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

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!

Snorkeling Day In Puerto Rico

Mason

 The folks who plan the World Changers trips encourage the need for a day or two of acclimation prior to work.

This sort of acclimation is a tremendous blessing.

I could get used to this. But today, we move to the camp at Juana Diaz and get ready to work.

We were in Paraguera, Puerto Rico. I’d like to come back.

Happy girls

Tyler is not fond of being photographed.

Sam

It’s Daniel Hughes, reading a book. Surprised?

Even the chaperones are happy!

Contemplating life or about to jump?

There’s always something there to remind me…

More of the happy.

And more….starting to see a theme?

Figuring out the masks and fins.

The little boat crew.

Superman.

MORE happy chaperones!

The BIG boat crew.

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

Church Today

Wow.

Some days just work.

Sometimes it’s my attitude.

Sometimes it’s a great combination of people.

Sometimes it’s the fresh wind of grace.

Today, our gathering of worship was just that. We were whipped and caressed with grace.

And it was good. In spite of all the things that we control that failed to occur, the mistakes made, balls dropped…in spite of our rank humanity, we experienced the presence of God in an amazing, tangible way.

This I know, because I have no words. At some point, words become meaningless. It was, quite simply, a time of fullness, redemption, truth and grace.

Amen.

Like Jonathan

My heart is swelling.

I’m sure pride is sinful in some way; “pride goeth before a fall” and all that…

But I am PROUD. No other way to say it.

Three of the young men pictured have been part of my life in some way since 2000, when we first moved from Texas to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. We met Steve Smith (center), his brother Jeff (fourth from the left) and Dan Prout (furthest to the right) at Fellowship Bible Church. They were awesome, intelligent young men who appreciated the challenges of living a life of faith. They loved God. They loved their families. They loved their church.

And they loved music.

Some of my very favorite memories are from summer VBS weeks, where these guys and a few others would get together to be the worship band. I got to lead with them for a few years and we had such amazing times, learning ridiculously fun songs for kids and leading them in worship every morning with crazy passion. I was privileged to have some incredible moments of worship with Steve, Jeff and Dan – the kind that sear your soul with the presence of God and leave you changed.

These guys are all amazing musicians. Gifted songwriters, good friends to one another and to others. Passionate about life and people and Jesus.

They’ve just released a really good EP. I really hope you’ll check it out. The depth of writing is excellent, the recording quality is stellar, and they’ve got some great music on this album.

You can listen to them here.

Better yet, buy the EP at iTunes here.

You might want to familiarize yourself with their music, because we’re working on getting them down here in October to be part of some PCC worship experiences. Now that will be incredible.

I can’t wait to introduce you to these guys.

I am SO proud!

A Blog Post In Which I Compare The Bible To Lettuce Wraps

In the process of speaking with someone about their spiritual journey last week, I found our conversation to be quite – well, convicting is the buzz word we use in spiritual circles. We say we are “convicted” when our internal alarms go off, when we realize our hand is stuck in the cookie jar and someone knows. When hypocrisy is evident. When something we do fails to line up with what we say.

We were talking about what informs our faith, how we are living into the label of Christ-follower. And I found myself convicted.
My Bible-reading is hit or miss. Not a day goes by that I don’t refer to something I have read from the Bible. Much is hidden in my heart, in my memory. There is no doubt that my life and thoughts and deeds are informed and influenced by scripture. I’m a Christian; that’s what we do. It matters. My beliefs are based on what’s in the Bible.
But the day-to-day reading, holding the book in my hands? Hit or miss, honestly. No daily 5:45 AM appointment with my Bible. It’s not the last thing I read at night. Honestly, a good part of my Bible-reading these days comes from the internet; I faithfully read YouVersion and Bible Gateway, cross-checking translations and paraphrases. That doesn’t make it less relevant, or truthful, or powerful – but it’s different.
It’s like this: I snack all day long. I graze. Again, I believe it matters; I don’t discount the value of having the wisdom of the Bible close at hand via my computer or committed to memory via what’s hidden in my heart and memory. But it’s different than sitting down and just reading. Sort of “Bible Lite”.
Like picking up a box of lo mein at China Delight, versus sitting down at PF Chang’s for a sumptuous meal. Both are good, nutritious, relatively healthy and possibly made with the same ingredients. But the surroundings are different. Both feed me, but only one can be appreciated as a rich experience. (Sitting in the Food Lion parking lot gulping down a box of lo mein with a plastic fork is NOT a “rich experience”. I know. I’ve done it.)
Point is, when I do sit down and move aside all the things that clamor for my attention and just read, I’m always amazed. Refreshed. Invigorated. Educated. Inspired.
And left with a huge appreciation – again – of just how relevant the Bible is for life. So much of my daily efforts are focused towards the mission of our church – finding ways to communicate with folks who are far from God or outside the church. We rely on every tool we can utilize to demonstrate the grace and truth of God, the life that is found in following Christ, the open arms that characterize Jesus (but that have not always characterized the Church). All those things are good and necessary and I do not doubt that they matter, that they are integral to the mission God has given us.
Coupled with the sit-down, five-course meal that can be found in the Bible, I have found myself in the midst of a powerful and intimate time with God this morning. That’s been way cool. It’s a mystery, it’s supernatural – and yet it’s so completely, coherently part of the human experience. The way we were intended to be.
Way cool.
Here’s what I was reading this morning; the primary Bible I read is the New International Version. Romans 12.9 begins like this: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse….”

I read a good bit, up through chapter 14, and then I just started re-reading. So much of it I found applicable to some issues currently taking up space in my heart and head. Paul wrote Romans, and he had some great stuff to say about how we ought to live our lives. It matters.

Here’s the paraphrase from The Message – the parts that really got my attention:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. Romans 12.9-21, The Message

And here’s chapter 14, as paraphrased in The Message. Yeah, it’s a lot of scripture. Yeah, you might just skip it.

But you know the lettuce wraps at PF Chang’s? Pure deliciousness.

Yeah. It’s that good.

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong. Romans 14, The Message

Did Our Concert Dishonor God?

We had our annual Randy Lawson Memorial Concert last night at PCC.

There was fun along the way, (including some bearded bluegrass dudes singing “Man of Constant Sorrow”) some great original music (Seth Brooks and Mariah’s Bedroom), songs that celebrated the joys and challenges of simply being human (“Show Me What I’m Looking For” and most of the MB set) and a touching tribute to honor the life of Randy Lawson.
Towards the end, though, there was a subtle shift in focus. Lindsay spoke briefly about the reason why we were there. Very pointedly, she stated this fact: “We believe in Jesus.” And from that point forward, the songs we sang pointed directly towards heaven; songs based on scripture, filled with declarations of worship and reverence. At that moment, the evening ceased to be about mere entertainment and good music. It became something more. The crowd stood and together – both those on the stage and those on the floor – we were as one, letting the music carry our praise.
This was intentional.
There are some who argue for the separation of musical styles. Some folks say that there is no place in the church for music that does not talk clearly about Biblical themes, about Jesus and God and salvation. Some say that the song selection for a concert like we presented last night dishonors the gospel and our God.
I beg to differ. Actually, I strongly, vehemently disagree. I believe that all music can be redemptive. I believe that as humans cry out for clarity, salvation and purpose, the melody and rhythm of those cries are most easily communicated in art – specifically for us, in song. Consider these words:

“It’s too late tonight/to drag the past out into the light

We’re one but we’re not the same/we get to carry each other, carry each other…”

That statement is basic to all human existence and interaction. It reflects a common understanding that is also Biblical – we are better together, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. That lyric is not, by any definition, from a “worship song” – but it reflects our hearts and helps us to open up to our own condition. Music can soften us so that the Spirit can move, regardless of the genre or the label we choose – or even the intentions of the writer.
On a night like last night, the tenderizing genius of talented songwriters was evident – from bands like U2, Natalie Merchant, Carolina Liar and – closer to home – songwriters like Seth Brooks and Paul Myers. These artists who offer their stories and experiences to the world give us a gift, the ability to open our hearts. They sing about a life that we can relate to, experiences that are universal and everyone’s search for meaning and purpose. They acknowledge a power and force greater than ourselves. They allow us to journey with them.
At our concert, the various songs led us through celebration, smiles and even sheer entertainment to a place of transformation and redemption.
Last night, there were people on their knees in worship, overwhelmed by the inexplicable presence of God. I know – I was one of them. And I know that I was not the only one.
We did not celebrate ourselves last night. We did not celebrate a man. We celebrated the amazing, awesome, incomprehensible power of a God who did whatever it took to demonstrate his love for us. We thanked Him for it, and we felt His presence with us.
Your comments are welcome, especially if you attended the concert – on Facebook or at bethbrawley{dot}com.