Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Third Chair

Back in the day, clarinet was my instrument ... high school marching band and playing concerts in the gym. I wasn't very good. In all honesty, I loathed practicing, and when the new young band director came on staff, my upperclassman status didn't count for much. He held auditions. Shuffled things up a bit -- and me down a bit -- from first to third clarinet part. 

I quit band at the end of that semester, choosing instead to audition for the newly-forming flag corps. This kept me in the loop with marching band and football games, without the drudgery and expectations of clarinet lessons.

The flag corps was fresh and fun, requiring skills that came more naturally -- dance, movement, rhythm, precision. Practices flew by as we developed choreography and worked out the performance details -- like the "how to" of ditching our togas after a selection from "Animal House" under the Friday night lights.

No regrets.

As I listen to a podcast from The Allender Center [more] a quote opens a barren chamber in my heart:

"The most difficult instrument to play in the orchestra is second fiddle." 
- Leonard Bernstein

As I struggle in this season of grief and depression, when hopelessness comes in huge and unexpected waves, when drowning gruesomely promises to be easier than breathing, when it feels as though nothing will ever be fresh and fun God opens a barren chamber within my heart.

And I am reminded of the words from the bible that first captivated me:

... what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. [more]

I surrender. I will breath. I will wait. 


Photo: Miss Jacobson's Music blog "Music Stand Humor"

Monday, March 20, 2017

Being Human

The sun is setting over the Meramec River outside my bedroom window, palest pink over a foundation of gray clouds. The trees are just budding out, dark leafless branches silhouetted by the light. The sound of coyotes woke me just before two in the morning, and still resonates a primal predator-and-prey choreography within my being.

The temp will drop to 47 degrees overnight, from the balmy 78 we're enjoying right now. The windows are open and a cool breeze from the north caresses us. Harley, my 12-year-old Papillion, snoozes on the bed next to me. Born in Texas, Harley never really acclimated to the winters in Wisconsin, and he is flourishing here despite his old age.

Ruminating, I become keenly aware that in the midst of the first two work-is-everything decades of my adult life, I rarely paused for sunsets. We rarely paused at all, my husband and I having bought into the American dream, chasing careers, raising kids, house payments, orthodontics, hours spent commuting.

As the sun sets, I am thankful for the third decade, a time of drawing closer to God and to my husband, for putting careers several notches lower on the list and spending more time just being human.

And tonight, my soul longs for Eden.

   Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26


Thursday, March 16, 2017


A mid-week gathering at the big church this week, my first one, opens with pizza and breadsticks, cookies, water, lemonade, or coffee. Afterwards the kids are given over to the care of volunteers in the well-appointed children's ministry area. Adults move from the tables in the church-meets-caribou coffee area near the entrance into the the centrally-located worship space.

The worship space is arranged differently from the Sunday experience. Most of the comfortably upholstered chairs are missing. Tonight we sit in the center section, cozy but not too crowded. The emptied spaces to our right and left are filled with round white tables accompanied by black chrome-and-plastic chairs. The tables are clean and plain, new enough that table clothes are not required. At the center of each table is a basket or visually pleasing plastic container -- but I get ahead of myself.

The teaching pastor is standing up front. Three large panels backlight the stage. To his left and a good distance behind him are a guitar and a microphone. His bible and a computer notebook rest on a tall table that acts as a lecturn in a lighter, more accessible way. To his right and forward is a screen that reads: Understanding God's Will: Compass v. Blueprint. I am pleased and intrigued, having heard him teach one Sunday and finding grace and truth in the message. The people in the seats surrounding me are quiet and listening. I am listening, watching and taking notes.

He teaches a five-point message, weaving together scripture from Deuteronomy, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Matthew, Luke, James and Proverbs. He closes in prayer and asks us to reflect. Sufficient and suitable time passes as we sit in silence, then another man walks onto the stage, a musician. He picks up the guitar and moves the microphone forward, then begins playing as lyrics are displayed on the screen. Those of us gathered stand and sing -- worshiping, reflecting -- perhaps silently praying, asking forgiveness, accepting grace. At the close of a second song we are invited to move to the tables for communion. The basket at the center of the table where I am seated contains communion elements in prepackaged individual portions and a postcard with simple instructions: introductions then communion, read included scriptures -- Jesus' words from Matthew: this is My Body, this is My Blood. 

The sting of tears alerts me to the tenderness of my lonely and broken heart. I miss the crusty loaves of bread passed from hand to hand, all in attendance at worship standing in a circle, diversity and unity, humanity sharing communion together, sharing life together.

This morning -- the morning after -- as I reflect on the big church mid-week  experience I understand that there is structure and efficiency necessary to serve increasing numbers of people, to invite newcomers, to grow a Christ-centered community this size: 1200 people each weekend. There is not enough time nor humanity within the lead pastor and the teaching pastor to be fully engaged with everyone. The connection I once enjoyed in the intimacy of a smaller congregation cannot be sustained at the macro level. The tables for communion offer opportunity for micro communities within the big church. I understand, yet it feels foreign, unwelcoming.

Tears here, flowing again. I so miss being fully known and loved as I was at Fellowship. Did I offer that to others? I hope so. 

I can't ascertain the truth alone; there is difficulty. Seeing myself as others experience me is clouded.


Scriptures more

Photo: Daniel Schwen, 2011