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.

Books I Think You Should Read

I’ve read three books recently that I think you should read.

First, there was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I grabbed this on a whim, after receiving a nice iTunes gift card for Christmas. I bought a bit of music (Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album, which I know by heart but only own as an record) and then looked for something to read over our Christmas holiday. I downloaded it to my iPad, began it right before we headed home from Ohio and could. not. stop. reading.

In fact, a few weeks later, when I suffered a torn retina, I felt so guilty; I was certain that six hours winding through the back roads of Pennsylvania and Virginia while staring at my iPad because I couldn’t devour that book fast enough was the culprit. Full disclosure: the doctor said, “Absolutely not. It’s just your nearsightedness and your age.”
There we go with the age thing again…
Anyway, Gone Girl was a fascinating read. An interesting whodunit with a a huge twist and a tantalizing look at a marriage from the inside out, and back in again. I really, really enjoyed the read – can’t say I’m a better person for spending a few hours with this book, but it was absolutely entertaining. Highly recommended for a beach or vacation read.
Next up: The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana. This book was completely unfamiliar to me; my mother-in-law handed it to me when we arrived in Cleveland. She mentioned something about Syria and the current political situation and said, “I think you might like this.”
The thought of delving into Middle Eastern politics was, to be honest, not appealing. But I trusted her instincts, took the book home and picked it up early in January.
Oh, my.  This memoir traces Saldana’s journey to study Arabic in Damascus, to explore her own spirituality, to dig into the pain of her past and the uncertainty of her future, all with an unapologetic and unglamorous tint. A realistic look at an Eat, Pray, Love journey without the sex and the Cosmo-girl style vibe I pulled out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir – though I did admire Gilbert’s journey and did enjoy her book. There’s just something a bit earthier about Saldana’s work; perhaps the spiritual exploration was more resonant for me. Perhaps the ending – which brought me to tears (actually, not the ending per se, but the acknowledgements – you must read the acknowledgements to get the full story) was so much more satisfying. Whatever. This book completely surprised me, which made me love it more. You will do well to read this book. Especially Lisa and Diane and Tammy and Donia and my mom; you will love this book.
Lastly, I dug into Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. Let me share here that much of my reading material is courtesy of my mom; she uses the Chesterfield County Public Library book reservation system like her own personal reading valet. Every week, another wildly popular new book gets her name strapped to it with a rubber band; she gets the notice and in she goes to claim her prizes. I always get to read our favorite authors’ newest works thanks to my mom and her system. I love that we share this. Anyway, the Kingsolver book came in thanks to mom’s system, and she kindly let me read it first.
I can’t say that it was a compelling read; it was, actually, a bit of a chore to get through. But two-thirds of the way in, there was no way I was giving up on the characters. I loved the way Barbara Kingsolver wraps the language into rich, authentic dialogue; the way her characters burrow into the day and somehow become part of the landscape. While reading, I wouldn’t have said that I loved the book; but now, a week later, I still can’t stop thinking about the characters. They are still out there, somewhere; very much real. Incredibly well-crafted, beautifully honed technique. I really admire Barbara Kingsolver and I’m very glad I read this book.
Next up on the list: Finishing Anne Lamott’s Help Thanks Wow – it’s a small book, but I’m reading slowly and letting it sink in – and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Not on the list, but still in process are a few books for work: re-reading The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. 
You? Anything on YOUR list worth reading?

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

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.

When She Touches Me, Amazing Things Happen

When she touches me, amazing things happen.

Got your attention, I suppose.
 In preparation for my marriage to Tony a few years ago, we each read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Great, accurate concepts about communication; if you have relationships at all (which should be just about everybody, right?), you should read this book – for yourself, and for those you care about. Anyway, my primary love language is actually a dead on tie between two: Words of Affirmation (I am SUCH a words girl!) and Physical Touch.

I’m well-balanced.

Seriously, I’ve learned from this book; I’m more self-aware, and it helps me communicate with others and REALLY helps my husband and others communicate with me.

In the past year or so, I’ve been on the receiving end of exhortations to “take care of myself” from various sources. Most of them know me well enough to give good advice. I’ve explored a few methods of self-care, most of which seem – alright, to be honest, all of which – fairly self-indulgent to me.

But since I’m a words girl and a physical touch girl, I began to consider how this knowledge might help me stay emotionally and spiritually healthy.

Words are words. Tell me something good, as Chaka Khan said so poignantly. That’s pretty easy.

As for physical touch, let’s get something out of the way first: Physical Touch is not necessarily the same thing as Sexual Touch. Obviously, there can be a connection – but the love language part of it clearly delineates a difference.

Touch. To me, touch communicates with great power. It is affirming, connecting, healing. I’m a touchy person – it’s how I say, “I love you” most often to my kids, to my husband, with a touch or a squeeze or a pat or a hug. One of my dearest, fondest memories of my grandmother –  who was built the same way – I feel.  She scratched my back on a long car ride, or kept her hand on my leg while we sat on the porch talking. I knew she loved me. I felt it. I’ve never forgotten it.

So, back to the touching thing. I know this woman, Marian.

Marian is a massage therapist.

Every three or four weeks, I spend an hour with Marian.

And when she touches me, amazing things happen.

Marian works a a local chain that is convenient to my house. She’s been to my church a few times; I’ve met significant others in her life, so there’s an interesting sort of trust and rapport. We’re not really friends, but we’re more than acquaintances, and that makes a difference. To me, anyway.

So, now to the massage thing: because I trust Marian, because I know that she places her hands on my forehead before she begins her work and prays for me, because I believe that this is good for me, I have come to believe a monthly massage as something other than indulgence. It once seemed like something only bored, rich ladies would do. Because I am far from bored OR rich, I’ve come to see a different purpose.

Massage therapy heals me. It restores me. In the context of my love language, I know it affirms me. And, interestingly enough, something more powerful has begun to play out. In a world where body image is a challenge for many of us, women in particular, massage therapy has given me a place to connect with my physical self in a way that is completely and totally non-sexual. There’s no evaluation of my weight or shape or height or skin tone; it’s my body, as it is, being worked towards healing, much like a doctor would do. I feel better about myself, because I have a chance to experience my body in a context that feels a whole lot more like what God intended than the daily struggle with how I look and whether or not I’m acceptable.

I didn’t expect this, and I certainly didn’t start out feeling this way. It was awkward, because I didn’t really know how it would be, to be touched and pushed and prodded and rubbed. But what I experience now is almost surreal and sort of existential: I just am. I am there, in my body, and the touch affirms me, and I am better for it.

When she touches me, amazing things happen. 

Through massage therapy, I’ve learned more about myself, about my health, about my need to be still. I’ve learned to accept myself. It’s been very healing. It is spiritual, prayerful. It brings clarity and peace. Sometimes it still feels self-indulgent, but if I forfeit a night out or a dinner with my husband, it fits our budget. And I think it’s an investment worth making.

I’m better for it.

What about you? Massage – yes or no? Good or icky?

BTW – special shout out to Lindsay Durrenburger, who writes wonderfully over at Fueled By Diet Coke. Her blog has caused me to think much more carefully about self-care and body image and all sorts of things that matter. One of the reasons I’m so okay with massage therapy is because of Lindsay. Even though I don’t know if she thinks massage is cool or icky. Whatever. That’s what friends are for, right?

Hear. See. Notice. Eric Johnson.

“The musical style of Eric Johnson…features electric rock instrumentation, blues influences, great musicianship, mild rhythmic syncopation and demanding instrumental part writing.”

That’s how Pandora describes the music currently filling my ears (and those of any patrons of our music store, since I’m minding the counter this evening. And blogging. It’s a slow night…)

Last weekend I saw Eric Johnson play live at the Dallas Guitar Show. It was the third or fourth time I’ve seen him in concert; the first being way back in the early 80’s at Fat Dawg’s in Lubbock, Texas, when he was just a young – and incredibly talented –  musical brat with a bad mullet.

Then again, so was I. A musician with a mullet, that is. Not even in the same league with the talent level. But oh, yes; I had me a mullet.

We sat in a small hall Saturday afternoon and watched Eric Johnson play an hour’s worth of Jimi Hendrix tunes with two other exquisite musicians who lived and breathed every nuance with him.

Watch his hands, the fluidity of his phrasing, the precision of every accent. Close your eyes and feel the simmering purity of his tone. Follow the arc of the melody he shapes, beyond just a formatted verse/verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus line.

It’s otherworldly. It’s just so much more.

But here’s the thing: I’ve watched my boys master “Cliffs of Dover” on Guitar Hero. I’ve listened to “Bristol Shore” and made note of the solos. I can crank it up loud and experience the precise execution of his craft with time to soak it all in.

And yet, I don’t. Hardly ever. Quite honestly, I’m not much interested in listening to his recordings. I don’t own any of his cds.

But I’d drive three hours to see him twice a week if it was possible.

It’s the experience. Hearing the music as I watch his fingers fly across the frets, seeing his lithe body twist and snap as he punches the beat, noticing the nod he offers to his band mates when he’s winding up the tune. Hearing. Seeing. Noticing.

It’s not a far stretch to see how this applies to life; to my family, to the community I find in my church, the working relationships at my job and the connection I feel in my own musical pursuits.

Hear. 

See. 

Notice.

It’s how I want to live, with just a bit more intentionality and a lot more awareness. It’s what I want to create, how I want to engage. In this day of instant digital memories and mp3s you can create in your spare bedroom in 30 minutes, I want to be part of something otherworldly. Whether part of the creation process or just engaged in the experience, I want to be part of something that is more.

Do you? I mean, really; how and when does this come to you? What is the more that strikes your heart and stirs your soul?