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When Music Breaks Your Heart {open}

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I sat down two hours ago to write this post, but every screen I turn to–phone, tablet, computer–has an update or email or message about COVID-19. And, since it’s in my Seattleland backyard, it’s difficult to ignore. I could scroll endlessly through articles and information, repost and share what I’ve found with updates on the situation–but really? I’m convinced I need to change my focus-for my mental, spiritual and emotional health.

So I’m going to talk about music. How it lifts our spirits, ministers to our souls and breaks our hearts {open}.

In her new book Chasing Vines, author and speaker Beth Moore writes,

Music wields a power words alone can rarely match. It sidesteps your defenses and comes for you without politely asking permission.

Several years ago I was glancing out the window in my study when a Facebook message popped up with a link to Gabriel’s Oboe, a composition by Ennio Morricone from The Mission movie soundtrack. I’d seen the film years before but did not remember this particular piece. It is simple strings and gentle notes from the oboe, resonant of the Angel Gabriel, after whom the piece is named.

As soon as I hit ‘play’ I began to sob. There’s no easy way to say that–the tears came without stopping from somewhere deep inside me. God began a healing process in my life because of that moment, touching a place that was wounded in ways I didn’t even realize. When you listen, see if the final note doesn’t move you in the same way. And if you’d prefer a strings only version, here are 2Cellos and their rendition.

Jigsaw Puzzles as a Prayer

Every year at Christmas our kids get my husband and I a jigsaw puzzle. This year Santa pitched in and we actually ended up with three puzzles–birds, the beach and kites–our three favorite things.

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Actually, this is the beach AND kites

A great Friday night date for my husband and I is to build a fire, turn on the music and puzzle away….a simple, quiet joy for us. (You 30 somethings are wondering which planet we’re on, I’m sure…).

The joke around here is if the puzzle goes on the card table on the day after Christmas, we can usually finish it by the first or so of June, when the ‘kids’ show up again for Father’s Day. Alas, we got a late start–one week into this new year. But, praise be, it’s a 300-piece small one this time–easy peasy.

Working on jigsaw puzzles got me thinking about tying up the ‘loose ends’ of this year and looking at the new one ahead.  How can I focus on what God wants?–there are just TOO MANY PIECES–the shapes! the colors! They all look exactly alike–how will I tell which is which? And I’m not sure what the border even looks like. Where are my boundaries?

I began to think of you, dear friends, some of who’ve typed me personal notes, those I’ve exchanged emails with sharing prayer requests, joys and some not so joyful times. I thought of the challenges we face, the aspirations, the daily-ness of our walk with Jesus.

Hence, this prayer about puzzles, a metaphor for our lives:

“Father, we give you all the pieces of our lives, rounded, jagged, ill-fitting.
We place the ideas, dreams and desires,
the want-to’s and the need-to’s,
the prayers for family and friends,
the cries of our heart to follow you, into your hands.
 
Show us the puzzle frame, Father.  And remind us that YOU are the designer. 
 
Help us to pick up one piece at a time, one day at a time.
 
Show us how to consider each one well, notice the round edges,
observe the ways it could work–‘maybe over here?’ ‘maybe over there?’
 
Remind us that it takes time to make something beautiful, so that everything fits in place.
 
Whisper whenever we need it, the words telling us we will not be finished with x y z in a week, or a month. Maybe not even this year.
For we may need to ponder and puzzle over the fragments more than once,
laying them down and picking them up with a fresh look the next day.
 
Remind us Father, that when we surrender everything
lay it all out on the table
that YOU can take it and make it into
something beautiful in your time.
Amen.”
Philippians 3:13,14
“(this) one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,   
    I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
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This is an edited version of a post originally written in January 2013. HT Jennifer Ferguson and The Knot Project, talking about puzzles. Some truths are still so very truthy.

Things I’m Not Good At (or Why I Decorate With Books)

        “So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” Romans 12:5, The Message Bible

* * * *

My sister Elle got all the creative genes in our family. She can watch a how-to show on HGTV and then shop at Home Depot for plywood, staples and vinyl covering, go home and 5 hours later, voila–she’s got a way cool headboard for her bedroom. She was a do-it-yourselfer before DIY was part of our current vocabulary.

I’ve seen her re-fashion fabric pieces into throw pillows, make a shower curtain out of a bedspread, design, sand and paint a picture frame, recover chairs. The list goes on.

Me, I decorate with things that make me happy--books, photos in small frames, fresh flowers from our yard, rocks I collect from the beach. There is no ‘decorating’ scheme in my home, simply moving things around in the seasons. Oh, and candles. I do like candles.

But imagining something out of almost-thin air then creating it to go in my home? Not me.

So not me.

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There is a great deal of freedom in knowing what things you don’t do, what you’re not good at. Being aware of what you can say “no” to so that you can say “yes” to the truest part of who you are.

I’m in a small book study group at our church, going through Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet-thoughts on change, grace and learning the hard way. (Zondervan, 2010). I don’t need anything extra to read at this time in my life, but frankly, the content is perfectly timed.

In particular, the affirmation that it is okay to not be awesome at everything, because we aren’t meant to do everything.

It’s often easy to buy into the lie that says we should be like all those “other people” who have remarkable gardens, super-original clothes, the ones that knit or cook, bake, sew, decorate, craft, fill-in-the-blank. The enemy of our souls would like us to think we should be able to do it all, whatever that all is.

If we buy into that argument, then the “this” that we should be doing, which is often the one thing we were made to do, gets lost.

We’re spread too thin trying to be something we’re not, trying to fit in where we shouldn’t be, trying to look like everyone else.

May I suggest that you do what Niequiest challenged us to do? Make a list of “Things I Don’t Do.” Her list included things like gardening, scouring flea markets, baking, making scrapbooks–definitely not in her DNA, although they are all the “right” mom things to do.

Niequist also added something intangible that she doesn’t do,
“I don’t spend time with people who routinely make me feel like less than I am, or who spend most of their time talking about what’s wrong with everyone else and what’s wrong with the world…”

* * * * *

Life is a constant decision to redefine our boundaries again and again, making them tighter and smaller, not so that we can live in a hidey-hole kind of place, ignoring the world and staying safe, but so that we can live in the freedom of being who we were created to be, where we are, doing what we have been gifted to do.

As the writer of Romans declares in the opening quote, “let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be.”

Maybe you’re a remarkable photographer that captures a world that some of us miss, adding to our lives by showing us what you see. But you definitely don’t do windows.

Maybe you like to run. For fun. Because you sense God’s presence when it’s just you and He together, pounding the pavement. But cooking is so not your thing.

Maybe you enjoy setting a beautiful table, creating a welcoming piece of art for others to enjoy while their souls and bodies are fed. But you haven’t weeded your garden for 6 months. And you’re probably not going to.

Lean into your list. Write down “The Things I Don’t Do” and then listen to what you hear in the spaces.

What are you free to do? What have you been created to do? Live into that.

And be ready to make a new list when the time comes.

On Being Famous (and Writing a Book)

True confession: Last week my husband and I high-tailed it home from our Wednesday Night Home Group to watch the finale of America’s Got Talent. Did you see it?! Our favorite young contestant, Darci Lynne, won! No big deal you say, but hang in there with me.

Darci Lynne is an amazing 12-year-old ventriloquist who not only can talk without moving her lips. She sings. Very well. We had been following Darci Lynne’s journey and were overjoyed when she won. Television hardly captured the emotion of the moment. Oh, the sparkle and applause and tears and complete, stunning joy; it was a delight to see her innocence and authentic astonishment.

In interviews prior to the last evenings’ performances, another little girl, aged 9, with a voice like a pint-sized Celine Dion, beamed for the camera. When asked why she wanted to win, she replied, “My name would be in lights. I want to be a super star.”

Darci Lynne told the world that if she won the million-dollar prize, she’d buy her mom a new dishwasher and give “a bunch of money to missions at our church.”

No mention of being famous, or wanting to see her name on a marquee.

Darci Lynne’s humility reflected her groundedness—grateful and confident in the gifts she had, but knowing they weren’t for her glory. She wanted other people to be inspired, she said, and many were. A portion of the show featured video clips sent in folks from around the country-young and old-who said they wanted to be just like her.

Would to God we would all carry our gifts with such open hands.

/ / / / /

As I pondered what we witnessed that night on TV, I reflected on a conversation an hour earlier at Home Group. We are loved and cared for there like family, having walked a whole lot o’ miles with these dear friends. Prior to our gathering, my friend G. asked how the book I wrote** is coming. (You have friends like this, yes?) I told him the book is complete and I am waiting for a proof copy from the printing company as we speak.

“You must be walking one foot off the ground, huh? Like super-excited?”

“Uh, no,” I replied. “Not yet.”

“After people buy the book and I get to hear how the message helped them find new joy or be set free, then I’ll be excited. I’m passionate about what God has given me to share; if readers find my words beneficial, that news would have me walking a foot off the ground.”

/ / / / /

I don’t think any of us who process our world with words wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey, I’m gonna write a book!” (Well, actually that’s what I did. Because I.had.no.idea.) But still, when you know how much discouragement and discipline and stress and no sleep and fill-in-the-blank it takes to dream of a book, draft a book, revise a book and get the thing published, there’s no way anyone would want to do that.

Except. Unless. Unless you have a message of encouragement and freedom that’s burning in your spirit that you want to bring to others. Unless you’ve been gifted with a clarity that you want others to see. Unless you have a desire to inspire or edify or….. a hundred other things.

That is why we write.

Not because we want to be rich and famous. (Uh, no on the rich. Maybe on the ‘famous.’) No—we write because God has trusted us with the gift of bringing our words into the world so ultimately He gets the glory.

And if it changes one life or a hundred or a thousand, then it is all worth it. All of it. That is why we write. Not for fame, certainly not fortune, but to “cast our bread upon the water and you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

Keep on casting your bread, my friends, whatever you have in your hand to share.

It isn’t yours anyway.

– – – – –

On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

No matter where I live, I recognize the song of a red-winged blackbird. In rushes near the shore’s edge of a California beach, along the canals and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley, the tall grasses along a Louisiana bayou or deep in marshes along Washington’s coast, the voice of the songbird is the same. There’s a trilling like no other, punctuated by startled flight and appearance of dark black wings dotted with a circle of scarlet. Once you hear the voice of red-winged blackbird, you will know it anywhere.

When I first began this blog, I was introduced to a writer whose work became a song of a different kind, with words that sang and soared right off the page. My friend and I have swooned over this writer’s work for several years now. We compare notes about the ways in which she speaks to the depths of our souls, the longing we share for rich literature, the tapestry of language that weaves the glory of God’s kingdom into a piece.

I recall sitting in my living room last year reading one of Lanier Ivester’s essays, “Songless.” I had a printout in my hand and the piece featured the color print of a red-winged blackbird. When I finished, I sat for a few moments in silence; I was literally struck speechless with the way the words were woven together.

I can either do one of two things when I encounter writing that is lightyears beyond mine (don’t we all have a different measure of what “better than I can do” looks like?) I can either throw down my pencil or close my laptop and give up. Or, I can drink from the rich deposit in my soul, be inspired to go on in my own work, and keep looking for beauty, order, design, clarity, whatever facets of God’s creativity I’ve been given to show to the world.

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I’m turning sixty five this week. It’s a daunting milestone and one that is bittersweet; I’ve officially lived ten years longer than my mother. Cancer took her at 55 when I was in the throes of raising two children who now have children of their own; I miss her a great deal. Turning 65 also prompts its own kind of contemplation—what is my contribution to the world? Have I achieved my dream(s)? What legacy am I leaving? Is it too late to make a difference?

I set out at the beginning of this year to write a book about the season of Christmas. When I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65, I was greatly heartened. So, for my birthday, I’m giving the world a book. Sort of. Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas won’t be released until the end of October some two months or so away, but it will still be in The Year I Turned Sixty-Five.  

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Besides birds and a book and a birthday I’ve also been contemplating the stunning beauty of blown glass. My sister visited recently and we wandered through the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle. Chihuly’s work is housed inside in quiet, cavernous rooms and outside in wide open, bright spaces.

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The glass sculptures that took my breath away were those inside, where uplighting pierced through each installation and shone through the dark in glittering rainbows.

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We were spellbound. “How does someone even dream up these ideas? Where does this kind of creativity come from? I could never do that.”

No, I can’t. But I can visually absorb the power of each piece, the scale, the variety, the brilliance. I can let it soak in just a little bit then take it as fuel for inspiration. What kind of creativity can I bring to the world? What’s in my hand? What’s in my heart? What’s in my head?

In 1699 Jean Haudicquer de Blancourt wrote a book about glass blowing which uses ashes, not sand. (I have no idea how old he was.) “The art of glass: showing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal, & enamel” details in great length the way to transform beauty from the ashes of hearths and homes across de Blancourt’s native France. People looked beyond what they saw in their chimneys and someone figured out a way to melt it into glass. Glass which provided people with a way to see.

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I began this post telling of a writer whose work is a tremendous inspiration to me, someone who finds beauty in ordinary things like gathering color from her garden or sharing a cup of tea. In a tragedy that defies all that makes sense, this beauty-bringer recently experienced the loss of her 100 year old farmhouse when it burnt nearly to the ground. She and her husband were left with ashes.

In the shock and trauma that have followed since then, the community of writers whom she calls friends have rallied around her–not by sending cash or showing up to help rebuild. No, many of us sent a gift for her soul—lovely china tea cups, plates and saucers for daily use. While time perhaps does not allow for the ‘taking of tea’ in this season, and indeed might seem a preposterous undertaking given the weight of the tragedy she’s endured, Lanier believes that beauty matters. The pattern on L’s new tea set? The Phoenix.

It is good for us to stop and enjoy the weight of God’s glory that shines in the sway of flowers in our garden, the glance of sunlight on the water or birdsong out our windows. We also can live as purveyors of goodness and beauty, shining our own gifts through the ‘glass’ God gives us.

Can you draw or paint? Write a song, play a tune or dance?

Have you a pen in your hands you can yield to God as you write through your pain?

Is speaking your gift?

Bring beauty from your ashes, write the words, fashion a glass and help us see. 

*****

Lanier’s post “Songless” is here.

 

Read & Pray in Your ‘Walking Around Life’

I was going to subtitle this, “Will Jesus Still Love me if I Don’t Have ‘Quiet Time?” ‘cause I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve studied Psalm 119—I know God’s word is the compass for my life, that I can’t live without it.

But sometimes life goes in a different direction.

I remember the days when I was able to sit outside on my deck for an hour at a stretch, maybe three times a week, and just listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. I wrote and wrote and wrote what I heard in those whispers on the wind to me.

I recall sweet moments at my desk reading Scripture or perusing a favorite devotional—Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon. The words seemed to light up the page, resonating deep in my spirit.  Time after time there would be an ‘aha’ moment when I sensed God’s presence and His pleasure as I sat to soak myself in the Word.

But I wonder about those folks like myself who find themselves in a season where quiet time is pretty much non-existent. I’m writing a book, shepherding a small group of like-minded writer folks, editing for others and caring for my kids via phone calls and texts that come all hours of the day. I need to be interruptable for that; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what about this question—is there really a divide between sacred and secular? A time that is not God’s (if we belong to Him)? Is He more pleased with me because I take time for studying the word or reading a devotion? Or is He okay (because He knows this season of my life) if I lean into Him when I can, stay hungry for His presence in all the hours of my day?

My son has a new job in a Frito-Lay warehouse (yay for all-you-can-eat Doritos) and he works 60 hour weeks these days. Even on a regular day (i.e. 8 hours) his moments of alone time or quiet time vanish as he communicates with his wife or nurtures his five children. His thirst is there for God’s word—he has a seminary degree, steeped in Scripture inside and out–but the chances to drink are few and far between.

Or what about my niece’s husband, new dad of two, who works nights, sleeps days and hugs his wife and babies in between? Where or how would he, could he, find moments to spend with Jesus? Would it be before or after worship practice, where he plays drums and/or guitar?

Or what about the baristas at Starbuck’s who get up at oh dark thirty to make sure our coffee-fueled world goes on? There are plenty of Jesus-loving espresso-making folks out there—how do they manage to fit in time with God?

And is God worried about that? Really?

Here’s what Oswald himself had to say about “quiet time”; May 12th ‘My Utmost for His Highest.’

“Your god may be your little Christian habit— the habit of prayer or Bible reading at certain times of your day. Watch how your Father will upset your schedule if you begin to worship your habit instead of what the habit symbolizes. We say, “I can’t do that right now; this is my time alone with God.” No, this is your time alone with your habit. There is a quality that is still lacking in you. Identify your shortcoming and then look for opportunities to work into your life that missing quality.

Love means that there are no visible habits— that your habits are so immersed in the Lord that you practice them without realizing it. If you are consciously aware of your own holiness, you place limitations on yourself from doing certain things— things God is not restricting you from at all. This means there is a missing quality that needs to be added to your life. The only supernatural life is the life the Lord Jesus lived, and He was at home with God anywhere. Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through whatever that particular circumstance may be until you increase in Him, adding His qualities. Your life will then become the simple life of a child.”