Friday, December 28, 2012

Life and Death


With every wedding I remember my vows;
with every death, my grief rises from the depths.

The skies were a piercing, but gentle blue. Every head bowed, every eye closed, but I needed to see, needed to watch this blue and let it strike me.

Their life began today, a new life together. Their eyes lost in each other's, hands holding tightly, their minds perhaps constructing, right then and there, the tower of their marriage, standing strong and tall above the rest. Unbreakable, it seems.

And we are powerfully drawn, called into this marriage whether we like it or not. Each story in these brown folding chairs has been woven together in each of their stories. Broken relationships, coffee dates, late night questions - life together.

Now, we're all responsible. By showing up here today, we give our blessing, proclaim our "amen". By hearing their vows, we make our own, vows to walk with them, carry their burdens, love them with grace and truth - and help them learn to love each other.

___________________________

He couldn't even lift his head. He didn't know I was there - or that he as himself was there, for that matter - but we stayed. Mom packed the bags while I posted up at the wheelchair, stroking his arm, his hair, keeping myself busy, really.

Two hours before the ceremony, we cried. And looked at each other. The nurses and assistants were loving, kind, understanding. They, too, stroked his cheek, wiped his eyes, bringing comfort in whatever ways they could.

He is dying.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Meet Brian Mulder

He's tall. He's bearded. He's Canadian by birth, Michigander by relocation. Loves people well, craves adventure, and rides a bike like nobody's business, particularly across the country (no, really).

Meet Brian Mulder.



In less than a week, various residents of the Malcomb House will make the 10-hour trek to Holland, Michigan, home to windmills, cool Dutch last names (like VanDenberg and VanWylen), and of course, Brian.

We met at Service Over Self (SOS) in the summer of 2005, becoming friends over music and heartbreak, sitting in the hallway on occasion, singing sad songs we'd written about ones who'd broken our hearts. Sob. 

We'd lead morning worship - me, Brian, and Matthew Clark - and the rest is history... friends for life. I love and respect Brian, a loyal friend and brother, compassionate and thoughtful about all things in life; he lives life deeply and fully.

In October 2009, Brian and Matthew set out on a month long house show tour. 'Twas good.





Not only is he a songwriter and musician, but once, not so long ago, he rode his bike a long, long way, for a good, good reason.






We'll be playing a house show in Holland on Saturday, December 8 at 8pm; if you're in the area, come on out! We'll play in-the-round, playing several originals from each of us - a taste of everything. For us it will be a joy to play on each other's songs, since we we don't see each other as often as we'd like.

We're still firming up details for the location, so check my website (www.abbyewestpates.com) regularly for updates. You can hear Matthew's music here and Brian's music here.

Brian... it's happening!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Good Night

We sit in the living room, listening to Anna' favorite Over the Rhine song. Two candles. Homemade salsa. Lamps - never overheads. Housemates. Best friends. Pencil to paper. We're missing some, but they'll be home soon.

A meal of leftovers gives way to dark chocolate brownies and pistachio-almond ice cream. It's so dark already; autumn is here.

Still, we're listening, just listening. Deep chords from the piano. Smooth dobro. She met Jesus in New Orleans, the King in Memphis.

It's good. It's Sunday night.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Early Eve Thunderstorm

Danger. Risk,
in these flashes of
light.
Bellows of thunder.

Feel the tiny pelting
of water drops.
The bark, so far,
is bigger than the bite.

Shouldn't I be inside,
seeking refuge,
a safety?

But I would miss
the breeze,
the kind you know
can only be that
of the mighty storm.

Sticky, unpredictable,
wind blows as it wishes.
Evidence of something
unstoppable,
just over the horizon.

Danger, maybe, but I need
to feel,
to see,
for myself.

The life in the thunderstorm
makes even me come to life.

Autumn Garden

The Autumn garden has a different look. Lots of green tomatoes that began to appear at the end of summer; plentiful herbs that begged to be used; and scary men.

Enjoy.

newbie next to the more mature
chives, gone to seed
thai basil
scary yard man, Matthew Clark

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grief Rushes In

We're sitting in the living room; we know the end is coming. I'm in her chair, the mauve one - her favorite color. Somehow these things fall to me or dad, the strong ones, they say, strong like her. "She won't get better, Pop; she isn't coming home." Does he understand?

"Yeah," he says. He's quiet. "I hope I didn't do this to her." What do you say? Maybe you just cry. Mom's in the kitchen doing the crying for us. Dad responds to him - with what, I won't remember.

He doesn't want to go back there to see her. He won't say this, but it's too much, too much. Too much white; too much sadness, anxiety; too many people; too much reality. He'll live his next six months in denial.


__________________________

Our last phone call was from the middle of nowhere, a farm outside Memphis. She called from the hospital. Weak, but making little of it, just like she always did. Making little of herself is what got her here in the first place.

Things are better, she said. But she stopped hearing me, bad signal. It's okay, I heard her say. We'll talk soon.

That was the last time, the very last time.

_________________________

I come here to her bedside a little every day, singing, praying, holding steady. But I know where we are headed. 

We're gonna lose her.

So, I sing.

It's gone on longer than it should have, we all know this. Still, the day comes, the day of endings. The end of life, of waiting, of false hope. The end of knowing her in life. And though we don't know it yet, the beginning of his end.

________________________

Did he ever really understand? Of course he did, he understood more than any of us could. He knew her leaving in her absence, in body, in loss of the care she gave. There was nothing she hadn't touched. He knew because the picture frame of his life, their life, had been broken. He could stand no longer.

We're gonna lose him.

Now, I'm kneeling by his bedside, singing into his ear, hoping he can hear me through the blanket of deafness that long ago covered him. And I know, I feel, that he's died long before his death. A shell of a man remains.

I loathe this white room, void of beauty, sound, reality. There's human kindness, to be sure, but even we humans cannot overcome the loss of identity that has taken place for him here. Nothing in this room is of him.

So he finishes the task.

He is gone.

______________________

I know you now in death. In memory, character, pictures. I know you, in many ways, more truly and clearly, now that I have only endless remembering. I see things that couldn't be seen when only eyes could see. I know things that couldn't be known when only information passed between us, when I watched you in real time. I hear things that my once closed ears couldn't hear, but now are ringing with your truth, your wisdom.

I have you now, maybe even more fully, than I've ever had you. 

When the grief rushes in, I welcome her. It is then that you are mine.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What The Promise Is For

I am the wayward sort. My mind wanders, imagines a life I've never lived, with ones I've never known. Yes, I am the wayward sort, wondering what life might have been mine had I signed up for a different class, been born a different year, loved another man, written a different song.

And my life is good... so good. I am deeply loved and cared for by a faithful husband, supported and challenged by friends who are, indeed, Family. Countless meals and conversations fill my days. I have fulfilling work and vocation as a songwriter and musician. There is laughter, singing, creating. Yes, life is good; it is full.

But I guess born in us from the beginning is the question if things could be better, different; if we could have more control. "God, is there something you're withholding?"

I want to be the faithful sort - whose mind never wanders, who eyes never look in the wrong direction, who is content - joyful! - with what's been given, with what has been entrusted to my safe-keeping.

__________________________

"This is harder than we dreamed, but I believe that's what the promise is for."
(Andrew Peterson, Dancing in the Minefields)

Vows exist for a reason. We promise to stay, promise to grow up together, keep on together. And not just marriage vows. Monastic vows come to mind. Without vows, commitment, we'd retreat to isolation. Or we would put our whole selves into others, over and over again, with no promise to carry these selves through to anything resembling wholeness, goodness. If there was no vow, I think I'd be in trouble, always wondering if the grass was greener somewhere else.

If we avoid vows, promises, commitments altogether, even though those of us who make them fall short, then what do we think about the world? About a god? About our life's purposes? There are accidents, not purposeful creations; using each other for one's own good, moving on when finished; no access to the joy found through suffering when you come out on the other side (for, without the vow, you jump ship when the suffering is just beginning).

May we be found faithful; may even I be found faithful.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Show's Over, Folks...

The stage is cleared, the sound is off, the crowd's gone home. The guitar is put away; the nervousness long gone. Two days later, my feet are propped, Wendell Berry's fiction awaits my reading, and a restful Sunday afternoon is laid out before me. In the corner of the room sits the vintage suitcase that holds the contents of our "merch" table.

The show's over.

But part of me sticks around in that night - it always does after a show - trying to remember each face in the crowd, feedback, which folks were totally into it, their head following the melody, the ones singing along. Who came? Who couldn't make it? Who surprised me and showed up?

It's always the people that matter. And the people... they were good to me, to us. They listened and responded, with their eyes, and post-show conversation.

Then there's the ones who shared the stage with me, who put hours of practice and planning into this night. Jeff, Matthew, Katie, Ty, Wes. The ones who gave of their gifts, though what I give them in return isn't much of anything. Who give because they want to see the fruit of good music and people responding to it. For them, I am flooded with gratitude.

Photo Credit: Kelly Angel

Photo Credit: Kelly Angel

 You see, there's so much anticipation, so much work that goes into preparing for this one hour, one hour. But beyond that one hour is much more: the CD playing in someone's car, the blog-reader who will keep up with what I'm writing on here, the new drummer who's inspired to keep playing because Jeff is awesome. The teenage girl from south Mississippi who wept and felt understood when she heard, "Now you've gone to Carolina; you've left your old life behind...," because her own dad has had to make a difficult decision to move to North Carolina, leaving them to miss him more than he might know.

The show might be over, but the story is not, the listening is not.

I'm still reading; I'm still listening. And hopefully, so are you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Time: the Album Release Show

It's almost here. At 7pm - maybe a little after, if we keep you on your toes - our first ever Album Release Show will begin. A little banjo, a little guitar solo-ing, a little harmony.

As we've been practicing, gearing up for the big night, I'm struck by the place we've come to. Practices aren't painful; they're joyful. Each time we play together, we're getting better and better. And it's just fun!

So... join us this Friday night! We're gonna have some fun, and we want you to have some, too.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Music Updates!

Nathan Brasfield, a good friend of mine and on staff with Christ Church here in Memphis, asked for an interview highlighting our new album and the album release show coming up in a less than two weeks.

You can find the post here. He did such a great job, and we're honored to be featured on the Christ Church blog!


In other news, our website is up!

It is simple, but what we need for now. Be sure to check it out regularly for updates to our show schedule and other new information (we hope to add a Lyrics page in the future, for all those digital downloaders who still want to read the words).

Our album release show is Friday, October 26, at 7pm, here in Memphis! We hope to see you at Victory University (255 N. Highland St.) for a full-band show. We're pumped!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Art After Dark: Join us this Saturday!

When I looked The Strand Theater on Google, I quickly learned these are all over the country - the first result was in Louisiana - including New Jersey, Massachusetts and Ohio. How have I never heard of these? I'm familiar with the Orpheum, also all over the country; and I feel there are others slipping my mind.

But never have I know The Strand.

That's all changing now that we are a part of the fundraising event for the historic Strand Theater in Louisville, Miss., where we'll join other artists this Saturday, September 29 from 6-9pm, showcasing the fruit of our art-making.

Susan Clark, the amazing-and-artistic mom of our housemate Matthew Clark, is one of the primary organizers of this event, to raise money to support the Strand, which according to Wikipedia is now an art and music venue in this small, southern town of well under 10,000 people. She, along with her son Sam, will be two of the artists displaying their work, which includes a pottery demonstration.

I love Mississippi, the arts and Susan Clark, so come on out this Saturday! There is an admission fee of $20, but if you eat dinner in The Market Cafe, host of the event, your admission is included with your dinner receipt.

Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One Memory Leads to Another



"I remember every name and every face
and every roadtrip that we ever made..."
("Who I Am" by Abbye West Pates)

There's a small town somewhere in Louisiana with a church named Bedico - Bedico Baptist Church. And in my memory, I see this church, the guitars we pulled out of our cases, the brownies we ate, the face of the friends who graciously brought me along on the journey.

I was 18, a freshman in college. Though I played guitar and had a full collection of youth group worship songs, I didn't call myself a worship leader. But I did tag along, guitar in tow. It was the blue one, the guitar my parents bought as my Christmas present just a year before.

And they let me sing; I loved to sing.

Jeremy was the worship leader. I sang some harmonies and strummed along, unimpressively I'm sure. It was a good weekend, this I remember. I was so young, too inexperienced to have contributed in any significant way, I think.

Why is the memory so vivid tonight?

___________________________________

I threw this baseball tee on tonight: "Follow Jesus," it says, Bedico Baptist Student Ministry on the back. A church fellowship hall (or "family life center," if you're Baptist) came to mind, pieces of memory.

But wait - this church isn't Bedico; I know this one. I hopped in a different car, ready for another adventure. This time with friends more familiar, those summer friends who ushered me out of high school, into adulthood.

Yes, on that trip I didn't pull out my guitar; I just watched, sang along. And I  knew why I tagged along this time: a boy. There's a picture to prove it, on the stage, practicing before the show. I'm standing with him, leaning into him.

It's so obvious I liked him; maybe I loved him. In the picture, I'm wearing his sweatshirt. Swooning, I'm sure.

Funny, this one shirt I'm wearing, tucked away for the Summer, reappearing for Autumn, has swept me back there, back to 18 years old. The memories - they're all smashing together. But they remind me of life; indeed, of life well lived.

___________________________________



On the other side of the neighborhood, that blue guitar is sitting in the corner of my best friend's house. It was time for a new one, time to grow up into one that could carry me strong from the stage.

I'm secretly glad that I still get to see that guitar, reminder of every person, every living room, every song that came from it.

This shirt, that guitar - I'm reminded of one reason why I write: to remember.




"I remember every name and every face
and every roadtrip that we ever made.
And I count every single one as my blessing
'cause I know my life never went unlived."
("Who I Am" by Abbye West Pates)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Church: my story.

Today: freshly cut grass. Gardens that struggle to grow. Hollywood and girl's return to the Deep South. Recovery of cursive handwriting. Grief and loss. Anger at "the Church" and what that means for how we look at "it" - an organization - or how we view humans, people, individuals that make up this Church.

I remember my own story.

It only seemed logical to me that every church [of this certain denomination] must look exactly like mine. We don't really like to change things. We never let the service go longer than one hour. We don't use guitars (unless a very special "youth occasion"). And we chew up our pastors and spit them out.

So, I left for college and set out to find any church - of any denomination besides my own, please - that was exactly NOT the church I grew up in. (It's important to mention here that my faith journey was largely shaped by the faithfulness of certain people in this Church, but there's more to come on that later.)


fellow youth group-ers, of growing up years
The youth of Heritage UMC, Hattiesburg
I did find other churches. They had great college programs, cool music, small groups and fun outings. Oh, and really cute guys (one who I went on to marry). They were so good, in fact, that I couldn't decide at which one I should stay, so I visited them all! I hopped around, sticking one for about a year, but moving on after that.

Then during my senior year, I found one that seemed to call me home. We sang the hymns of my growing up; received the bread and grape juice on our knees or in processional; and kept close to the Church calendar, the seasons of Advent and Lent that help us remember our place a great Story. Our pastors were vibrant, quirky and loved deeply by us.

And the sign out front bore the same last name as the church from which I'd run so far.


Bruce, pastor of the Church that called me home.

Toris (aka T-love)

This new church home of mine had a tough history; they almost closed their doors for good. They were located in a part of this Mississippi college town where realtors didn't regularly take potential residents: "Haven't you heard of our newest development out west, where the schools are so good?" So, people moved away, money ran out and what follows many in our denomination almost followed us.

Then one sweet, yet resilient lady got in her van and picked up kids to come to Wednesday night dinner. And we built a Habitat home for one of our own. And we gathered in the little chapel after dinner to read the Scriptures together.

Later in years, thing got tough again for the Church I loved. But those other ones I was so non-committal with in college had their own tough times - disagreements that split the Church, new visions for ministry (and desire for bigger buildings) that caused sharp conflict, and leaving behind the city for the suburbs, breaking hearts with their move.


And so it goes. 

What I know now is that people are unfaithful; and people are what make up the Church.

Isn't this why we need a faithful God? Isn't this why we come together anyway, to try to live together and sing songs that [at least most of us] like? And if we don't like them, we sing them anyway, because we need to sing together, to believe together, to look outward at this mess of a world and see God's work in it - together?

Running from the Church won't save us from unfaithful people. And I confess - I have not been faithful. But we keep seeking to be faithful; we help each other be faithful; and we stay

We stay because otherwise we are among the masses who leave because working it out is too difficult and frustrating; singing unfamiliar songs is too uncomfortable; sitting next to someone at dinner who can't pay his way isn't what we signed up for.


__________________________

The church of my growing up years taught me a lot about faithfulness. I saw many people - my own parents, included - stay, no matter the circumstances. When the same group of people complained about the new pastor, only to see him out and send us into another transition... they stayed. When the proposed changes to music in worship were shot down again... they stayed. 

And without even realizing it, I learned how to live with imperfect, unfaithful people - and they learned to live with me.

__________________________

"Loving a person just the way they are, that's no small thing;
that's the whole thing... it takes some time."
(Sara Groves)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Assumptions and 'Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Hushpuppy and Wink. Daughter and father. One moment their relationship speaks of loyalty; in the next, it shouts of out-of-control anger. When at once you think he's thankful to have Hushpuppy as daughter, minutes later you wonder if he wishes to be rid of her. Still, throughout, it speaks of love.


Within the first minutes of 'Beasts of the Southern Wild', I was thrust into a trailer on stilts, with a wild-haired little girl whose clothes were filthy; whose dad was reckless and intoxicated; who mostly, though probably not often enough, knew she was loved.

And within these same first minutes, I'd already made my assumptions. 

What kind of father is that? What kind of town is this? Too much alcohol; too much dirt. Not enough order; not enough love.

But there was another group of people in this movie who made assumptions. They were clean and put together and sanitary and rescued the residents of Bathtub right out of that filthy bayou. This is for your own good. It's clean here. There are hospital beds. And other children to play with. And four safe walls to keep you safe.

What Hushpuppy and her neighbors see, though, is that their choices have been stripped away. They didn't choose to leave; they were forced to leave.

So, now, clean and beds and children and walls communicate suffocation and oppression and... boredom.

What I saw in 'Beasts...' was the danger of assumptions - that this poor, unresourced community couldn't take care of themselves. That life was bad.

It made me think of my own community, my own neighbors, some of whom don't have the same things I have: two-parent homes, jobs, cars, etc. What are my assumptions? What is good for them? Will I give them time to let me know what they need - if anything - from me, or will I assume I know what it is before I've even learned their name?

Our starting place can never be assumptions, or we've not met the person in front of us; we've only met the person we've been taught to think they are.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

time goes by

The teasing of the past several days' Autumn-like weather doesn't have me fooled - summer isn't quite over - but it does remind me that August is well on its way to becoming September, and I've been a serious slacker when it comes to blogging.

But I'm back!

The okra is growing like crazy, school is back in session, and our album will be in our hands in a matter of weeks - so, maybe summer is mostly over. We're busy trying to book some shows (anyone in Mississippi want to host us?), throw baby showers for best friends, write new songs and figure out how to get the tomatoes to actually grow.

And today I'm letting you know that I will be writing more. Don't stop reading!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

music: where are we going?

As we (Jeff and I) near the completion of our first album, we get a lot of questions about where we're going from here. Will we do this full-time? Order physical copies or just sell online? Travel and play? Play more locally? What are our goals?

These are great questions, ones we're exploring as we go. But if you're reading (and listening to the music), it's probably helpful to keep you in the loop as we go along!

We should have the album in our hands - hopefully! - no later than September 1. We will order physical copies (I'm still a purchaser of CDs!), and there will be full lyrics.

Beyond that we are looking into playing in living rooms in Hattiesburg, Miss. and Vermont; coffee shops in Minneapolis; universities in Georgia and churches in Mobile, Ala. and Jackson, Miss.

I'm also a storyteller, once who is not always graceful in delivery; I'll work on that. I'll be crafting my stories in a way that are more accessible, easier to listen to, more clearly communicated.

And I'll be writing. 

If there's one thing the album process has done, it's helped me find my voice, find my style, my rhythm. Matthew calls album-making, at least in my case, "closing the chapter," getting these songs out there so I clear the way for new songs and stories.

This is where we are. We do want to travel more; we do want to grow.

We're on the way; join us!

(Another thing we want down the road is a good website! This will have to do for now: www.abbyewestpates.com.)



Friday, July 6, 2012

gifts of other artists: a thank you

I am sitting at the stage, maybe two rows in, and Sara or Andrew or Don start this story, the one about growing up as a preacher's kid with rebellion in his heart or what it felt like to sit at mom's side in the hospital, just before death visited. There isn't another voice in this room; every ear is listening. Their stories become ours for a moment. We are in that sanctuary with the boombox and the piano when the flash of grace comes, in that white-walled room when everyone is praying, but everyone knows hows it ends.

And I wonder can I hold such sorrow in my heart!

Then we are taken into their marriages, their children's imaginations, their awakenings. We hear when love washed over a multitude of things gone wrong, when promises were kept. We're allowed to see what beauty struck them when this song became a song, when thought turned into lyric turned into melody.

And I wonder can I hold such joy in my heart!

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with gratitutde at the gifts of these artists, whose work matters so much. I want to look them in the eyes, write them a letter, somehow let them know.

So, here is my thank you to a few of my favorites, for letting us in...


To you, Sara Groves, thank you for the simplicity and depth of your songs, for making your music accessible to all of us, with college degrees, with difficult pasts, with happy marriages, with failing ones. Thank you for following that call years ago from full-time, "sure of a paycheck" work - valuable teaching work -  into work that is giving us these gifts of word and song. I met your music in 2003 and never turned back.

To Andrew Peterson, thank you for that concert last night, in that beautiful North Carolina valley of Lake Junaluska. Thanks for giving yourself to us; you are a gifted storyteller. You made us laugh and cry. You introduced yourself to my family for the first time... and it was a good meeting. You are so very real and approachable; we feel human when we're listening to you.

To Don and Lori Chaffer (Waterdeep). Thank you for writing about everything - grief, loss, and how hard it is to love anybody down here. For making us laugh from the stage. For reading poetry. For being so vulnerable. For getting married. I, too, met your music in 2003, alongside Sara Groves and have been supporting and purchasing your work ever since. Your albums, both together and solo, have stirred me at the core of my being. Oh, and your music is the best canning-tomatoes, chopping-vegetables, all-around-kitchen music.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Operation Broken Silence: a benefit show

"Human Trafficking" or "Sex Trafficking"... phrases we hear and think of war-torn places, countries where women are openly mistreated, etc. When I sat down with an OBS (Operation Broken Silence) staff member this week, I told her I'd heard these terms plenty of times throughout college, especially with the trafficking of child soldiers, made to fight ugly wars and develop lifelong wounds, on the inside and out.


And though I can't say images of my own city, Memphis, Tenn., come to mind when I think of trafficking, this reality is here with us.


When a teenager runs away from a bad situation at home and is given an offer to make money giving his or her body away, this is trafficking. Though only one example of many, when a person is a "good" to be sold, earning profit for someone else, we speak of trafficking. 


This Friday, June 29, at 8pm, Jeff and I will be joined by our friend Brian von Shulz of Hattiesburg, Miss., to show up and play tunes to raise awareness and funds for Operation Broken Silence and Tennessee's first shelter for trafficking victims, right here in Memphis!


The most immediate need is for an emergency shelter, a place where a trafficked person can be brought to escape imminent danger, receive care and have access to other resources.


The long-term plan is for a residential shelter, for recovery, education, protection and nurturing, and a host of other things to bring wholeness back to those living there.


Check out the OBS Blog to see the latest and COME TO THE SHOW! They'll be there with more information, and you'll get to hear some good music, too!




Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 29: Porch Concert and Benefit Show!

Stay tuned here at the blog for details AND more shows in the near future!

(Check out Brian's website and learn more about Operation Broken Silence)


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Public Library: Top 10 Reasons To Go

If you live in Memphis, and you've yet to visit the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library (the big one on Poplar Avenue), then you're missing out!

Since I can only live in one city at a time (though, trust me, if I could live in multiple cities at once, I would), I'm only speaking directly to the Memphis Library. But know that this post is for you, wherever you are, whatever the size of your library.

Just today, I returned 3 books, renewed 1, and kept 3 more, one of which I'm going nuts over (The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan)! I spent an hour inside using the Internet, on my own laptop, doing some work for an upcoming worship-leading commitment.

I love the library; I use the library. Here's why you should to:

  1. You pay for it. Don't ask me for the city's budget to see just how much, but trust me, your tax dollars in some way, shape or form are paying for the library.
  2. The books are free. Did you realize this? Have you been missing out on free books all this time?
  3. You can try out a book/author without dropping $20 on a book. That's right, you can stop buying books that you're never going to read.
  4. Free WiFi. Yep. Save your money and hit up the library instead of the coffee shop!
  5. It's got great bathrooms. Hey, how many times are you working at Starbucks (for the free WiFi, of course) and there's ONE BATHROOM? Not at Benjamin L. Hooks, no sir. 
  6. Lots of tables and chairs. You can go to any floor of the library and find small tables, big tables, individual desks. 
  7. The view. From the aforementioned tables and chairs, you can park it in front of the wall of windows.
  8. Outlets aplenty. There are tables with little "doors" you open, filled with outlets! Perfect for that laptop with 5% battery life. No more fighting for the outlet seat at Starbucks.
  9. People. It's a great way to see and meet the diverse population of Memphis.
  10. Used Bookstore. When you do get ready to buy books, check out the used bookstore on the 1st floor. I've purchased some of my favorite books from here, for $1.50-$3.00. A STEAL!
If I've not convinced you yet, go anyway! Prove me wrong.

There are [much smaller] library branches all over the city. They don't all have walls of windows, but they do have free books and Internet. You can even use the online catalog to look up books ahead of time to see if they have it before you go!

Libraries rock.


Monday, June 4, 2012

poetry: on the man and his boy



On the Man and His Boy

Who taught you not to look at me?
As you walk over cracks
careful not to break your back
while I uneasily take notice
from the front porch.

Who told you I was
to be feared or so respected?
Who planted those seeds,
roots grown deep?

Who, I wonder,
and did they make you to fear
or make you to hate
never go too near.
Who, I wonder.

Threatening, privileged,
intimidating, [invisible],
strange, different.
I probably stare too much.
But who told you I was?

Who taught you not to look at me?
I won't take what you have.
Neighbors.
I might need you 
one day;
today, just to look.

Who told you I was?

The boy, through you,
is learning me, too.

work: what it is (unanswered questions)

Several weeks ago, I posted this entry about work, which has been at the forefront of conversation in our community for many months now. Check it out before reading this.

___________________________

We've strayed very far, in so many ways.

Neighbor, to be mistrusted. Employee, to be exploited. Spouse, children, to be tolerated. Time, to be spent, used efficiently, quantified by mere numbers. Leaving byproducts of exhaustion, human suffering, conversations cut short - no matter; they are necessary for the end result.

Our work suffers, too, of this we can be sure. Hours of busyness, with the tap of the keys, swipe of the screen, negotiation for bottom dollar. The mind will be tired; the hands will be restless. Extracted from home, from family, work is "there", never "here". We will go to work, not stay to work. Vacation time, where family fits in.

What work is this?

We once heard that we should work for what does not spoil. Isn't all set to spoil? Fruit of the earth and fruit of the business deal? What, then, shall we work for? For these answers, I still search.

May the means become as important as the end. Every person, of more worth than the price they can offer. Every meal, longer than is necessary to strike a deal. Every decision, more important than its reflection on a pay stub, but its reflection of character.

And no matter your title, no matter your corner office, may you know the deep joy and reward in planting a seed and watching it grow and bringing its fruit to the table.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sex and the Gospel: a book review

Today's post is a book review of Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach, written by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. Gerald mailed me a free copy of the book and in exchange, I read and reviewed it. You'll find Gerald blogging here, and buy the book here.

_____________________


If someone had said to me, before I was married, that sex was about the gospel, I might have leaned in and listened to what they had to say. Or I would have thought they were a little strange. But then I would have listened.

In my reading of Heistand’s and Thomas’ book, “Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach”, what I found most important is its thoughtfulness in helping us understand sex and its deep connection to the gospel. Instead of leading with the classic how-to manual and anecdotes, the authors first lay a foundation as to why sex matters. And we learn that sex matters because it is one picture of Christ’s union with the Church, our oneness with Christ, and, in marriage, our oneness with each other. They’ve elevated sex above what our culture has dragged it down to be: pure physical satisfaction and loss of control, assuming that our sexual desire is to be let loose, and we really shouldn’t do much to reign it in.

Though there were gender assumptions that we will not all agree on (men solely do the wooing, women receive it; men win hearts, women give them away, for examples), it deals head on with the cycle that most people go through at some point in their life – heartache after heartache after heartache. They acknowledge that pain and disappointment isn’t avoidable, nor should it be, while placing blame on our lack of sexual boundaries as the cause for much repetitive heartache. With this book, they declare that it is time to recognize there are clear guidelines for male and female relationships, the same for those who are dating and those who are not: no sexual activity.

As you read, you’ll find out more of what the authors mean by this, especially that they aren’t shy about calling us back from actions we might deem as innocent romantic expressions, such as kissing.

But before you run away, deeming this book unrealistic and out-of-touch with today’s culture, remember that we are the called-out, set-apart people of God. We are, indeed, seeking to be in a culture but not of it.

As one who has been through the throes of pre-marriage relationships with lack of sexual boundaries, I urge you to get a copy of this book!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Art House North: a good distraction

There are so many posts in the works, of great local restaurants and more musings on work and what it means to all of us. But in the midst of piecing these together, I'm often beautifully distracted by things like this.

One morning, during our Family/house prayer time, Matthew sent out thanks to God for musicians, authors, teachers - both those present and those who have gone before us - and their gifts. For sharing words and melodies and heart-piercing, stunning, two-hour conversation worthy, watery-eye-inducing beauty and truth.

Art House North (and Sara and Troy Groves, Charlie Peacock, Andi Ashworth and the host of others who are believing in its present and future) - I am grateful to be a part of your work, even if only in a swift raise of the hands to the sky in exclamation, "Yes!"

Sunday, April 29, 2012

lyrics: vows and grief, Mississippi-inspired

This weekend has been full-on emotion: overwhelming joy walking alongside understated grief. Heaven and hell.

But with this weekend and all it gave me - celebration of marriage, old friends, beginnings of good, new friendships, holding hands with a man who cannot speak to me anymore - has come a flood of words, expression.

I am thankful for the songs that will come, giving someone a melody, a song they may not have been able to ever sing themselves.

 Here are the pieces.

________________________________

I remember climbing those stairs
But I don't remember seeing you there.
Your dad so elusive; your mother so shy,
It's enough to make the brothers cry
enough to make the brothers cry

*********

Skies of piercing blue cover us
Watch you coming towards your awestruck groom
And I wonder can I hold such joy in my heart?
I can't contain, cannot contain.

*********
She was so damn beautiful
in that 50s black and white
but now she's gone, and he cannot hold on.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

work: the way the world runs


"How was your day?"

"Work was super stressful. My to-do list keeps growing;
there's never an end in sight."

All too often, conversations begin something like this. "Work" or the physical surroundings of the place we call work, consume our thoughts and our conversations. And why not? It makes sense that a building we drive to or a role we play for 8 hours a day would consume our thoughts.

The world runs on work.

Insurance agents quote a policy. Investors count the cost. Grocers stock the shelves. Farmers grow the food. And without these tasks, this work, many things we take for granted wouldn't get done, or at least, not without us doing each task ourselves.

This makes work sound pretty important. Why, then, is it so often the thorn in our flesh, the source of greatest headache, the stealer of sleep?

Because once, all at once, work became toil. God, speaking to man in a garden where perfect relationship with the Maker was just broken: "...getting food from the ground will be as painful as having babies is for your wife; you'll be working in pain all your life long. ...you'll get your food the hard way... sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk." (excerpts from Genesis 3: 17-19, The Message)

Toil can be described as "hard and continuous work" or "exhausting labor or effort". Even, "battle, strife, struggle". (from dictionary.com)

Now, this sounds more like what many of us describe as how we feel about work.

How, then, can we encourage work? How can we who live in urban centers with so much poverty and laziness, look at the men on front porches day in and day out with a Colt 45 in their hands and say, "Go to work, you sluggard!" (does anyone really say sluggard?) while we so often feel that our own work is battle and strife and struggle?

What do we say to this?

(More to come in the next post...)

Friday, April 20, 2012

poetry: hard to be with you


Home always beckons like a voice I can't ignore
and memory always fails me of all the times before.
How hard it is to be here
underneath the weight of the load you give.

Constant words shoot like arrows through the air
pass out complaints, free of charge
How hard it is to be here
underneath the weight of your unhappiness.

We cannot pay attention to the stories of our history;
our ears have long forgotten how.
She tells with great remembrance
while we nod and glance -
the disinterest stares right through.

I've longed to draw so close to you
but your desperation, it suffocates.
You call out to know me
but you mostly do not want what's really true.

So, I won't give myself to you.
_____________

Sitting in this home, a Monday mid-afternoon.
You're airing all the things that haven't gone your way.
And though it's true I love you -
forever, I will love you -
I'll never be able to meet you,
save you,
please you,
when all that's wrong is all you see.

How hard it is to carry the weight you've laid upon us.
How hard it is.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Life Together: the layout

Many have visited the Malcomb House; still many more have not [yet]. We've had different names and faces stay for different lengths of time - days, weeks, months, more than a year. Now, we are a house of 5 (you read that right; and 3 bedrooms, 1 full bathroom... and 5 people).

We're always navigating space - where to store things, the discipline of putting things away, and how to just find a way to read and breathe and think without tripping over each other. And yet we're still thankful for the space to be together - to pray, to eat, to notice. Easy? No. Good? Yes. It takes energy and even more grace, yet still we're growing in our life together.

Here's where we live...

{living area: the favorite blue chair. and lots of books.}


{living area: on Thursdays, at 7:30am-ish, we pray together.
And sometimes Common Prayer leads us.}


{living area: the coffee mug tree. and record player, which plays a
little Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Civil Wars.}


{kitchen: dishes, ah dishes. we have as many (or more) conversations about dishes
as we do about art and music and theology.}


"Everybody wants to live in community, but nobody wants to do the dishes." We're all guilty.


{kitchen: the refrigerator/community board. every home knows how this works!}


{the reading nook}


{@ the reading nook: your reading options.}

{the hooks: they're for hanging hats on your way in and
grabbing reusable shopping bags on your way out.}



{the garden: we've got kale and lettuce for the eating; beans sprouting;
melon and cucumber seeds freshly in; and peppers, tomatoes,
and other goodies just waiting to get in that soil!}




Sunday, April 1, 2012

new lyrics: the wounds of what was


It's 3:40pm on Sunday afternoon, and upon eyeing a picture on my nightstand, the inspiration's come.

What do you think? Do you connect with these words? Are they telling any sort of story to you, even pieces of a story you'd want to hear more about?

Leave your comments; I'd love your help in writing...

miles of green
at least, miles it seems
more between you, between me

still, I have come
to see you grow up
and move on like we both know you should

one day, we'll call them memories
but today they're the wounds of what was
you'll go and cry in your pillow
baby, what else could I have done?

at the edge of your bed
but you've long fled
to the mountains you're so sure will give you life

in 2 months time
this little note you'll find
to remind you what I never did forget

one day, we'll call them memories
but today they're the wounds of what was
you'll go and cry in your pillow
baby, what else could I have done?