, yes. Sometimes that happens.

But at its best, I passionately believe that I am leaning hard into Paul’s words in Philippians*, which I think are dead on:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. 

Or, as creatively voiced by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

This is important to me. I think it’s important to my job, to our church, and ultimately, to the community. I think it resonates with me because I’ve screwed up so royally by looking to my own selfish interests first and foremost, by being obsessed with getting what I wanted. I’ve swung the pendulum the other way.

It’s better this way. And it matters.

If I could give counsel to any person leading in the creative arts field, most especially to worship leaders, I would say this: the sooner you own this sort of humility, the better. You’ll be better. The people you lead will be better. And even though you might say stupid things to yourself like, “Gee – I’m really humble!”, in the long run it’ll be fine. It works.

*Philippians 2.3

Holiness Swaddled In The Simple: Chasing Francis

This past October I attended the STORY conference in Chicago. It was a hipster scene.

I felt a bit out of place.

But what I experienced there stuck with me at a primal level. It was more than a standard conference experience, partly due to the diversity of presenters and activities.There was a laser-like focus on the purpose of the gathering. STORY was about story, and every part of the two-day schedule was wrapped around the idea that story is paramount. It was the best investment of time and money in a conference that I’ve made in a decade.

(That’s saying a lot, because we drove a 15-passenger van 15 hours straight through from Virginia to Chicago. That’s a serious investment of time.)

(By the way, the STORY2012 website is live. You can go this year. I recommend it.)

Anyway, from All Sons and Daughters’ singing (“I am set free / I am set free / It is for freedom that I am set free…”) to Ann Voskamp reading from her beautiful book to the jaw-dropping wonder of Kyle Cooper showing and telling his title sequence work to John Mark McMillan wailing “God’s Murdered Son”, we had some exquisite experiences.

But none was more powerful than Ian Morgan Cron. He sat on a stool. He told his story. He played a beautiful piece of music over us as a benediction. And I was profoundly moved; internally broken open, raw and vulnerable, connecting somehow with the deepest part of the story he shared.

Honestly, I remember very few of the specifics – no points or paradigm shifts. I simply remember being invited into a sacred, holy place, led by one who gave voice to the commonality of our brokenness.

We walked together into grace and redemption.

Into beauty.

I bought Cron’s memoir, Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me then and there, and devoured it as soon as we returned home. I cried, connected with the sorrow of a life lived like most of us; points of pain, pinnacles of joy, a brilliant grace shining through it all that glows brightest in the looking back. It was a beautiful book, a well-written story, a true thing.

 I made note of this other book that he had written, his first: Chasing Francis, but assumed Francis was some sort of Father Timothy Kavanagh character like Jan Karon’s Mitford books (for which I have a soft spot). I ignored it.

Until this week.

I’ve been following Ian Cron on Twitter. Reminded by his 140-character missives of why I liked his memoir so much, I decided to read Chasing Francis as my Easter benediction; something to soak in as I worked out the muscles and joints of all that Easter celebrations require from church staff.

What immense joy.

The premise did not initially appeal to me – but that was out of my own ignorance. I know very little about early church fathers, including – and perhaps especially – the saints. The Francis in the title refers to St. Francis of Assisi, whom I connect with only because I have sung the words of his prayer in a choral setting:

Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace 
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
Where there is sadness, joy; 

O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

The novel begins in a deceptively simple fashion; in the first few pages, you might think you’re reading some cheesy “Christian fiction” title designed to extract sanitized conflict and drama from contemporary church culture. It is all that – and more – but the sanitized conflict gives way to demonstrate the dark night of the soul, not just of the main character in the novel, but of the state of modern Christianity. Cron twists and molds a modern-day fable out of the raw humanity of characters who are quite familiar to any of us who live in the 21st century, but in particular to those who have encountered the best and worst of humankind within the contemporary evangelical church.

Early in the book, Cron places a line of dialogue that stopped me cold: 

“All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.” 

Chasing Francis tells the story of life as ministry, a long, ragged cord connecting centuries of pain turned to purpose for those seeking God. Over, around and through religion and church practices, Cron teaches and gently beckons the reader toward a deeper, richer perspective.

Art that is excellent – that honors God and inspires people – sings truth in a dynamic way. A beautiful, true painting; an authentic, transcendent piece of music – these things can be life-changing as you experience them. Some books are that way, too; you read and you are transported to a rare place, a setting apart from reality and yet completely real in your soul.

Cron writes, “True holiness is often swaddled in the simple”. This book is that rare, simple experience for me. Sacred and holy. And highly recommended.

I happen to have an extra copy of Chasing Francis, and I’d love for you to have it. Leave a comment (with an email contact) here on the blog if you’re interested. If there’s more than one, I’ll pull a name out of a hat on Saturday. 

Gosh Darn It, God Likes Me!

You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Philipians 4.19-20 The Message


My Day, Part 1
Paid bills this morning. It’s been an expensive month; graduation, etc. Yikes.
I’m out of checks. I didn’t put a check in the offering box at church yesterday.
I remembered that we can give online. So I did.
It always seems a little ironic; I mean, the church pays me because I’m an employee, and then I turn around and give some of it back. But obedience brings blessing. I want to learn how to live generously.
My Day, Part 2
Got the mail this afternoon.
Found a refund check from Ann Taylor. Looks like I overpaid the bill somehow. So they sent me some money. Pretty close to what I gave when I clicked “donate now” on the PCC website.
It always seems a little ironic; I mean, God makes provision for me through a job and a steady paycheck. And then I turn around a give some of it back. And then He turns around and gives some of it back. And then…well, you get the picture…..