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.

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

Trusting In Advance

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s not difficult to admit that change is good. We do not become who we need to be without altered circumstances, in spite of the pain in the process. It’s hard to believe until we are well past the gate, but change always has the potential to be good. It gives us the opportunity to be better, to grow, to lean forward and dig deeper. Once we’re there, we can nod our heads at our own history, we can acknowledge the results.

But it’s hard to believe, in the midst of the turmoil. My friend Lisa posted this quote by the Philip Yancey (author of one of the most transformative books I’ve read, The Jesus I Never Knew):

“I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”


If you live in the paradigm of grace, change triggers growth, resulting in faith.

But it’s hard to see.

There are so many around me who are enduring painful change in this season; difficult medical diagnoses, basic surgical procedures gone wrong, loss of jobs, imploding marriages, changing relationships that change the future. In the chaos of their circumstances, there is pain. It is difficult.

One person I know said, with no small amount of anger, “I don’t want any canned Christian phrases. I can’t even cope…” God bless you. I don’t want any canned Christian phrases either.


I sat down to write this morning about the current season of change in my life; how my three daughters are all living somewhere other than this house this summer, and how my anxiety almost crippled me as I contemplated life without the swirling mass of female energy that has always defined our home life. Like a rushing wind, some weather event of joyful energy, my emotional energy has been fixated on my daughters. There have words – many, many words! – and questions and laughter and tears and let’s not forget the massive amount of clothes everywhere. There’s stuff of the practical, daily living, and matters of the heart, the way that big, broad personalities fill up all the empty space in the house. The way the dynamic of sisterhood brings intense conflict and incredible love. It is big, and it is busy, and loud and emotional. And it’s all I’ve known, for almost two decades.

And now? Change. Quiet. Space. Vision. There’s the general contemplation of what comes next for the girls, as each one prepares for college and work and new relationships and independent living – anxiety on a different level. But also, there are eyes to see (mine) the young men who have lived in the midst of the swirl, space to hear them and settle into silence and uncomplicated maleness. I have a sixteen-year old son. I have a thirteen-year old son. The shade of their sisters gone, they are in my field of vision now, and I am discovering the joy of a more complete and focused love for them, without distraction and unhindered by their role as, simply, The Boys.

I sat down to write about that sort of change this morning, to acknowledge that I have survived, it’s not so bad, and that it has been surprisingly good. I have settled into something that makes sense, and I have discovered that I really, really like being the only female in a house of men; not only the ones who live here, but also the ones that tag along with them, crashing on the floor to eat ramen and drink Gatorade and sleep, arms and legs flailing, on the couch in the midst of it all.

I sat down to write about this good place I am easing into, and of the irony of a 12:17AM phone call last night, from a daughter who had a week’s worth of words that needed room to roam.

Things have changed, and some of what is different still bruised and tender. I miss my girls. I pray for their safety and stave off worry and anxiety over their well-being. My maternal cloak of protection stayed home with me, and I leave them to their good sense and the watch care of God.

Change is painful, regardless of the circumstances and details. I have known the backbreaking pain of the big ticket items; illness and loss and death and divorce and sin and shame. The relatively minor (and somewhat natural) process of releasing my children to independent lives pales in comparison, but change is painful, no matter the details.


Yet the result is always the same, when you look back; the aching may remain, as Andrew Peterson says – but the breaking does not. The cracks are filled in.

Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.


Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.


Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: 


The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.


Struggling with current circumstances? I have no pithy phrases to alter your perspective.

But because you cannot see, the paradox of growth is put into motion.

And that’s a good thing.

What Kind Of Wife?

My husband has been gone most of the past two weeks, out of town to take care of a family medical emergency. All is well, and he is due home shortly.

It’s been an interesting time.

We are newly married, only about 2 1/2 years, and after 40+ years of life for me, 30 months seems like the blink of an eye. I love the man dearly; love who he is and how he conducts his life. I love that I am better with him beside me, that he balances me in just about every way possible.

I love our life together.

It’s been stressful lately, though; a huge season of transition. Kids moving in and out, a major home addition, a new business, health issues, life in general. Our relationship is good, but we’ve been clinging to faith and hope and love more than we’ve been able to live it. We love each other; we just don’t have a lot of time or energy to be in love.

I think that’s just the way it is, mostly. Life is like this for people in this season of life. He told me the other day, “We aren’t retired, yet. We have a few years of work ahead of us…”

So in his absence, a curious thing has happened. For two weeks, I have stretched out a bit, spread my arms wide, slept in all of the bed, turned on the light whenever I wanted to, like I used to. I’ve focused fully on the kids, like I used to. I’ve felt less anxious, less concerned about how the house looks, whether or not there’s food left over (he always gets home late, after closing the music store). I’ve been less self-conscious and more self-aware. Like I used to.

I miss him, for sure. I can’t wait till he calls me and tells me about his day and we listen to one another breathe on the phone before we hang up, way too late for a 615AM alarm. I send him text messages and email. I miss him.

Like I used to.

There’s something wonderful and fresh about this longing. We’re apart, and the fondness is, indeed, growing.

But it scared me, to realize all of this. To admit, in my head, that I missed him but I was okay.

That somehow, I was breathing easier.

It scared me, and I pushed it all away, and buried it, and leaned harder into the waiting for his call.

And then the other night, I gave in, and I thought about it all, and how it was probably okay that I kind of liked this quick revisit to that other place, where it was me and just me. I lived that way, lived it hard, for eight years. It was me, only me, and the bed was always all mine and my heart was for my kids and when I let go at the end of a long day, I sunk into a place that was just me, and it was good. Easy. Comfortable.

And then I felt called to make a marriage, to commit, to have a partner in the second half of this life. I loved and respected him. I knew, deep in my heart, that he was for me. I chose the “yes”, and I dressed like a princess and walked towards him alone, down an aisle lined with my history, into a circle of the best love I’ve ever known, my children and my friends and my brother and sister-in-law and my pastor and his tears, who tethered me to grace through the working out, through the fear and trembling. I said, “yes”.

I chose, and it’s been the up and down and chaotic and busy and crazy and fun and deeply joyful. It’s been the holding hands, side by side. It’s been the passion and the risk, the wide and the deep.

We lived it, up and down, holding on for dear life. And lately, it’s been tenuous. But still good, solid. It is our life.

And then these few weeks apart, and I’ve been reminded of the wide open spaces I walked through when it was Just Me.

And I whispered, finally, the truth to myself.

“I kind of like this.”


“This is easier.”

Secrets bind anxiety, and I let go my secret to my own ears, and then knew I needed some other ears. I started an email to my most trusted advisor, asking for a few moments, thinking I could pour my heart out and admit my feelings and get some good counsel.

I finished the first sentence and I stopped. I heard his voice, this advisor, and I knew what he would say.

“Have you talked to Tony about this?”

My fear leapt into my throat, and I recognized that Independent Girl, the single mom, the one who Takes Care Of Everything; the part of me that lives in fear, that fixes everything herself, that hates vulnerability, that bears all the burdens. That part of me was terrified to speak these things aloud to the man I loved, afraid of rejection, afraid of letting him process these feelings that had a life of its own.

What kind of wife is content and relaxed when her husband is gone?
A failure.
A bad wife.

I longed to choose the easy, to keep it to myself, to manage it on my own.
I have control issues, but I’m learning.

I picked up the phone, and I called, even though it was after midnight, and I let my heart spill out, carried in the mucky sludge of anxiety and fear and failure.

What kind of wife is content and relaxed when her husband is gone?

It seems odd, I’m sure; but I was terrified. But I told him how I felt, and he responded with understanding beyond my own, layered with love and compassion, and before I realized what had happened, love snuck under my fear and got in between the cracks of my doubt and squeezed until it hurt. He got it, he validated it, he loved me anyway. I admitted my failure.

He loved me anyway.

This is my life. It is not easy.

But I’ve chosen this, and I’m in for keeps.

And he’s on his way home.

I can’t wait.

In Which The Truth Comes Out

I’m house cleaning. Music pours through the empty halls and off the walls as I wait for three of my five kids to make the 45-minute trip from their dad’s house back home. I’m in the kitchen, and I can hear the shuffle of the melodies from the living room.

Eminem – Tenth Avenue North – Susan Graham – Michael Roe – U2 – Willie Nelson – A.R. Rahman – Andrew Bird – Dave Matthews – Jay Z – Lecrae – Hillsong – Sting –

I’m unsure about so many things these days, including what kind of music I want. So I put it on shuffle. It works brilliantly. There’s a little bit of everything – a LOT of everything!

I think, to myself, “This music….it’s like I’m schizophrenic or something…” and I imagine me saying that to someone, because I do that, sometimes, when I’ve spent a few too many hours alone.

And I pull up short in that moment. It’s that word, schizophrenia. Because I have learned, recently, that comparing the challenges of a mental illness like schizophrenia to the razzle-dazzle of an eclectic music collection meets a wide range of criteria for wrong.

There is no comparison. Bad analogy.

I’m not schizophrenic. I just have diverse taste in music. I don’t have a mental illness.

But my daughter does.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

There it is. I said it. The truth is out.

And oh, the roaring rush of wind that blows through mind as I even type those words…it is loud and it is fast and it blows where it will. And I can’t control it.

So I am giving up control. I have decided (with her permission) to let it go.

It seems, at times, that we live in two separate worlds. It’s not the biggest secret; there are many who will read these words and acknowledge what was confided months ago. Coming out is no surprise to all.

But we have lived in this other place, where we read blogs about bipolar and pass around a book called Loving Someone Who Is Bipolar and we talk about and pray for friends who are exhibiting symptoms that we recognize so well. We talk about our extended family, and those who have gone before, some undiagnosed, and what cousins are struggling still. We see the scarred branches of our particular family tree and have learned to find new names for what we once simply called moody. Or over the top. Or intense. Or hyper.

And we live in this place where we are all just a bit sensitive to the mania and the depression and the way the tendrils of either one can wrap around our legs and throw us on our collective asses.

Bipolar disease has changed our family dramatically, because we live here, now.

Sarah was diagnosed just a few weeks after her 19th birthday. Calling it what it was – naming this thing that was bouncing off the walls and scratching itself bloody on our backsides – led to a decision (hers, mostly) to walk into St. Mary’s psych ward here in Richmond. Reliving those moments as I watched my child – my baby girl! my daughter! my beautiful child! – walk through doors locked to keep me out as much as to keep her in brings hot, tense tears even now.

Of all the things that life has brought; of the many mistakes I have made, the pain I have caused, the injuries I have inflicted, the wounds I have felt, nothing – absolutely nothing – compares of the utter agony of a suffering child.

My suffering child.

And me, rendered completely incapable of helping her. In fact, quite the opposite, as therapy and hot dialogue reveal that the initial triggers all connect to me, somehow. Those tight, tense strings of maternal love and affection can also carry deadly, destructive disease.

I am her mother. I bring healing, and I bring pain.

There is a special place for this sort of motherhood. I’ve yet to determine any analogy, any comparison. I know this: that there is a depth to my soul untouched and likely unreachable by anything but the fiery coals that sear this tainted love, the kind that rages within the boundaries of mania and weeps with the despair of depression. Only this particular, unforgettable fire burns this deep. None other that I have felt.

I love my daughter. She is bipolar. And we will never be the same.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah is incredibly wise and proactive and continues to embrace – even to own her life, in a full and vibrant way. The challenges of living with mental illness are greater for her, the affected individual, than any of the rest of us; but Sarah has a unique, God-given ability to consider others around her. Perhaps it’s because she is the eldest, the “big sister”. Years of looking out for everybody else created habits and patterns of bold love and heartfelt kindness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Today, she sent a note to me and to her sisters, quoting a book she is reading. It was the trigger to finally tug these words out from beyond the walls of our house and into the light.

So, now you know. And I wonder if some of you read this post and were surprised.

It’s everywhere. There are people and families all around us who live with bipolar and other mental illness. The spectrum of treatment and life engagement varies wildly. You never know.

In opening the door to our situation, we hope to offer an invitation toward healing for other families who are living with bipolar disease or other mental illness. And we want to help eliminate the stigma. Everyone around you is carrying some sort of burden. Some of them struggle with mental illness. Don’t forget that.

Here’s the quote Sarah sent us, how she is helping her siblings walk this road:

The effects of mental illness on brothers and sisters
Mental illness can lead to a variety of emotional effects for brothers and sisters of the affected person. For example, they may feel:
Confusion about their sibling’s changed behaviour.
Embarrassment about being in the affected person’s company.
Jealous of their parent’s attention.
Resentment about not being like their peers.
Fear of developing the mental illness.

What brothers and sisters can and can’t do
What you can do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can:
Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.
Be active in improving mental health services – for example, through local mental health support groups.
Avoid making the ill person the axis around which the family revolves.
Maintain your focus on living and enjoying your own life.
What you can’t do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can’t:
Be totally responsible for their welfare.
Make your sibling behave in a certain way – for example, force them to take their medication.
Solve all their problems or feel you ought to.
Lessen the impact of the illness by pretending that it is not there.

And this is the back story, then, to the tremendous emotion behind that post I wrote. You see, leaving home and taking this step towards her future was something that she wasn’t sure she’d ever really be able to do. That’s why we cried; that’s why we rejoice.

You never know.

Swagger

Just a few days ago I was thinking about how my family dynamic has changed since my oldest girls got their drivers’ licenses.  Used to be, we had to pile five kids into the Suburban together to go anywhere. We didn’t fit anywhere else. There were always heated arguments about who got to sit up front – they would run towards the car screaming, “SHOTGUN!!!” and subsequently debate whether or not the word itself trumped the physical possession of the front seat. We’ve argued and sung and laughed our way through many a mile in our big red Suburban.

No more. Now Sarah and Shannon have their own cars and the occasion for all of us to travel together is rare.

I remember the first van we bought; it wasn’t worth much, an old square GM van we purchased in Hico, Texas. It didn’t last long; it came with a bum transmission and within a few months we were trading it in for something that actually ran. With only two kids in the family, we weren’t quite mini-van material, but from that point forward we needed large vehicles to transport our crew.

I love my Suburban, but these days it’s used more as a shuttle for Sunday morning church services than it is for our family.

So this made me smile, and just a bit nostalgic. I’m thinking about all the folks I know with young children and swagger wagons. Those days passed way too quickly, it seems.

Enjoy – creative marketing and great filmmaking.

Feels Like Home

Syd takes voice lessons in the city. Every time I drive her into the quaint neighborhood that curves around the James River, my heart quickens. The old frame houses huddle like unique old relatives at a reunion, snug in the shadow of the glass and metal buildings shining just across the river. It appeals to me.

I was born in a small town in western Pennsylvania. Until I started first grade, we lived “in town”. It was considered a great escape to get out to the country, living on five acres next to my aunt, uncle and grandparents in the new house my parents’ built. It was a good life out there, but something was formed in me during those first few years that has never left. Memories of living in Franklin – in town – are stitched on my heart.
Narrow city streets and sidewalks, houses built at the turn of the century or earlier. A massive courthouse and city parks, a library within walking distance. Quintessential small town life.
I’ve always felt like a small town girl.
These days, I’m out in a rural county about 30 miles from Richmond. It’s a large county, too spread out to offer much of that small town, walk-about feel. We have the county seat – and the County Seat Restaurant – and you can walk to the Y or the library from there. But there’s precious little housing available in the courthouse area, and most of us live spread out all over the place. It doesn’t feel like a small town.
A few weeks ago Tony and I had lunch at Karen’s City Diner in Richmond. As we navigated the neighborhood, I said, “You know, if anything ever happens to you, I’m moving to the city…” He smiled and nodded. I’ve said that before. I’m committed to raising my kids where they are – the public schools are excellent and this is home for them. Tony loves the rural lifestyle.
But I go into the city and drive through neighborhoods with houses rich in character, neighborhood grocers and diners, linear blocks and corner bus stops and something in me just quickens. Every time I go to town, my heart stirs. I can imagine a life in the city; walking to the market every day, the feeling of everything close at hand, the energy of so much of life in such close proximity. What intrigues me is what’s going on behind all those closed doors, in the hearts and heads of the people walking up and down the street, in between the boys and girls in love, holding hands as they stroll past the front porches. So much life, it seems.
Tonight was no different. I dropped Syd off and then just drove around for a while, discovering where the streets wound, how the weirdly angled intersection resolved, what the local Oriental market looked like. I watched the people moving around as I cruised with the flow of traffic. I pictured myself there, in one of the houses that was for sale, perched on a stoop with a cup of coffee.
It leaves this odd taste of nostalgia in my head. I know it’s tied to my earliest memories, to black and white photos of me posed on a sprawling front porch of a three-story mansion on Elk Street. I know it’s something as closely tied to imagination and wonder as it is to real estate and quality of life in 2010. I know there’s a little “grass is always greener” yearning in me. I don’t quite trust it, but there’s this feeling that my life would be somehow more authentic if I lived in the city, if I got back to being “in town”.
Tonight, though, something occurred on the drive home. It surprised me. As we headed west, we navigated the six-laned Midlothian Turnpike through the city limits and into Chesterfield County. Strip malls, development, small businesses, fast food; out of the charm of the city and into the sad, bruised facade of old urban sprawl. Stop lights and shopping malls. Ugly.
We reached the western side of Chesterfield, the place where the development just seemed to stop and the clutter tapered off. The car crested a small rise in the road and I saw open spaces, green trees, blue skies.
Involuntarily, I sighed. And a word came to my mind spontaneously, unbidden.
Home. I was headed home. It was there, out there in those wide open spaces.
I was ready for it, anticipating it. I just didn’t realize it.
In the grocery store tonight, I ran into five different people that I know in the community. There were hugs, or smiles, or small waves. Conversations. Questions about the kids. I never go anywhere here that I don’t see someone I know – not just a vague recognition, but someone I know well enough to stop and say “hi”. I’ve lived here for just shy of six years now – longer than I have lived ANYWHERE in my adult life.
It’s home.