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.

Creme Filled

When I was hired for the job I currently hold, which is something along the lines of creative arts director/minister of music/worship leader/experience coordinator (DON’T LABEL ME!!!!), my boss offered what seemed to be an incredible gift. He said, “You’ll get a few weeks each year of study break. You’re creative; you need to protect and care for that part of your life so that you can be here for the long haul.” (Or something like that; it’s a loose paraphrase.)

I was excited and sort of honored. With a background in teaching, it sounded at the time like he was handing me a mini summer vacation to keep me healthy. While it’s not a vacation, it’s at least a change in routine, time to read and reflect and think and pursue something other than cranking out another worship set for Sunday.
In the past four years I have worked in and around this idea of a study break. It’s awkward at times, because, frankly, I know that some folks wonder what it is, why I get it and what the heck I’m doing. What makes me special as a staff member, to get three extra weeks “off”? It’s a little embarrassing. ‘Cause I’m all about making other people happy.
I’ve wrestled with this, along with trying to figure out the ebb and flow of my productivity.
And here’s what I’ve discovered: my boss was right. I need this. And rather as a gift to me, in the long run it is all about the end result for the investment made in me by the folks who make it possible for me to pay the bills.
How do I know?
Because after two weeks away from being creative and productive (and, frankly, feeling dry and empty) – one week of study break paired with a real vacation week – I am full to overflowing with the creative energy necessary to meet my weekly responsibilities. I’m better spiritually, too; but simply based on what I am paid to do each week, I feel like a Krispy Kreme donut that just got a shot of the most delicious creme filling. I woke up this morning – early, way before the alarm – with a song floating through my head, something we needed for an upcoming service. I spent hours yesterday in planning for our next series and was thrilled with the collaborative efforts with my friend and partner and the outcome. A meeting with our missionaries resulted in the bones of an incredible service designed to honor their work, reflect the mercy of God and inspire others.
I feel like singing again. And, being an artsy sort, I can’t make that happen on my own.
The bottom line is this: my boss was right. I am grateful. God is good.
And I can’t wait for band rehearsal tonight!!!

Some Thoughts

A few things:

I’m too much in my own head. It takes me two days just to unwind, to shake off the adrenaline, to quit the mad brain-race of ten different projects open at once. It’s been fascinating to watch myself, to have an awareness of how my mind functions in what have become normal circumstances. I see it now because I’ve seen it unravel in the past two days.
It’s as if my brain – the actual INSIDE OF MY HEAD – is a file cabinet, and allthethingsIgottado are manila folders. And most every day, my energy goes to this mad thrashing and flailing, flipping through one folder after another, glancing at one, sorting out a project, getting derailed, grabbing for another folder, looking for information, getting off track, grabbing yet ANOTHER folder, trying to make a decision…etc. CRAZINESS, PEOPLE. CRAZINESS.
I watched this process all day Sunday, as if from outside my body. One by one, I either took care of things (dealt with the content of the folders) and was able to put them away, or gave myself permission to come back later. All this going on in my brain, now. Giving myself a chance to focus on one thing, or to focus on nothing.
Focusing on nothing? Sounds rather NON-PRODUCTIVE, doesn’t it?
Ah, but no. That FOCUSING ON NOTHING looks and feels a lot like prayer. Like peace. Like being able to hear a still small voice. Like getting out of my head and opening up my eyes to the world around me.
It seems to have become a pattern, and I wonder: Is it just that this particular season of life – five kids, single mom, full-time mom, full-time job – is one that requires such mental gymnastics? Should I just be thankful that I have opportunities like this to get away, to sort things out, to calm down?
Maybe so. I guess that’s okay.
But honestly, I’d rather find a bit of balance and live like this more consistently.
Maybe I should move to the beach?

Self Portrait

I’m on my second round of study break; abbreviated, but still necessary and, I expect, incredibly profitable.

Last time (April) I did a lot of reading.
This time, planning. Thinking. Praying.
And silence.
Starting with beauty all around me, a little Derek Webb in my ears and a lot to process from the Leadership Summit.
I’m not sure how much I’ll blog this break, but if I have something to say, it’ll likely be dumped here…

Double Dipping On A Sunday

Great day today.

Totally disengaged from the planning of a Sunday experience, I attended two.
After I slept until 8:30.  On a Sunday!!!  Woo hoo!!!!!
We headed first to Hope Church on Patterson Avenue in Richmond.  I was excited to walk in and see a) a fiddle player and b) a banjo player on the front line of the musicians.  Balanced with two electric guitars, bass, drums and keys, it was a great lineup.
It was a simple service.  The vibe of the entire place was terrific – the “official” greeters were well-balanced, but the “regular folks” in the hallway were most impressive.  When we walked up to the coffee bar (some of the best coffee in Richmond, by the way!  Very impressive for church coffee!) and responded to the “Free Cup of Coffee for Our Guests!”, people responded to us with gentle introductions and smiling faces.   The building itself – the architecture, the decor, the colors – was really impressive and very, very comfortable.
Loved the music, the intimate feel of the room, the relational vibe of the teaching pastor, the media, the program.  We were led – quite comfortably – to the communion table, and it became a very holy moment for us.
Had a chance to chat with the pastor afterwards; walking out, I had a novel thought:  If I wasn’t at PCC, I’d go here.  It just felt that good.
We scooted back to PCC to catch the second service, and had another terrific experience.  I was very disengaged this week, so much of the service was fresh for me.  The band was great, the production values were excellent – lighting, media, sound.  The message was striking.  It occured to me that from my perspective this morning, I got it.  No wonder people keep coming back to this church.  Brian’s message – on a very difficult topic – was so undergirded with sensitivity and honesty and openness, without any churchy answers or platitudes.  The invitation that never came was implicit – you can trust us.  We get it.  We’ll walk with you.
I was proud of my friends, the people I serve with day in and day out.  But I was thrilled to get a glimpse of how my church is functioning in the kingdom.
And now, back to real life.

Doing Church The Way God Called Us To Do It

Home.  Sitting in Panera waiting on results from a local show choir competition.  Here, engaged, but not really here….

Feeling convicted about my “Dear 21st Century Church” post.  Seems like I either didn’t explain myself very well or there was something bitter running through the entire thing experience that leached through.  In spite of three edits, I didn’t see it.  Still not sure what it is.
I don’t want to offend or be a stumbling block.  I took the post down.
And then I read this today, from Perry Noble’s blog, which is far more powerful than anything I could ever dream up to say about any other church experience.

“One of the things that I always teach here at NewSpring Church is that we do not have the corner on the market when it comes to a movement of God. We aren’t doing church “the right way.” We aren’t doing church a better way. We are doing church the way God called us to do it…and if another church is doing what God has called them to do and people are being reached, lives are being changed, sin is being repented of, the excluded are being included, teenagers are discovering their potential in Christ, marriages are being restored and children are learning about Jesus and so on…who in the world would want to criticize that? (Answer – satan…just in case you were curious!)” – Perry Noble

Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?
I’m sorry.

Blessed Assurance

One last walk this morning….

Contemplating my ‘take home’ from these blessed five days, surrounded by brilliant blue seas, white sand and glorious sunshine, I kept chanting, “Glorious.  Glorious.  You make everything glorious.  Thank you, Jesus.”
As a worship leader, I have noticed one of my habits is this:  During a gathering, overwhelmed by the privilege, the harmony, the rhythm, the Presence, the fellowship, I stop singing any scripted lyric and simply begin to say, “Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Jesus.”  Not necessarily tearful, not rendered mute – just so overwhelmed, with nothing to say with any deeper meaning than “thank you.”
Gratitude flowed from my mouth this morning, the crazy lady walking on the beach talking to herself.
After turning around and heading back, I found myself grateful for the real-ness of Jesus to me, the authenticity of relationship that reveals itself almost daily.  Since making a decision to follow Christ publicly some 20 years ago, since jumping headfirst into church life, I’ve always heard this bit about a “personal relationship”.  Coupled with what I read in the Bible, I internalized so many things that were “for me.”  Real.  Unquestioned.  Unquestionable.
“My grace is sufficient for you.”
“Go, then, and sin no more.”
“I will never leave you or forsake you.”
“God so loved the world…”
“In all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
“Consider it pure joy when you face trials…”
“Wives, submit to your husbands…”
Et cetera.
(I forge ahead now without any certainty that this makes sense, but I have come to understand a subtle shift in the axis of my understanding that has, I believe, powerfully impacted my faith and the way in which I live my life.  Let’s see if I can articulate it.)
In the past, much of my Bible instruction took every statement as fact.  Emphasis was on the inerrancy of the word, and so every statement meant just what it said.  Period.  To examine the context or the culture was frowned upon- it meant what it said, and it said what it meant.  Memorize it.  Paint it on your walls in your dining room.  Buy keychains and greeting cards emblazed with the words.  Believe it.  Don’t dig around in the external factors.  Ignore the human part.  Learn the words.
To some degree, there is truth and power in this.  I have internalized so much of the Bible that it sometimes surprises me.  I have found comfort, peace, encouragement, wisdom, strength.
And yet…
In the past several years, I have been encouraged – and self-motivated – to read the Bible in context.  To ask questions.  To dig deeper into the discrepancies.  To consider the audience, the culture, the context.
To actually say, “This doesn’t seem to make sense.”

At the risk of sounding like I’ve discovered something rare and unusual that most of the world looks at and says, “Duh!”, I’ll just marvel at this for a minute.
Because I think that’s the key to my joy, my wonder, my gratitude, my primitive conviction that this is true, real, personal.  That Jesus is, as the old hymn says, “mine”.

Here’s what occurs to me:   The context is humanity.  Our humanity.  To read without a clear understanding of the culture, of the underlying lessons, of the motivations, the larger issues at play is to accept words strung together as moral imperatives, catchy sayings, legalistic commands.  And, in the end, words strung together leave a hollow place in one’s soul.
Without context, there’s no grasp of the humanity that Jesus inhabited.  The context is us.

The context is me.

Maybe this is so much uneducated, I’ve-been-alone-too-long drivel.  But it meant something to me this morning as I walked.  
Still processing.

“God, you make everything glorious.  What does that make me?”

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchased of God
Born of his spirit, washed in his blood.

Mad Church Disease: Overcoming The Burnout Epidemic

If you read a book on burn out, and realize that a lot of what you’re reading seems very familiar, you pay attention.

Anne Jackson grew up as a pastor’s kid in traditional church settings.  She’s seen what church life can be like from a kid’s perspective, and she’s experienced her own personal challenges.  In Mad Church Disease, Anne writes very honestly about the risk factors, both external and internal.  She’s frank about our tendency as humans – and particularly as church leaders – to lead extremely unhealthy lives.  And she’s precise without being preachy about what it takes to get better.  She writes honestly about her own struggles and the unhealthy ways she chose to cope.
This book, along with John Burke’s No Perfect People Allowed, really struck a chord with me. I’m still processing a lot of what I’ve read on a personal level; bits and pieces about manipulative tendencies, living out of false assumptions, codependency, confusion about my value outside of my work.  My belief that I have to work seven days a week in order for the world to keep spinning.  Lots of junk, just like the rest of us.
But then I read this:

“We cannot be dependent on ourselves and on God at the same time.  When we consider the practice of rest unnecessary, we will also inevitably lose sight of the necessity of God.”  Anne Jackson

And I’m learning.
One of the greatest benefits of this week was the chance to walk for two hours today, down to the end of the island and back.  All along the way, I thought and processed and reflected on where I’ve been.  And where I’m headed.  I’ve read four books this week, and spent time reading the Bible, and thought and planned and contemplated.
I’ve thought about my personal life.  I’ve thought about my work life.  I’ve thought about my passion for the local church.
I can’t say for sure what lies ahead.  None of us can. 
But I am certain that my path is covered, above, below and all around, by grace.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Undeserved, unearned, a gift from God.  A privilege and an honor.
By the way, I’d recommend that anybody who serves a church in any capacity read this book. Anybody.  It’s worth it, for the sake of that to which we are called.
Anne quotes Oswald Chambers in one of the most powerful parts of the book:

“If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on him, and he will make use of you every minute you live- yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of him.” Oswald Chambers

Boy, I love that.
You can learn more from Anne Jackson and the work to which God has called her on her blog.

Less Clutter. Less Noise. Still Overwhelmed.

Finished book #3 of this study break; Kem Meyer‘s Less Clutter. Less Noise.  Subtitled “Beyond Bulletins, Brochures and Bake Sales”, it’s a look at how to maximize effectiveness of communication, focused on the church environment, in light of the information overload systems in place in our current culture.

Kem comes out of a corporate background, which gives her a ton of credibility.  She’s not “churchy” at all, but a serious appreciation for the work of Jesus in her life underlies her book.
I was surprised to find a good bit of the book’s content has a prior life on her blog.  It was good there, and it’s good here – but I’d already seen and heard a lot of this.  However, it’ll be a great resource to get into the hands of people working in communications at our church.
As I processed this info, one thing kept coming to mind:  I’m insane.  I’m trying to manage communications from a staff perspective – which really isn’t happening at all, or at least in any way that seems cohesive.  And yet we’ve revamped our website and continue to dialogue about future improvements; we’ve altered the program and returned to in-house publication, saving stress and money; we’ve enlisted the work of an incredible graphic designer; we’re trying to streamline our efforts.  
But this is a full-time occupation.  And trying to juggle musicians and service planning and production team and programming – whew!  Perhaps lesson numero uno from study break is this:  

Women Who Try To Do Too Much And Why They’re Stressed

Well, regardless, here’s some great info from Kem’s book;
  • It’s not what you say; it’s what people hear.
  • Information is now so inexpensive and plentiful that most of it ends up being overlooked, ignored or tossed like garbage.  (True, this.)
  • People’s needs drive their attention; they notice what will benefit them.
  • Get real instead of trying to appear real.
  • Everything you do (in communcations) is an extension of your story.
  • Simplify the problem – don’t complicate the solution.
  • Every person in your church is a walking billboard.
  • Before you spend money on marketing, spend money on improving the people skills of your people (like reading the same book, training, vision-casting, etc.)
Kem says she wrote this book for the short attention span.  Initially, I found this really difficult. It’s interesting to note that my approach to printed information in a book is different than my web experience; I don’t want a book to be like a blog.  I want a more leisurely experience; I want a book experience.  Just another example of how people receive and interpret communicated information, I guess.
Great information, though.  This woman is a gold mine.