Thursday, December 30, 2010

Songwriter's Retreat, Day 3: ten bookmarks

We are listening, hearing the Scriptures read aloud. Ten bookmarks*, ten books, ten chapters; five voices, around the fire, the prayer candle. The 'Beatitudes,' the genealogy of Noah (the one who will bring us relief from the ground which was cursed), reminder that Jesus brought reconciliation.

Two more songs written today, and yes! We are caught up on recording! Our songs are all so different, unique, which has really struck all of us. When we give a seed-song over to the ears and eyes of another person, they will almost always hear something that we could not have heard on our own.

And what do the rest of us do when one person is tediously recording vocals, guitars, etc.? We read. And draw. And snap pictures. And hold in our giggles... all in silence, of course! It isn't uncommon that as soon as we hear Matthew tap the spacebar (which stops the recording), exhales are heard around the room, followed by loads of laughter. But the best of it all is that we are always together during this time. Somehow, even amidst our various activities, there is a certain togetherness, a unity in our time. A mystery, we can call it.

We, at different times, have been stricken by this mystery, the beauty of it all. In moments throughout the week, the lenses have come off. And when they've come off, redemption is concrete; the Family of God is a real, intimate community; confession and honesty are healing, a necessary piece of dying to ourselves, our individual arrogance dashed.

Another late night, but oh, how it's been worth it...

*In Eric Papp's Bible are ten bookmarks, in ten different books of the Bible, representing ten chapters to be read daily. He's really loving this method of reading Scripture, and he shared it with us. Let us know if you'd like to know more about this for your own reading!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Songwriter's Retreat, Wednesday (Day 2): Emergency naptime!

As the lunch conversation ended, quiet was falling upon us and eyelids were heavy. At least, mine were. So, as the dishes were being washed, and a nap seemed really nice, Emergency Naptime was declared!

Hour-long (or more) naps ensued. All was well.

Today's outpouring of songs was good, encouraging. Each of the groups came together with songs mostly filled out. The girls got together with some folky tunes and harmonies; prayers from Scripture and hymns of old. The guys offered up some haunting ("in a good way") melodies.

Now, here we are, shakers, hand drums, and mandolins going wild, with 4 songs left to get down before the night is done. And I have to say, the Emergency Nap gave me the energy I need to make it through!

Katie gave us a word today about worship, naming us outpourers. We all worship, we all pour out. But what is in us to pour out depends on who and what we worship. I sense this week that we've been filled up with the richness of friendship, honesty, reliance on God through dark times; and now we get to pour out from those things.

Thank God for Emergency Naps, Family, and the gift of song to lead us in the pouring out!

May the lyrics and melodies bear fruit in the lives of those we may never see or know...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Songwriter's Retreat, Tuesday (Day 1): bringing our seed-songs

We began our morning slowly, quietly, with breakfast and some time spread throughout the house, alone with our journals and prayers. Today's journal entry for me is so different from my last - pleading and crying out for friends back in Memphis who are in the throws of addiction. [Lord, have mercy.]

But this morning, I sat on Lake Pickwick, watching the land around us rise up just a bit, like they are saying to the Smokies, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you!" A good space for writing.

We came together mid-morning for Family prayer, then we split off into groups to write songs together, which was wildly and excitedly successful! Matthew, Eric, and I headed downstairs with two sets of phrases in our hands and a baby of a melody swirling around... a seed-song.* By the time we re-emerged to the top of the stairs, Katie and Matt were on their second song.

We then took some time to teach each other; our tunes were vastly different. Then throughout the day, we took our little seed-songs and watched something beautiful grow from it. We've been adding harmonies and layers and having fun. It's long work to record, but here in the lakehouse, we're finding much joy in it. To write and record songs in less than 12 hours is such a treasure. How did we get here, away from our regular jobs and commitments? A gift from God, we know this is true.

Then there's all the laughter - at the dinner table, during recording (exactly when you are NOT supposed to laugh, of course).

I can still hear the harmonies, the many voices of Family, ringing in my ears...

*I owe the use of this word, "seed-song," to Sara Groves.
**All photos taken by Eric Papp

Friday, December 24, 2010

Songwriter's Retreat, Monday eve: arrival to the Bear Cub Cabin

We've made it; 9pm, and I am the last one to barrel through those doors, arms full of excitement, song lyrics, and weariness from the workday and the nighttime drive. But yes, we're all here.

Although 3 people had to back out at the last minutes (flu, snow, wisdom teeth), I can't help but sensing that those here in the Bear Cub Cabin are going to become a Family nonetheless, we who escaped the wrath of winter storms and viruses. We've changed the guitar strings, setup the recording equipment, and bought enough food to keep us fed for several days.

This was born out of a desire to know what it's like to give our songs over to our friends, and maybe even to those we'd just met. All of us in that cabin had written something of value (isn't all writing of value, in some way?) - songs, journal entries, long letters - but we'd always written alone. One individual's thoughts getting down on the piece of paper or computer screen in front of us.

And we'd known Community in our living rooms, on the stage leading worship, in the throws of grief, but still we'd not really submitted ourselves and our melodies to the larger group, our Family.

What do we expect? What are we doing here? What is worship anyway? These are the questions we raised and gave over to the voice of Community this week. And what we do know is this: we will write; we will pray; we will listen; we will sing.

And now we will rest, for the hour is late.

*all pictures taken by Eric Papp

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Songwriter's Retreat: the beginning

What is a Songwriter's Retreat? Who put this together for you? Where are you going? And what are you doing again? (And why do you need a whole week to... write?)

These were some great questions we received in the weeks leading up to our getaway to the tippy-toes of the Appalachian Mountains. These questions led us into some great conversations about why we write songs, why it's good to write together and especially how this week would be much more than just writing. We would write, sing, record, and above all that, pray, listen, and worship together. We decided to stop settling for, "Wouldn't it be so great if we holed ourselves up in a cabin for a week and wrote songs?"

This time, we did it.

And over the next several days, you can step back into last week with us and catch a glimpse of what it was all about, living in the Bear Cub Cabin, cooking meals, singing songs, reading Scripture, and laughing at Matthew's ridiculous clapping routines.

We hope you'll share the journey with us!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent: arrival of the Light

We stood in the middle of the bare apartment, with only the streams of light from the parking lot sneaking in through the worn out blinds. There were 5 of us, including the "wee one". It was a desperate evening. Half-truths were told. Promises made. Breaths held. Hope clinging on by its fingernails. Terribly sincere prayers were prayed. We are waiting for an advent.

Advent, which I've recently learned means, literally, "arrival," is fitting. We are awaiting the arrival of many things, but mostly for the rescue of these dear friends.

I've tried to intentionally be a much more expectant, patient participant in the Advent season, something that not many others around have helped me to be. But of course, we are all products of culture that doesn't allow for waiting. We are always connected (cell phone email, Twitter, laptop), always informed (24 hr. news channels, the world wide web), and always on the move (new city, new house, get to this appointment, rush to this event).

We rarely have to wait.

But tonight, tomorrow, in that dark apartment, there is nothing but waiting. The control was never - is never - ours. We have nothing but our hopes and expectancy, that Light will come and dispel the darkness, the darkness in which we sometimes feel suffocated. We hope for the Rescue and Redemption from One promised to us.

O come, you who are Light!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The fashion obsession: learning from Benedictine sisters

My husband likes to shop for new clothing; it's just true. It isn't uncommon for me to see him emerge from the bedroom, dressed for the day, in something completely new, something I've not yet seen. Then with a, "When'd you get that?" he grins softly and proceeds to tell me when, where, and what a good sale it was. Or he'll tell me he's been looking for a shirt just like this one for so long... and I give him a hard time.

But as much grief as I give him, I, too, would love to buy new clothes all the time. I find myself lusting over the latest styles (especially this new hipster-phase we're currently in) and wanting to look put-together, good, fashionable.

Fashion changes frequently for a reason - because people buy into it, because we like to please each other. We'll take the newest fashions because we like them... or because the world tells us to like them. I'm not sure which is true.

Today, however, I'm learning something from the perspective of the many different Benedictine sisters (that's right, they're not all alike!) around the world. Apparently, there was a point in the past few decades when the sisters were "freed" from having to wear the cumbersome, long, black habit (think, tent-like dress), and you can imagine that many abandoned it with gladness. (*For more on this, read the chapter entitled "Women and the habit: a not-so-glorious dilemma" in Kathleen Norris', The Cloister Walk)

Yet, despite this freedom, this chapter highlights glimpses of the more pure reasons for the habit, at least some form of the habit, and the many good things it stands for, the things it helps the sisters reject. See this:

"...some sisters feel that to express themselves as women, they need to wear bright colors, make-up, and jewelry, but I have a hard time with this. Even if we're not spending much money, the fact that our nice clothes are hand-me-downs from the second-hand store isn't obvious to others. I wonder if we've bought too much into what society holds up to us as beautiful and acceptable in a women." (p.325)

Or consider this symbol of the habit, and beyond that, how it practically leads a sister (and this applies to monks, as well) in the choices she makes about fashion:

"I am most interested in monastic dress as a form of renunciation, a sign that one is not preoccupied with fashion and possessions." (p.327, emphasis mine)

And finally, something I'm keeping before me all day, these words from the perspective of the author, who isn't a lifelong sister, but has spent much time in short-term residences with the Benedictines:

"'Thank God for the things I do not own,' said Teresa of Avila.
I could suddently grasp that not ever having to think about what to wear was freedom, that a drastic stripping down to essentials in one's dress might also be a drastic enrichment of one's ability to focus on more important things." (p.328, emphasis mine)

Thank God for the voice of the Benedictines.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paradox of the Psalms: an excerpt

An excerpt from Kathleen Norris', The Cloister Walk, the chapter entitled 'The Paradox of the Psalms:

"I learned that when you go to church several times a day, every day,
there is no way you can 'do it right.' You are not always going to sit up straight,
let alone think holy thoughts. You're not going to wear your best clothes, but whatever
isn't in the dirty clothes basket. You come to the Bible's great 'book of praises' through
all the moods and conditions of life, and while you may feel like hell, you sing anyway.
To your surprise, you find that the psalms do not deny your true feelings
but allow you to reflect on them, right in front of God and everyone." (emphasis mine)

Monday, November 1, 2010

clothespin liturgy

It takes three clothespins to hang up a bath towel; two for hand towels; one for a cloth napkin.

And of those six clothespins, there are many stories. One may have water spots (or mildew) on it from being left on the line in the rain. Another looks almost new, perhaps being left in the bottom of the bag most times, hardly even given the chance to see sunlight. All of them, though, were used for many years, clipped onto bedsheets, towels, and my grandpa's socks.

My Nana's hands used these clothespins for as long as I can remember, where sometimes my brother's or my hands helped pin the bedsheets onto the line. We all knew there was nothing like the fresh scent of sun-dried bedsheets. We'd sometimes send these same pins flying off the clothesline as we ran through the sheets, occasionally bringing them down on top of us.

On this day, as I take the towels and sheets down from the clothesline, I think, "Gosh, maybe I should supplement these clothespins with some new ones, some fresh ones." And they would get the job done.

But then I think of all the stories I'd miss out on remembering each time I walk outside with a hamper full of wet sheets. I think of how long it takes to carefully hang things up to dry, which in turn offers much time to feel the wind, to see the cat creeping after a critter in the back yard.

And it makes me think that it's a little like liturgy. We come up with new things - songs, responsive readings, and the like - and they "get the job done". But when I turn to page 12 in the United Methodist Hymnal; pray the Lord's prayer; recite the Apostles' Creed with a room full of people I may or may not know personally; I think of those who have gone before.

I remember the disciples asking Jesus, "teach us how to pray". And I pray with them.

When doubt is creeping in, I say the Apostles' Creed and remember the millions who believe this with (and for) me. And I say it with them.

Today, I "recited" the clothespin liturgy, remembering those who have gone before in my family, roads walked, stories told, children running through the fresh sheets as they blew in the wind. I need these stories just as I need the clothespins to keep my garments on the line.

This is my clothespin liturgy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

poverty is ugly; injustice sucks

I've been listening to one of the audios from Urbana '09, a roundtable about intentional Christian communities living among those who are poor around the world. The voices in the roundtable are from folks who are from many nationalities, living in many different locations, both in the U.S. and abroad.

One of the contributors is at one point speaking to the group of college students, young adults, addressing that they will soon be asked to consider making a 1-2 year commitment to serving among the poor somewhere in the world. Here's a paraphrase of what he told them:

"If you go for a year or two, have the humility to say, 'I'm going on an exposure or learning experience'; have the humility not to say, 'I'm going on a short-tem mission trip' - Don't go and say, 'I'm going for a year or two to impact the poor' because honestly, it's more about you than the poor. And that's not bad; that's good, that's needed.
But think beyond that. We need people to say 'I want to to do this for the long haul.'
Living in the slums is hard; poverty is ugly; injustice sucks."

It's more about you than the poor. That's not an easy description to hear of our short-term ventures. He goes on to explain himself more fully, that if there are good communities, churches, systems, etc. in place, then the 3, 4, 5 people you touch might go on to really experience true life change. And that is good. He isn't saying that we will not have impact; he is asking us to reconsider what impact we imagine we're having and to be honest about how much of our experience is about shaping ourselves.

But recognize that the long haul is what we need. It's very easy to "go" but it is another thing to "stay."

Finally, another voice from the roundtable offered to us this important thing:

"We need to be willing to live to be forgotten."

Monday, October 25, 2010

community: discoveries and questions

During this past week, even the past month, I've learned much about myself; we all have. With 5 adults and 3 children currently living under one roof, the holy and the terrible are more easily recognizable.

We've discovered that one bathroom can go a long way, that dishes need to be washed often, and things will undoubtedly be dirtier with three chlidren, all under the age of six. We've discovered that life is complicated, honesty is valuble, and that answers lead to more questions. Most importantly, we've discovered that it is absolutely necessary to be the very presence of Jesus to our neighbors and friends, wherever we are. We love, serve, and follow a Living God, not a faraway god who pays no attention to us. Yet many will never know he is Living because we have not embodied Him.

And the questions are where we are now. Never before have welcomed this many people at one time into our home, particularly in "crisis" mode. But without these new questions, we wouldn't be pushed to seek answers, resolutions, or at least a less destructive path for the next time (not that this path has been destructive; it has bestowed much peace on our new friends).

How much space do you really need? Where can we go for rest and quiet? What time should "quiet hours" begin in the house? What spaces are private and what spaces are communal? Should everyone be held to a general standard of cleanliness, even in their own sleeping spaces?

This is just a short list of questions, ones that, no matter how petty they seem are nonetheless important to the life of our house, one where hospitality is central, humanity is honored, and rest is a necessity, lest our flames die out before they've even scorched the wick.

Pray for us; indeed, we need you to speak into us!

Finally, an encouragement, a "what it takes" for the weeks ahead:

The holiness we need [a "spirituality fit for the margins"] is
simultaneously strong and tender. It is a holiness of heart that can
experience genuine horror at evil, but also see human beings
for what God intended them to be.
It is a holiness that trusts God for redemption
and therefore can sustain hope.
(p. 125, "Friendship at the Margins,"
by Christine D. Pohl and Chris Heuertz)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Matthew 25: we will keep this before us

Matthew 25: 34-40, to be exact...

"Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me some food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

And you probably know the rest...

How can it be so easy to think first and mostly only of ourselves; likewise, how can it be so easy to overlook everyone else?

Have mercy on us, Lord!

**note added, 10/25/10**

See this brief reflection on Matthew 25 from "Friendship at the Margins", by Christine Pohl and Chris Heuertz.

"When we recognize the significance of Jesus' words in Matthew 25 that inasmuch as we have welcomed 'the least of these' we have welcomed him, we begin to understand the extraordinary kind of identification and oneness available to us. As we love and live among those most likely to be overlooked--those who are poor, hungry, despised, imprisoned or sick--we find ourselves in intimate relationship with Jesus." (p. 122)

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Perhaps it is of no surprise to you, but this I've found to be true: we mostly come to friendship on our own terms.

But what about those, "Hey! You too?!" moments, where you suddenly discover the spark of your friendship. Your iPod (or CD player for us old schoolers) has 75% of the same music; you dream of living in all the same places; and you are addicted to the Office and that new show, Parenthood.

I do love these friendships! How, then, could this springing up of friendship be "on our own terms" if we didn't even plan it?

We're drawn to people with the same interests, the same lifestyles. And if not the same, then people who we think are cool, those that we get "friend crushes" on (and I loudly speak for myself here!) I find myself constantly saying, "She is very cool. I must know her."

But with whom should we be seeking friendship? Those like us? Those on the margins of society? Those who might need us for our transportation, checkbook, and listening ear? Those who keep us away from a dinner with other friends because they need to get the grocery store?

My heart weeps at the friendships I keep on my terms, and my eyes have seen a much truer picture of friendship...

"...and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

canning: past and present

Today is certainly a canning kind of day. I strolled through the Farmers' Market around 8:45 on this fine Saturday morning. With a load full of spelt, tomatoes, and apples, I took some time to sip my coffee and listen to the mandolin and guitar-pickin' before me, with two cutest 60'-somethin' fellas I've ever seen. The breezy air finally felt like the Autumn it should be, and after receiving some canning advice from the Dodsons, a family of farmers, off I go to a full day of kitchen-work.

And no measly kitchen-work this is. Right now, at 1:28pm, I'm only halfway through the applesauce process. We love our homemade applesauce, though last time we froze it; this time we're canning. I think it will be much tastier UNfrozen.

Now, all that's missing is Michelle, the one who started this all for me. Here's to you, friend, and all the lessons you taught me about slowing down, eating vegetables, and dropping in to see your friends unannounced.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Live together? Why?

It seems a good time in the life of our household to talk about why we insist on having others live in our home. As we enter another season of being a Family, with our brother Jason, we're eager and excited. With every housemate comes a new dynamic, new gifts, and new challenges. Tonight was spent with what is pretty usual with a new housemate - lots of get-to-know-you conversation, heavy topics, family history, etc. - the things that you just couldn't get to in a normal night of hanging out, but with hours of being in the same space, you now have all the time in the world for!

We frequently get many questions or many responses such as, "I could just never do that," and "How long are they staying again?" and, plainly, "Why?"

Why? Because we love it. Because life is much richer with 1 or 2 more than just the two of us (though the Pates are pretty fun). Our marriage thrives (though we have the usual disagreements and frustrations). Our living room is filled with laughter and conversation. Prayers are prayed. Dinners are cooked. Bills are shared. Burdens are carried. Gardens are grown.

The things we once carried alone, we can carry with others. When a relationship is broken, a family member dies - there is another to help us carry the load, to cry the tears. When faith is shaken, when doubts are heavy - there is another there to stand in the gap, to "believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth," alongside us.

Our marriage, our faith, our very lives, are strengthened as we live and work together with the brothers and sisters who live under this roof for 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, indefinitely.

And that, friends, is why the door is always open.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Below is an expression of why Audrey Assad, a new music artist who I am growing to love, loves attending Mass, why she finds Catholicism beautiful. This has been encouraging to me, her knowledge that worship is not so much experience, but moreover, it is simply and wholly... worship.

I did and do take solace in the Church, as a sparrow makes a nest in an old, solid oak; the Church’s very age and wisdom speak quietly for themselves, silently drawing in wanderers like me. Jesus loves wanderers and prodigals; and the Church must welcome them with open arms–in my case, she did, and warmly at that. I find it beautiful about Catholicism that worship, in her way, is not so much an experience as it is an act of the will; yes, the senses are engaged by the sweet, thick smell of incense at the altar, the soft flickering of candles, the otherworldly melodies of chant; but ultimately, as a Catholic, I go to Mass to worship–to give Jesus the honor and glory He is worthy of; I go to Mass because I love Him. [taken from]

May we be reminded, when the temptation to choose brighter skies and greener fields ("polished" worship music and ultra-moving sermons), that we shall worship because we love Him.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

the Magic Hour at the river

He once spoke of the Magic Hour, that dusky burst of color, all magic and such. You can see it on hillsides, on trains, on rooftops, but have you ever seen it from the perch of a rock, resting on the shores of the Mississippi?

She's a mighty river, it's true, but none is more perfect for watching and waiting and breathing in the wet air of the Deep South. None is more perfect, on this night anyway, for the Magic Hour. Though sweet serenity might sing through the hillsides, a swiftly pacing barge drifts right past you, the backdrop on this particular night. It's of no matter - who can spoil the Magic Hour? Even clouds and rainstorms only spread a veil over this happening, yet still it is there.

You've not known a good evening until you known an evening on the banks of the Mississippi, breezes and voices from the north, all gathered together for this Hour... and once it's passed, the lingering begins. For who can turn away so quickly? "Ah, it is gone so soon!"

But tomorrow it will return. The Magic Hour at the river.

Here at the magic hour
time and eternity
mingle a moment in chorus
Here at the magic hour
bright is the mystery
plain is the beauty before us
Could this beauty be for us?
["The Magic Hour" from
Counting Stars, Andrew Peterson]

Monday, August 9, 2010

He first loved us.

Everyone wants to change her, but does anyone love her?

She passes by their front porch day after day, towards the convenience store, or headed home with no utilities and a stench that keeps unwanted guests away. She sleeps on a mattress, on the floor, that, thankfully, hasn't been used as a bathroom by the dog yet. She lives here with her boyfriend.

And they want her to live somewhere else; she needs a change.

After all, the baby is coming. Don't they have to think about the baby? The innocence. Yes, they've got to get her in another house.

And so they do.

But before long, she's back to her old house, says it just wasn't what she wanted. But the baby, there's still the baby. She's growing out of her clothes; yes, she needs new clothing, or better yet, they'll clean out their closets for the gently used items that have hardly been worn before.

Yes, let's get her cleaned up; she needs a change.

But she doesn't wear the clothes; they're not her taste. She's happpier with what she's already got, with what she already knows. Thanks, but no thanks.

She's gone; she just walked out. She had a fight with the father of her child and left the only person who cares for her unborn baby, someone who might even care more than she does. Where did she go, they ask. She's over on Millford Station, that's where she always goes.

He's so tired of this; with another man's dime, he goes to buy a drink to drown out his anguish of being left again (so many times that he stopped counting).

But they know she'll be back; she always comes back. And this time, they might not be waiting around to help. They just might be finished with this. They can only reach out so much. She has to choose to respond.

You want to change her, but have you loved her?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

how to know your neighbors

I'm not great at knowing my neighbors, actually. I'm consumed with busyness, just like the rest of us, much to my disdain sometimes. But what I do know has been put to the test.

How do you know your neighbors? Cook some food.

Not just any food, though. Hamburgers and barbecue balogna (Ba-lone-ee). Hot fries and brownies. Those are the foods that we all, errr... that most of us like.

The humidity and the heat index of 115 may threaten to keep us away, but alas, the will to be neighbors overcomes the desire to stay inside where the air conditioner runs strenuously.

Of course, I don't know my neighbors after just one cookout, but I do see some familiar faces, meet some new ones, and learn some good facts: "Oh! You live in the little blue house on the south side of the street?" And so it begins.

Let us be neighbors!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

out of the heaviness: a poem

The world is heavy; we are all heavy.
We weigh so much, what with all our burdens,
and then we lay up those burdens on others.
We speak things we don't mean -
some of which we thought we meant -
others of which we spoke because it would make
this fleeting

We hurt and drag and lead on.
We cause much hurt,
much sadness,
much hardening of hearts.
But can we help it?
Oh, the need for grace, my love, even for you;
even for me.

I'm no saint; I'm no lover.
And even on my most holy days, I am
but a fraud.

Maybe I know not what holiness is;
Maybe I cannot know.
Mystery, you say?
Washed in the blood of the Lamb?
(Opposite of dark; opposite of heavy.)

I saw the light.

(written in the dim light and late hours of sadness and heaviness)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

$84 Million... is this OK?

If it weren't for Ty living in this house, I wouldn't be blogging about this, because I probably wouldn't know about it. But now I know, and now I will blog.

Rudy Gay has just signed a 5-year contract (Google this for more accurate details) for $84 Million. He's been with the Grizzlies for several years already. I don't know the rest of the details (maybe I should read them more closely before I post this).

Is $84 Million OK with us? Will anyone be around to help Rudy Gay know how to deal with this much wealth? Is this much wealth OK? Money can be used in a million (no pun intended) different ways, a million different good ways. But tragically, it often isn't. I don't know Rudy Gay, but I know even masses of Jesus-followers in our city delight in his return, yet will we be moved, burdened by $84 Million?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

God embodied: a lesson in love

"...God had to be embodied, or else people with bodies would never in a trillion years understand about love."
(Lauren F. Winner, "Girl Meets God")

We look for love in a million places, in a million ways, with a million failures. We not only fail in finding it for ourselves, but we fail to love because we are also trying to express love to others in those same failure-like ways that we sought it for ourselves.

Let us look at the nature of our Living God, embodied in Jesus, for some clues about how to love!

Allowing himself to be served (loved) by those the world taught his people to despise - a drink of water from the Samaritan woman for a thirsty Jewish man. (John 4: 1-30)

Meals, and probably some laughter, with "crooks"! (Luke 19: 1-10)

Washing the disciples' feet - He, the one they followed and looked up to, washing their dirty feet? Never! "If I don't wash you, you can't be part of what Im doing." We must allow ourselves to be served (loved). (John 13: 1-17)

We want to understand about love! Teach us, Jesus...

Monday, June 21, 2010

the dishes, the compost, and the clothesline

current music: don chaffer, Up Before the Sun, from the album "What You Don't Know"

What might they have in common, you wonder? They're teaching me lessons. I've learned much these days from the dishes, the compost, and the clotheslines. Some lessons are similar; some very different. All are very important.

Timeliness. The dishes pile up; the compost begins to stink; the clothes need a certain length of time on the clothesline, or they'll be damp and then you have to hang them up all around the house to finish drying. These things usually need to be done promptly.

Routine. We scoff at routine, most of us free-spirited, relational types. We value spontaneity and freedom. But let me tell you, routine can be good for the soul, can be the path of holiness. With the snap of a finger, spontaneity and freedom turns into selfishness, and there you have it: the dishes are piled up and stink so much that you can't tell if the compost or the sink smells worse. And you forget to put your clothes out in the morning, so you do it when you rush home at 5pm, and they don't have enough time to dry, and then you're backed up and start it all over the next day.

How to be kind to my husband. Hanging clothes on the clothesline takes time. And the other night I brought them in, discovered they were still damp, and immediately got in a crabby mood. This is when I treated Jeff unkindly, in fact, I was downright mean. I'm learning that too easily am I swayed away from kindness.

Slowness. Washing the dishes causes me to slow down. I have to take some time to look out the window, notice the neighbors house, listen to the sound of the water, and I have to make sure the dried cheese comes off the plate. No one wants to come behind me and eat my dried cheese. So, I have to slow down and wash the dishes.

Dang, there are a lot of lessons to be learned here! I can think of 3, 4, 5, more... Oh, 6! Many of these lessons have to do with simplicity, and what is simple is not always easy. What is easy isn't always good or righteous. And so we seek simplicity, in action, in speech, in spirit.

What lessons have you learned from simplicities of your life?

Finally, in all these lessons, praise be to the One who isn't in a hurry, who loves us wholly, beautifully, and without fear of time slipping away, for He does not live in the time and space as we do.... praise be to God!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Michelle & Dane: A tribute to neighbors

First, in case Dane has the opportunity to read this, I want to assure him that - in the interest of privacy on the big, wide and wild world of web - I am refraining from using last names.

Now that's taken care of, on to the tribute...

I bet they're up early, not the sleep-in-er types, visiting with family they've been missing and longing to see for a while now. Memphis is but a memory, close enough to feel the humidity, but far enough to know there's no going back. At least, that's how it seems it might be.

Michelle and Dane were the best of neighbors. And friends. But the best of neighbors are friends, and so my definition of neighbor has been redefined. After all, "And who is my neighbor?" was the question asked to Jesus, as a way of getting around true love and mercy, and we know that He expanded for us in that one parable what it means to be a neighbor (but that's surely for another post).

One of my earliest and dearest memories with Michelle is that she was comfortable being together and now always "doing" together. On Sunday afternoon laundry day, she'd bring over their loads of laundry, along with some knitting, a book, and a need for napping, and so the next 3 hours of "being" ensued. What a joy to have the kind of friend who can be in the same room with you, resting, reading, or talking when necessary. The memory is vivid, and the lesson has left its mark - being together is just as important - if not more important - than "doing" together.

Another favorite memory is of garden conversation, all of us on different tasks with our shovels and spades and plants, talking away, hearing each other, learning from each other, and on the occasion, disagreeing with each other. But we were doing all this together, and before you knew it, 2 hours had passed and the garden was well on its way to somewhere other than a plot of weeds!

Dane was never short on conversation, and few times in life do you meet someone who can engage just about any topic with well thought out opinions and gleanings from readings and teachings on the subject. Dane is not only really intelligent, but he's really thoughtful, and can even muster up the courage to admit he's not thought something through instead of spouting off things that are untrue, just for the sake of ego. He liked to be right, too - don't we all - but mostly, he was just really great to dialogue with, in a really meaningful way, a way that did not leave me unchanged, but spurred on "toward love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24).

How long could this tribute be? We could talk about Pancake Sundays, and Saturday mornings at the Farmer's Market, and Michelle teaching me how to can tomatoes. There's also the night we sat around and sang with her siblings in our living room, and the Sunday evening prayers, and Farkle. The quirkiness of Dane's love for spare change (under washers and dryers at the laundromat or next door in the car wash), knowing I could call Michelle for an onion or an egg, and the joy we all received from reading "A Severe Mercy".

It was a good two years - a really whole and full two years. How many times does someone move in and out of your life, only to leave you wishing that you'd done this or said that or spent more time together? I'm delighted to know that none of that is true with these neighbors, friends, brother and sister, bound together as we were for two years (and still are, forever).

Michelle & Dane, this is your tribute to the neighbors, friends, truth-tellers, lovers, and Family that you are.

Go with God...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

across the miles

It's all a Mystery, these miles, the depth of which we love and care for each other. And it isn't the first time, isn't the first person. This connection, we know it with others. Only a few, yet it's very real.

Sometimes we discover it over Saturday morning pancakes; other times in 5-page letters. Sometimes we discover it on car rides in the Vermont mountains and sometimes we feel it when the wind blows just right.

Aislinn and I were talking tonight - she, in Vermont and I, in Memphis - and sometimes you could hear a voice quiver, the tears almost coming. It isn't uncommon for us to long to be together, this sister who I've never lived in the same town with. But beyond all explanation, we're bound together; we are Family.

"Is this what the apostles felt like?" Aislinn asked tonight. When they were so far apart, each trying to inspire and encourage the Church in the place where they were; encouraging them to move ahead, to love each other, to bind themselves together, to forfeit the idols and prejudices and traditions that kept them steeped in division. Is this what it feels like to send your words, on paper, over miles and miles of river and road, hoping it reaches the ones that the same miles cannot separate?

"One day we won't see through a glass darkly..."

Praise be to you, O God, for binding us together!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

everybody wants commmunity

(**Note: "everyone" in this post doesn't mean "everyone." But you'll know what I mean.)

In the not-so-distant past, I read this:

"Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to wash the dishes."

This came from an intentional community, folks living together who are both different and alike (both of which can be annoying when you live together). From that phrase (which I love, by the way), I gather this: everyone wants to do the "radical" things; everyone wants to change their neighborhoods. Everyone wants to move in together these days and show the world a new way to and have potlucks and transform lives and provide jobs and grow their own food (and the list goes on and on and on and...)

But no one wants to wash the dang dishes.

In our home, this isn't really a problem... but weeding is. And so here we are at a new phrase.

Everybody wants community, but no wants to weed the garden.

It's true for me; it's true for our dearest and best. Lest we settle in to a routine, to the ordinary, to the things that need doing each and every day (like washing dishes and weeding gardens), we instead chase after busyness and adventure and the next best thing (or the next best schedule-filler!) Oh, when will my soul be content with the ordinary-ness, of which the fruit is some of the best things in life: closeness in relationship and homegrown okra!

Let's get busy with washing and weeding!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

stability and "roots of love"

"To practice stability is to learn to love both a place and its people. ... Without roots of love, we easily become slaves to our desires, using the place where we happen to be as a staging ground for our ambitions and manipulating the people around us so they might serve our objectives. ...until we give ourselves to a place--until we care enough to learn the names of its flowers and its second cousins--stability's wisdom suggests we cannot know about the One who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. [Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, "the Wisdom of Stability"]

Swirls of questions in my soul. They've always been there... "always" meaning, all the time I've been in this place. Am I here selfishly? To play a part? To complete my salvation in the eyes of the ones for whom living in these places is the most holy choice for living out one's faith in Jesus Christ?

One thing I know: people need loving; God's children need caring for. "We saunter in all broken and messed up inside," lyrics to one of my recent songs. And yes, all of us saunter in all broken and messed up inside. Even those of us whose holiness seems to outrank the rest of them, who have ever - Lord have mercy - thought we'd reached something, figured something out, "gotten" it. We are fractured and disconnected; and the whole point of Jesus is connection, putting back together, reconciliation.

In talking about how hard this is... this commitment to community, to stability, to even confrontation that arises in community, Jonathan offers this:

"The purpose of the confrontation is not to vent my anger or to 'get something off my chest.' It is to regain a friend that I have lost. The point is reconciliation." (chapter 4, "the Wisdom...")

Lord, have mercy! And give us roots of love.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

homemade cheese grits and tornado sirens

That's the short story of my morning. I began at 7am, somewhat prepared (more "somewhat" than actually "prepared") to jog in my first-ever 5K - The Binghampton Community Church 5K, to be exact. Instead, I woke to hear tornado sirens and since I have a secret love for ominous-looking skies and thunderstorms, I watched the local weather on and off, interspersed with some napping here and there through most of the morning.

Then cheese grits started sounding good. So I made some. (along with scrambled eggs, toast, french press coffee, and straight-from-the-juicer carrot/apple/pear/orange/lemon juice that Jeff made... yow!)

So, I thought I was going to do one thing, and ended up with something else. And it was very good.

I've also spent a good portion of the morning reading "What Paul Really Said About Women: An Apostle's Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love," by John Temple Bristow. I'm taking notes and really, really glad I'm reading. It's a good next-read after my time well-spent immersed in Donald M Joy's, "Lovers - Whatever Happened to Eden?" (now titled "Two Become One," which some would say is a much-better title, but forfeited the cool, 80s-esque book cover).

I'm thankful for the voices of good friends and authors who can have these conversations with us, unafraid to challenge the traditional roles of women/spouses that never really seemed quite right in the practicality of my own marriage, as well as the example I was handed down from my parents (which also broke some norms in some ways, which I am thankful for).

Just because we are the Church doesn't mean we can't ask, "Maybe what 'has been' is not what 'should be'". We have not arrived; we are not the most enlightened. There is still room to grow! I recommend these reading with open hearts and open minds!

And finally...

May Grace and Peace abound...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

piano, reborn

Piano is my first instrument. Did you know that? Probably not. Most of you have only seen me with a guitar. Well, lately I've been playing a lot more piano. I've got 6 years worth of slacker-ness to make up for. I'd play here and there but never anything you'd call diligent or dedicated or with much heart. And I've been wondering why this is.

Maybe when you go to a piano lesson once a week, for 11 consecutive years, you just want to set it aside. During those years, there were many times I didn't want to play, but I did it anyway. And I'm so glad I did. Now, it's coming back around, and a love is growing inside me. This time, I find myself wanting to play. Despite the difficulty of reacquainting myself with the feel of the keys under my fingertips, the crescendos and decrescendos, the soul of playing more than just mere notes... yes, despite all of that, I'm enjoying this.

Why did I ever let it fall away? Why did I forsake such a beautiful instrument? It's a lost art, piano-playing is. I'm convinced of this. Everyone wants to play guitar. You can learn more quickly, you can take it anywhere - and these are reasons I love guitar! But I'm so glad piano was my first instrument, so glad to have the opportunity to keep playing.

This weekend I'll join 4 or 5 fellow musicians, all who took lessons under the same wonderful woman. We'll celebrate 25 years of her studio, diligently teaching children (and a few adults) despite a lot of their apathy and rottenness. (Indeed, I was rotten sometimes. One time, during a studio Christmas party, I was talking during the movie and being generally disruptive and disrespectful, and she made me go sit out on the porch! Love that woman.)

What a joy to be back with these friends, playing and singing and remembering friendships of long ago.

Humanity still shows some glimmer of Light!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring has a way of making me into a neighbor...

Indeed it does.

Spring is in full-swing here in Memphis, and I'm am really in love; I mean, really in love! We're trying to enjoy it fully, and so far, so good. Took some kid-friends to the botanic gardens plus a picnic, then the next day, Jeff and I picnic-ed at the river (the Mighty Mississippi). Then to an outdoor concert to sway and sing along with Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken, with the cheese, wine, and other picnic-ey items spread out on our blanket (are you seeing a theme here?)

Spring is good. The strawberry plant in our front flower bed has grown like crazy in 48 hours; I'm not kidding, at least half an inch, maybe more. Seriously. Seriously? Seriously.

But really, Springtime can make you into a good, or at least a better, neighbor. It's no longer dark when you get home from work, and everyone's in a better mood than in 20 degree February, and something about the way the sun sets in the Spring just makes you feel good. It makes you feel a little more alive.

Don't we all feel the little deaths of winter? The strawberry plant goes into hiding, the trees are skinny, and some days you want to lock yourself inside... so maybe you kind of die a little inside, too.

But then comes the new life. And somehow I find it inside me to step off of my safe little porch and out onto the sidewalk. Down the street and onto someone else's porch. Into a living room I'm unfamiliar with and finally leave with the hug of a sweet woman who prays for us even though she doesn't know our middle names. Maybe she doesn't even know our last names. I don't even know hers. But we're neighbors, and we know it.

Summer is coming, and in Memphis... that can [for me, at least] mean more withdrawing... from the scorching heat, the mosquitoes. So, don't let Spring get away... step off your porch, friends.

Be bound up by grace and peace!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

music & lyrics: a forgiving song

something new that just came about, partly behind a desk that can leave me wishing I were outside and partly by the glow of the living lamp that I love so much...

we saunter in all broken and messed up inside
drag it up the stairs to keep it by our sides
but I'm so tired of this
so tired of talking to you about this

it's easy to name the things we did not make
good or bad or we'll just wish them all away
oh, we're good at this
a little too good at this

maybe we all need to be forgiven
maybe we all need to forgive them
we all need to be forgiven
and move on...

the walls are growing so much stronger by the day
the defenses they're growing just the same
but you look so tired to me
so tired of all of this

what would the people say if we tore it all down
and started with nothing but empty hands
most of them would just turn and walk away
they'd turn and walk away...
would that be okay?

Monday, March 29, 2010

it's time

Spring days, seed-planting, and a constant flow of "guests" (Family, really) through our home - it is indeed time for a new post. But there isn't time right now, and so hang on to your pants... I'll be back soon.

In the meantime, be bound up by Grace and Peace!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

plants need nurturing... you know, like children

The Pates-GeigLines-MaddieSmith-otherswelcome Multi-Family garden has bee-gun. Yes, that's right... let the growing begin, folks. Melissa and I spent the afternoon planing lettuce, spinach, and onion bulbs (that we're not sure are going to grow). We still have many seeds to begin indoors, and I hope we rise to the challenge this year and actually grow our things from seed. Last year we had to end up buying a lot of plants that didn't take from seeds.

You can sow the seed but you can't make it grow. We can nurture it and do just we think that little baby seed needs.... yet, alas, the growing isn't up to us.

Just you wait, there will be more garden profoundness to come!

In other news, this de-distractions Lenten season is proving to be a good one. Kind to me, gentle to me. Allowing space for silence and music and mopping floors. TV goes off more, "social networking" is non-existent (well, except for this blog today - but it's Sunday!), and for all of this... I am quite thankful.

I guess I'm being nurtured as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

memoirs on the passing life

Entry #2: The Long 3 Months

For 3 months my grandfather, Papa as we called him, fought for (or clung to) life. During that time, I wasn't around much; I stayed connected through 2nd hand information. But I really just kept waiting. Honestly, I was surprised he lived for so long. My memory of him in that hospital was burned as one where he seemed miserable, not really living. (Yet, in the past couple of days I've been taught/re-thought what it means to be living; the mind and spirit can be very alive while the body, what we measure "living" by, continually withers away.)

Living 5 hours away keeps the reality at bay. I knew he was sick; I asked for updates. But I wasn't present, and in many ways, I didn't want to be. Papa and I weren't close before, why would it matter now? That isn't fully true, that it didn't matter, but it's what ran through my head a lot of days. My family-my caring, dedicated family-was present the whole time. They tirelessly made daily visits to the hospital, and later, the nursing home. Mrs. Libby, my "adopted" grandmother," made soup and brought diet coke and read her book by his bedside.

Still he clung.

During this time, and looking back, I didn't desire to visit or to be close to the situation. This isn't my nature, to turn away from closeness, to choose to be emotionally uninvolved. In fact, it's quite the opposite of my personality. But this was quite different; it brought out something in me I've not seen before. I thought, why be connected to him then, when he's dying? And besides, we'd never had many conversations that didn't end in his telling me he wish I'd done something his way instead of mine, more or less.

So that's the waiting. Not much happened healthwise during this time, except for ups and downs in his condition, amidst the continual "down" (he would never be able to live at home again, never be free from the care of medical personnel). And I guess I waited for him to die. I didn't want him to die, yet I wanted him to be free from his misery.

Next time I'll carefully (as to not offend or disclose anything too personal) tell you what I've learned from watching my dad and aunt, his children, go through the death of their dad. It's quite different from my experience, yet it's taught me much.

Thanks for reading; may you think through your own grief, past or present, in losing those you love, and know God's grace in a very real way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

memoirs on the passing life

Entry #1, here goes something...

He had a stroke in early November, exactly 3 months before he was buried.

Hearing he was sick didn't bring to surface many emotions, initially, until I came home to visit and the serious tone in my mother's voice called out to my tears.

And seeing him in the hospital bed was even worse. How could this man, known more than most things (to me, anyway) for being a opinionated, controlling, and a bit bossy, be lying in this bed so completely vulnerable and unable to speak clearly? It's a question many ask as they watch the once strong and healthy lie in a bed, now described as sickly and immobile. And it's a disheartening sight.

But I think it was particularly difficult for me because he had never let himself be vulnerable before me, never really needed my help, my hand. But now? It was his very sustenance, the help of someone else. Completely dependent on the grace of God and the love of Family and strangers. And for 5 hours that day, I sat with him, mostly wordlessly, and tried my best to discern his needs. Do you want an ice chip? Do you want a cold washcloth on your forehead? Do you want me to just stand here and hold your hand and watch the football game with you? All of the above.

It was a meaningful day for us, to be able to care for him for the first time in my life. Odd, isn't it, how too many of us only become vulnerable when we're forced into it? That we wait until the end of life to let ourselves need someone else? I left that hospital thankful - thankful for the chance to be needed by him, for some sort of reconciliation to take place, thougth not by any means fully completed.

I drove home listening to Sara Groves' new album, "Fireflies and Songs" and crying because in some way, I'd just experienced feelings similar to what she felt when she wrote down these words:

"It took me by surprise, this old house and these old feelings
walked 'round and looked inside, familiar walls and halls and ceilings...
sad, fruitful, broken, true."
[This House]

Grace and peace be ours, those who know full well that sadness and Italicreconciliation and brokenness and hurt can all co-exist, who hold it in our hands wondering what to do next...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the newest housemate

many of you know... we like housemates. :)

and so we have a new one, whose things are being put in order as we speak. He won't officially be sleeping here until the weekend, but his coming is evidenced by multiple ottomans/storage units, new pictures for the walls, and an impressive DVD collection... (and I mean impressive...) We're so excited to share our home with Ty, "our" meaning, all 3 of ours. It'll truly be our home, since he's bringing a lot to the family - a fantastic couch, new TV, and other items placed throughout the house. And that's what we want... things to share. :)

So, I bid you good night on this Wednesday evening, as I listen to the Wailin' Jennys, the sound of cake-making (Jeff winning over his co-workers), and the arranging of items in the room next door. Life is truly a gift... thank you, Jesus.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

what some of us have sought all along...

When checking my email this morning, a Yahoo! news article caught my eyes - 21 Things We're Learning to Live Without. On the one hand, I'm glad to see that someone is writing about this, showing us *shock!* we can live without Cable, fancy cell phones, and multiple car notes. And are people really willing to use the space in their home to allow a non-family member (or even more difficult, a blood-relative!) to live in their home and share the cost of living? Surely this cannot be!

On the other hand, I can't help but wondering why it took us so long. Why did we ever think we needed to fill out lives with crap? Just because our affluence allowed us these things, we felt the obligation to indulge. And now...

But who are we kidding, if our economy does bounce back, won't we go right back to our same old habits? "Buying" things we can't pay for (debt), huddling our little family in a big house (privacy), and padding our lives with insurance policies, alarm systems, and private schools (security +).

What might we learn from all of this? Could we move beyond being "forced" to cut back and actually realize the deep joy in disconnecting from technology and discovering the joy of human connection? (Matthew Clark has lots of thoughts on this) to cooking simple, good food? to sharing things that aren't really ours to own anyway?

Could we?

What some of us have sought all along, is now becoming... more common. And to that I say, praise be to God, our provider and creator of all the joy we're re-discovering in human connection!

Monday, January 4, 2010

the cold isn't easy

My heart is saddened tonight; 3 people have died from the cold here. The homeless... the elderly... the sick... so vulnerable. I know my northern friends might not understand the worry, but we aren't a place used to a low of 10 at night, and wind chills close to zero. Our houses aren't made for it; our homeless aren't used to it.

I'm thinking much about the people who call my office, desperately looking for utilities assistance. They will be so cold. The woman who says she's caring for her mom, who has COPD. They will be so cold.

Lord, have mercy...