Why I play (thoughts on worship and creativity)

piano

It’s been with me since I was five, the antique upright piano.  Its finish is deep ebony, the surface crackled with age, the keys chipped here and there like a well-worn smile.  And when I can’t find the words, I go there and let the contents of my heart flow out in the pure form of music instead.

So I’ve been there a lot lately, sitting on the bench with its worn white and green brocade.

What I can’t find words for flows through my fingers on these different, more familiar keys.  After all, I learned to play them before I learned to type, before I really even learned to write.  It’s like slipping into a first language– the one you rarely get to use but often find yourself dreaming in.  I play the old favorites I learned as a child; Beethoven, Haydn, Chopin, Brahms.  I play new ones, hymns and worship songs and pieces I’ve picked up because I’ve always loved them.  And I play what comes to mind and then through my hands, sometimes in such quick succession that I’m not sure where the music comes from at all…it moves through me and surprises me and makes me laugh, and makes me cry.

Sometimes when no one is watching, I lean against the piano as I play, my cheek against the smooth black surface.  I feel the music, the vibration of many strings against brass soundboard, resonating through old wood and flesh and bone. I feel the hum in my bones and soul and wonder:  Is this how the Universe vibrates, with the echoes of the Creator’s voice….“Let There Be Light”…. humming through an infinity of tiny strings strung between all of creation that glows and breathes and sings?

Perhaps true worship is simply playing in tune with Him. (click to tweet) A Rhapsody on a Theme by El Shaddai, sung by a choir not bound by time or space or the limitations of flesh.  Do you know these moments?  When what began as poetry or paint or the pressing of black and white keys, the draw of a horse-hair bow across silver strings…becomes transfigured? When light falls in and through and lifts art from human hands to God inspired, when every note or word or brushstroke is praise and you know, you know that there is more to it than ink or paint or notes splashed across five thin lines. And as the last note sustains and washes over you, you just want to stand there and raise your hands and whisper his name….Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

In Heaven, friend, that’s how it’s going to be.  Every day, every word, every breath.

Why we humans create, why there is art and music and poetry must be this:  Our hearts were created after His own image, they long to hear the symphony and strive for those moments in which they resonate in perfect pitch with the Creator, in which they catch a glimpse, as in a mirror dimly, of the glory that is to come. And in that moment the soul understands that it cannot understand, only give in entirely to that which is incomprehensibly greater and more beautiful than we can imagine.

A post from the archives

Advertisements

When you feel burned out

burnout

Burnout.

Chances are good you’ve experienced it…if you’ve got a ministry, you know what ministry burnout feels like. Whether you’re a missionary, a pastor’s wife, a counselor, a teacher, a mother, a wife, a worship leader, a Sunday school teacher, a writer, a nurse, an evangelist, a manager…you know what I’m talking about when I say that some days, despite the fact that you’re following your calling and despite the fact that you fervently want to live out God’s will for your life with joy and perseverance and despite the fact that really, you honestly do love what you’re doing, some days you just feel done.

You feel like you’ve been working so hard for so long, you feel like you’ve put your everything into this and nobody has even noticed. You feel like you have given it your all, everything you have, and despite that fact (or maybe because of it) you find opposition all around you. You’ve spent years, money, sweat, blood and tears on this venture only to reach a point where you’re wondering if it was all in vain, all for nothing. You’ve done your best to do the right thing and it’s been hard and it’s meant sacrifice and you really didn’t want credit for that, you never expected a parade in your honor or even a “thank you,” but on the other hand you also didn’t expect dishonest gossip and backstabbing from the very people you were serving. You’ve run the marathon and you’ve spent the last shred of energy you had left to reach the finish line, only to find that the line’s been moved another 3 miles away and yeah, maybe that’s the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Maybe you weren’t cut out for this.

Maybe this just isn’t your calling.

Because if it were, if it really were, wouldn’t this kind of opposition be easier for you? Wouldn’t you be equipped to deal with it? And while we’re at it, would you even be facing this sort of trauma, drama, and grief if you were on the right path? If God really were calling you to continue on in this crazy, hair-brained scheme of His, wouldn’t you be stronger/better/more patient/thicker-skinned/smarter and in general just plain more than you are right now? You started out feeling confident that this was the path you were supposed to take. You prayed about it, and it seemed like God opened doors. But now, you’re wondering if maybe the whole thing was just a big mistake. Maybe you misread it all from the beginning.

You’ve had enough, and every fiber of your being is exhausted.

You.

Want.

To.

Quit.

burnout2

Christian, I understand. I’ve been there, been in the thick of it, been right there in the middle of it. And the thing I’m learning is, it’s not failure to feel burned out. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not happening because you’re not good enough, or because you’re not strong enough, or because your faith is lacking. You’re not struggling with burnout because you’re not cut out for this.

If you’re feeling burned out, it may simply be because ministry burnout is part of ministry. (click to tweet)

And if you’re feeling burned out, you’re in good company. Consider this:

Elijah, the prophet, had just come down from an amazing showdown between God and the prophets of Baal. Do you remember the story? If you’ve got a moment, go read it again. In a spectacular act of faith and courage Elijah, the lone prophet left in Israel, set the stage for God to show His people that He was the one true God. The Lord was vindicated, the false prophets were destroyed, and surely that must have been the most triumphant moment of Elijah’s career as prophet. Surely, this was the moment that the music swelled, the triumphant hero raised his hands in victory, and the credits rolled!

What really happened was that Elijah, who by all rights should have been basking in what must have been the conference high of all time, was forced to run for his life because of the wrath of the wife of king Ahab. A prophet at the peak of his powerful career, with the image of God’s consuming fire still etched on his retinas, was forced to turn and run for his life…from a woman. The very next chapter of 1 Kings finds him cowering under a broom bush, feeling utterly spent and worthless, praying for God to take his life.

Yeah, burnout happens.

What I find helpful is how God dealt with Elijah’s burnout. He didn’t get angry with him, he didn’t roll his eyes in frustration. God didn’t tell Elijah to snap out of it, to pull himself up by his bootstraps and get on with life for crying out loud. God, the same God whose awesome power and wrath condoned the destruction of the prophets of Baal, treated Elijah’s broken spirit with gentle compassion. The Lord let Elijah sleep, then gently woke him and fed him. He let Elijah rest some more, then once again strengthened him with food and helped him on his journey. When Elijah hid in a cave, God didn’t throw up his hands and walk away from him, he didn’t give up on him and choose someone else to finish his work. Instead, he pursued Elijah.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”   1 Kings 19:9-11

The Lord allowed Elijah to rest, gave him food to build his strength, and pursued him when he retreated. He listened to Elijah vent his frustration at the situation, and then, rather than chastise him for being weak, or for lacking faith (and hadn’t Elijah just witnessed God’s miraculous power in a way most people can never hope to see?) He chose to give Elijah the greatest gift imaginable…to surround him by His presence, to show him a glimpse of His great glory.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  1 Kings 19:11-13

I find it fitting, and so very comforting that despite His capacity for awesome power, despite His righteous consuming wrath, the Lord came to the exhausted servant of God in a gentle whisper.

God’s example of dealing with Elijah should speak to all of us when we’re struggling with burnout…whether it’s our own or someone else’s. After all, Elijah’s ministry did not end there under the broom brush! He went on to do more for the Lord, eventually training his own replacement. I believe he was able to carry on fruitfully because God knew that what was needed was a gentle touch and rest, not ridicule or harsh discipline. Some lessons we can take away from Elijah’s story:

  • When dealing with burnout, treat yourself gently. Don’t beat  yourself up for feeling this way, just realize that burnout is part of ministry.
  • Allow yourself to rest. When you feel the signs of burnout coming on, schedule a break! It’s OK to tell people that you need some personal time in order to be more effective in your ministry. Even a few days at home with your phone and computer turned off can make a huge difference.
  • Allow others to help you. Share your situation with a few people you trust, being honest with your feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and (I know it’s hard!) say “yes” when help is offered.
  • Get some extra sleep…take a nap, schedule a day to sleep in (have someone take your kids for the day if you need to). Lack of sleep due to stress or the pressures of care-taking can really interfere with your ability to keep perspective.
  • Feed your body well. God sent an angel to feed Elijah…allow someone to bring you a meal or two, eat out, or order in.  Take a moment to evaluate your diet; sometimes stress, time or financial restraints can lead to poor eating habits which also contribute to exhaustion and depression.
  • Feed your soul well. Spend some quality time in the presence of the Lord. Take a day dedicated to just you and God, with no distractions! Just spend that time in prayer and quiet mediation, reading the Word and letting the gentle spirit of God wash over you.
  • Find a helper to work alongside you. God sent Elisha to help Elijah in the last part of his ministry, and it must have helped immensely to know that he was not alone and that the work would carry on after his time in ministry was over.
  • Don’t give up! Just because a person has gone through a difficult period of burnout doesn’t mean that they’re not right for the job. Pray for guidance on whether to stay in the situation, but know that often it’s a case of naturally needing rest and refreshment and not a case of not being in the right line of work. Unless you have clear direction otherwise, trust God to be able to refresh your spirit and turn the situation around.

burnoutvert

They’re talking about burnout over at The High Calling, too. If you or a loved one is dealing with this issue, consider heading over there for some excellent articles on preventing burnout.

 

 

 

 

 

The Leadership Influence of Mothers

biblenotes

I’m sitting in a quiet corner of the living room with an open book on my lap, not reading. The book is a decoy, the pages are still turned to the place where I haphazardly opened them because what I’m actually doing…what I’m honestly up to…is eavesdropping.

There are a dozen teens out on the back deck, plus a couple of dads. Eldest is leading a Bible study tonight, he’s been working all week reading scripture and commentary and writing thoughts on scads of little post-it notes, sprinkled like confetti throughout the second chapter of the book of John. He’s spent the afternoon in the garage, heedless of the heat and the smell of bike tires, wood shavings and motor oil, practicing what to say.  He has worked hard and I know he’s nervous, wanting to get everything just right. He’s hard on himself, this boy.  A lot of prayer (on both our parts) has gone up on behalf of this study. Does it ever get easier, as a mother, to watch your children step out in faith and take a risk? This mix of love and fear, this letting go…my heart out there in the open on the deck as I sit here inside.

From the time they take their first step, it’s a battle of emotions…cheering them on as they move forward, taking a piece of you farther away with every step. The sleepless nights, the hours of school work at the kitchen table and the fevered afternoons, cool washrag pressed to hot forehead. Who can ever sum up the job description of “Mother?” And all this, when they never really belong to us in the first place. Ultimately, the job of a mother is to make herself obsolete.

Mothering is not something you get recognition for, nobody’s going to give you a raise or a commendation and there is no hazard pay, no overtime, no vacation days. Sometimes I rail against that reality and sometimes, sometimes the Bible seems like a boy’s club and Biblical leadership seems to come with a sign that says “No Girls Allowed.”

And I hear from the deck, in a voice that’s stronger than I remember, Eldest reading John 2:3-5.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Do whatever he tells you, she said. At this, the first miracle of Jesus, his mother put him forward in an act of confidence that showed her faith in who her son was, what he would become. And Jesus, God of the Universe Himself standing there on earth’s thin crust?

“He obeyed his mother,” Eldest points out to the group of teens.

Suddenly I remember a treasure I found in 1 Kings. Encouragement for mothers, hidden there in the list of the names of kings set forever in the Book for all to read. Some of them did evil in the eyes of the Lord and some did good. But if you look it over, the kings whose mothers’ names are mentioned….they all did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, every one of them.

The influence of a mother’s leadership may not earn worldly awards, accolades or prestige. But one thing we can be sure of…it makes a difference, maybe even all the difference. God-made-flesh experienced the love of a mother, He knows its value in an intimate and very real way.

Perhaps that’s why mother’s don’t get paid…our work is priceless.

 

Linking up with The High Calling for “Leadership Influence: Beyond the Stereotype”

When you want to press rewind

bwkids

It’s a strange feeling, standing here in this mostly empty house. It has been nearly 3 years, but it still feels like home. It’s hard, renting out the place that once was your home. Hard to let it go and hope that another loves it half as much as you.

What’s harder, though, is the way I feel as I wash these walls that used to hold the little hand prints of my kids when they were still so small. Oh, I miss those days! I am aching with a deep longing to press rewind, go back in time and live those days over again…the simplicity of the then when they were small and when the days that they’d be grown seemed so distant. Eldest, he’s taller than his father now and Middle Child is borrowing clothes from my closet. Youngest had her 11th birthday a few weeks ago; and it’s beautiful how they’re growing up and they are wonderful at this age and still…oh, I just want the time to move slower. Sometimes being a mother feels like one big chain of goodbyes, every proud accomplishment also stitched with the ache of loss. We’ll never pass this way again, and if we do this thing right we’ll work our way right out of the job we love the most.

So I’m scrubbing and crying, and my husband comes alongside and he wants to know why. So I try my best to tell him how these feelings are swarming in my heart, this sense of loss and this grief over how quickly the days are passing, how you can’t hold onto anything more than the memories and how time just won’t stop stealing the days.

He says he understands. And then he says, it’s one thing he’s looking forward to about Heaven: That the loss we feel due to time passing will never be an issue again. And if I could go back, when would it be? A few years ago, when high school and college seemed distant? A decade ago, when all three of them fit on my lap? Back to 20, when our bodies were still perfect and the world was an open book? Or to our own childhoods, when worries were limited to passing Friday’s spelling test?

We didn’t feel the way we do now about those seasons in life then, when we were living them. It’s the now that gives us the perspective to love the “then” so much, the now of knowing that whatever crisis was bothering us at that time passed, whatever worries we had were really not as big as the blessings we had and it all turned out OK, it was all grace. We made it, and it was good. It’s the vantage point of “now” that puts life into perspective, makes the past seem such a warm, safe place to return.

As hard as it might be to believe?  The truth is, today is the yesterday we will long for tomorrow. (Click to Tweet) Time will grant us the perspective to see: Today is beautiful, and grace-filled, and important. We’ll never pass this way again.

kids2013

Oh Lord, please grant me the faith to live today as I will see it a year from now, or five or ten! Grant me the faith to really live in the knowledge that it’s all grace, all God-gifted, that the worries we have now are not as big as the blessings, that whatever comes our way we’ll make it and it will all be good. Grant me the grace to live this moment and this day and this season in gratitude and wonder, and see every minute of it as the blessing it is. Take my desire to hit “rewind” and change it into the reminder to hit “pause,” to stop and appreciate the beautiful now and love it for the gift that it is.

Linking up with these beautiful ladies:

 Emily at Imperfect Prose 

Jennifer’s Tell His Story

 
Laura at The Wellspring

Shelter

shelter

We drive past the railroad tracks, scars cut thick through the dirt at the end of some road that I’ve driven past a hundred times, but never seen. The shelter is behind a chain link fence, just a low warehouse like any other and who ever thinks about what those buildings contain? Only in this case, the rundown building houses people. Hundreds of souls, all under one tattered roof and the word shelter just about covers it, it’s not much more than shelter from the cold outside.

I walk past a sea of army cots, some single and many pushed together, covered with blankets. There are children, families huddled here on these small square islands. As I walk the length of the shelter, I can’t help but wonder: What if everything you had, everything you loved fit here, on one of these little squares? There are people all around, wall to wall people and yet I get the feeling that it’s lonely stranded here on a cot island, floating in a sea of uncertainty.

We have food, and it’s grace that’s brought it all together because the prospect of a few people from a church small group feeding this many people overwhelmed me and just about stalled me out. But Grace feeds the multitude with five barley loaves and a couple of fish, and Grace brought hands together and turned not enough into food put away for tomorrow, too. Why does it take so very many lessons for me to rely on the fact that when you step out in faith, God provides?

I see the faces, and I want to know each of them. I want a hundred years worth of time to just sit and listen, to understand. I want to tell them that the only difference between me behind this counter spooning out casserole and them on the other side is a few paychecks, some opportunities that for whatever unknown reason I had and they didn’t. That the price of their soul, the ransom paid for it, is just the same as my own and there’s a home in heaven, a real one, one that’s better than anything we can imagine.

After dinner, we do a craft with the kids. It’s all glue and feathers, google eyes and pom-poms and these little hands, upturned faces. I kneel on worn cement and help with glue, and out of all the things that broke into my heart this night the one that breaks it most is his voice, this little boy with the deep brown eyes and earnest smile. My husband is leaning over, peeling the backs off stickers and helping him with this silly little way to pass the time and the little boy looks up and asks him, “Are you homeless, too?”

And he answers, tells him. “No, by the grace of God we’re not homeless…” and before he can finish the boy asks him,

“Who is God?”

He leans in close, the man I love. Leans in close and he tells him, as best anyone can tell with only the feeble tool of words. In this sea of voices and faces and people, in this place of uncertainty and suffering, where all around is chaos there is this little island of Grace, this shelter over a single moment in time

It’s God that’s the shelter, this is what I’m reminded of as we drive home. God that provides, God that loves, God who is the island in our sea of uncertainly. A house can burn down, blow over or fold in foreclosure. A home found in Christ is the only solid ground on which anything…anything at all…can be built. What if we really understood that this means more than a home, more than a paycheck, more than a bank account? What if we really lived in the confidence that everything we are, everything we love fits here…under the shelter of God? (Click here to tweet)

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)


Little boy with the deep brown eyes, He understands. None of us, none of us are homeless in Him. This broken world, it’s nobody’s home and child, I pray that you’ll find a place to rest your head, in body and in spirit. I pray true Shelter for you.

Linking up with Imperfect Prose at Emily’s beautiful blog

On Autumn (the dying of the year)

leaves

There is beauty everywhere, in unexpected places, yes even in the spaces where it seems least likely of all.

All around me, the leaves are falling. This is a season of dying, of beautiful dying: the colors burn from every tree, they fly like sparks through brisk air scented with woodsmoke. It is beautiful, all this color, breathtaking. And what is autumn, if not the dying of the year? There, where only a month ago bees bumped against the blossoms on this tree, the branches now show patches of bare black against a brooding sky. And the oak tree, whose green shaded the whole yard, burns with the last orange-red of Fall. A breeze stirs, and the leaves, with their beautiful colors, spin slowly downward.

We go so far out of our way, these days, to avoid death. We don’t want to talk about it, think about, and we certainly don’t want to see it. I admit: I fear it, not what happens afterwards but the process, not the eternal but the loss, the change.

But I’ve seen the beauty, too. My friend, she watched her mother die last month. I sat with them on many nights and I saw the most beautiful picture of redemption in those last days. I saw that death is part of life, I saw the way that my friend’s ability to walk with her mother through that hard path was a gift to them both, and I saw that when we let go of everything we take hold of God’s hand. It’s always waiting, there.

“I’ll never doubt that there is a heaven, now,” she told me one on one of those long nights. “I’ve seen the look on her face, how she reaches out and calls.”  If she’d have given up this hard path, left death at the hospital and not taken it home with her, not embraced it as part of life, she would have missed out on something as beautiful as it is painful.

I do not understand, no I don’t…when death takes those who had so much more life to live, when suffering cripples families and little children are struck down and families lose loved ones too soon. I’ve seen people go through one loss after another in a short time and I don’t know how we can live with it, the prospect of death looming over us every day. Short of Jesus, I don’t know how we can. But then I see the leaves, how the light filters through all that red-gold fire and how a single leaf, caught by the wind, is borne up and over the trees. How it rides on the invisible breath of breeze, higher and higher until I can see it no more.

And I know:  I don’t have to know. I only have to let go, trust, embrace the beauty even in the brokenness. The leaves will change and they will fall, the winter will come and then, too…the Spring. To let go and take His hand means to be reborn. To trust Him when everything around you screams out “why” and when nothing seems good or right or beautiful, is to know that the last breath you take is actually your very first.

Lord, when I don’t understand, when I can’t see the beauty, lift me up in a breath of grace and give me a tiny glimpse of You.

Dear Foster Baby

fosterbaby

Dear Foster Baby,

Your third birthday is on Saturday. Three years old! It’s hard to imagine, and easy to picture at the same time. You left my arms just six weeks after turning a year old, how can the time have passed so quickly?

I want you to know, I think of you and of your brother every day. You are often the last thing I think of before I fall asleep at night, and you are in our prayers daily. I think of your mother, too, and pray for her. I miss your smiles, all three of you. I miss everything about you.

I wonder how you are, where you are. I wonder what kind of birthday you will have, a few days from now. I can still picture you here, a cake with three candles and balloons tied to your chair. I can hear the sound of your friends singing, the ones I’ve watched grow up these two years with the bittersweet knowledge that somewhere, you are reaching those milestones too. You and your brother are missed, sweet child, missed by many.

I have had only secondhand reports of how things are going for you, and I wish what I’ve heard was better news. I want to fix it for all three of you so badly, and I can’t. I don’t even know where you are. And this is the thing:  sometimes there are no answers, only questions. Sometimes there is no happily-ever-after, storybook ending in sight; there’s nothing in sight at all but a haze of sadness. Sometimes there is no comfort, only the sort of blind faith you cling to like a life preserver. Faith in a God who loves you even more than I do; Father to the fatherless, Hope to the hopeless, Help to the helpless.

It’s enough, and nowhere near enough, all at the same time.

Just know, you will always be a part of us no matter where you are. We are always here for you, all of you, with open arms. You are a blessing, a precious blessing…never forget that!

Happy birthday, sweet boy.  You are deeply missed and very loved.

Love,

me