Grief.

I can remember fondly reading Charles Shultz’s Peanuts comic strips and finding a kindred spirit in Charlie Brown, particularly when he would throw up his hands, raise his rounded face to the sky and cry out “Good grief!” It was a cathartic release when things were not going his way (which was often).

But, I can’t help but what wonder… what is so good about grief?

It is painful and heavy and a burden that few relish carrying. There is little that seems good about grief. 

Grief marks ends. The end of a life, the end of a relationship, the end of an educational or vocational endeavor, the end of a season… things we are not often ready to say goodbye to or quite ready to let go of.

Grief reaches us at our basest and rawest parts of ourselves. Everyone has the capacity to experience grief, but how we express it is as vast and varied and diverse as humanity itself. 

A favorite Dr. Seuss quote of mine is, “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” It’s rare that I would disagree with Dr. Seuss, but in this case I think I must.

Endings are awful. When I come to the end of a book I am reading or a movie I am watching, I am often faced with (minor) feelings of grief, as the characters I have loved and spent time with are now gone. But when those endings are the big ones – death, lay offs, graduations, break ups, divorces – they require a bit more than the “smile because it happened” prescription of the venerable Dr. Seuss. It is more than ok to cry and to be sad because what once was is no more.

We just can’t stay there forever. Grief is like the scab that leaves a nasty scar after you’ve been cut open. It doesn’t ever fully go away and is a reminder of what we’ve left or lost. 

But for every ending, there is potential for a new beginning. Perhaps I would amend Dr. Seuss’s quote to say something like this: “Cry because it’s over and then smile because it happened.” 

Let grief happen. It may come in waves as memories cross your mind, or as anniversaries approach or in a singular moment as bad news is delivered or you’re walking out of a building for the last time… it is a good reminder that we’re human and that everything will not always be as it is now. 

Grief is painful. Endings are terrible. You may not see the good in grieving, but it is better than bottling up tons of pain and sorrow over years and years, because it eventually it will spill over. Let the hurt come. But at some point, remember to smile. 

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.” 

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship

jenthigpenn:

Our job, as worship leaders, is to direct a congregation and their worship to The Lord. We must always point to Jesus, not to ourselves. The second that worship becomes about us, and we begin to point to ourselves, we become like Aaron in Exodus 32, forming an idol out of man made things and then declaring “Here is your god.” I love this short blog post, so many solid insights for worship leaders and pastors.

Originally posted on Worthily Magnify:

1Last week I spent a couple of days attending the National Worship Leader Conference, hosted by Worship Leader Magazine, featuring many well-known speakers and worship leaders. The conference was held about 15 minutes down the road from me, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m glad I went.

I met some new people, heard some thought-provoking teaching, enjoyed some good meals and conversations with worship leader friends, and experienced in-person some of the modern worship trends that are becoming the norm in evangelicalism. It was eye-opening in many ways.

Over the last few days I’ve been processing some of what I saw and heard.

Worship Leader Magazine does a fantastic job of putting on a worship conference that will expose the attendees to a wide variety of resources, techniques, workshops, songs, new artists, approaches, teachings, and perspectives. I thought of Mark Twain’s famous quote…

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A Prayer of Saint Patrick.

My view from the pew in Saint Patrick's Cathedral over the summer. One of the most beautiful cathedrals in the country.

My view from the pew in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral over the summer. One of the most beautiful cathedrals in the country.

Christ be with me, Christ before me,
Christ above me, Christ below me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise.

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the heart of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of the Christ.

May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us. Amen.

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Be The Change.

At 26, I am very thankful to live in the generation I do. Had I lived in my parents generation or even my grandparents generation, life would have been very different for me and for my friends. But here we are, 50 years after the civil rights movement, able to live in freedom regardless of race or ethnicity. Or, you know, close enough…

I am certainly not naive enough to say that racism is no longer a problem in the US, because that would be foolish on my part. However, following this Sunday’s Super Bowl, I was shocked and overwhelmed with disappointment at the backlash that Coca-Cola received over their “America the Beautiful” ad. Now, to be completely honest, I had tuned out what was happening on our TV screen by the point that this ad aired (as had most Broncos fans, I’m sure), but viewing it afterwards, I thought it was a beautiful tribute to the tapestry of races and languages that make up America. Because… well… none of us are native to this geographical location (unless you’re Native American, of course). We’re all immigrants.

It hurts my heart to see the ignorance of people all around our country discount the value of others because they have a different skin tone or speak a different language. It reminds me that the fight for racial equality is still happening in our country. It reminds me that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character is still in process. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was not a black-white issue, it was a people issue. It is still a people issue.

It only takes one person to start change. Be the change.

 

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Spring Cleaning & A Necklace Metaphor

I have decided to take this first official day of my Spring Break to dedicate to Spring cleaning. Most people would think I’m insane, but cleaning actually relaxes me (maybe that has something to do with needing to control things, but that is another post for another day. :]). Anyway, this has been a good thing because when I get busy, the space in which I inhabit (i.e. bedroom, bathroom, car & office) looks like a tornado has hit it and it would be a ridiculous understatement to say that busy has been a common word in my vocabulary over the last couple of months. So far, I’ve found unread books that I intend to finish before the weeks is out (yeah right!), notes from this past quarter that I can catalogue and a pair of shoes that I have been looking for for at least 2 weeks (insert intense feeling of shame)! I’m not proud of the deep need for spring cleaning that I have, but I’m glad I have at least one day to invest in it before my week gets insanely busy!

During this spring cleaning adventure I decided to take on my jewelry box. I’m not a big jewelry person, but I do have a number of necklaces that I love and will wear, but I’m not always great at putting them away. As a result they tend to get tangled. Really, really tangled. And if you have EVER had to untangle a necklace, particularly one with a very thin chain, you know how awful of a task that can be.

I came upon a necklace that my dad had given me a few years ago for my birthday. It was crazy tangled. The chain was twisted and turned around itself with knots in it all wrapped around the heart pendant. It was so bad that I considered throwing it away for lack of wanting to untangle this chain. That thought was fleeting, and I began to work on the chain. After about 3 minutes, I was ready to give up. It seemed like I was not making any progress and I was sure that the time I was spending on untangling this one necklace could be better spent organizing my desk or folding laundry. But I persevered. By minute 6 I was ready to take scissors to the chain and just buy myself a new chain. By minute 10, I was sufficiently annoyed at myself for having taken on this seeming futile mission to untangle this chain. However, I was starting to make a little progress and I became more determined than ever to get this chain unknotted.

It took me approximately 15 minutes, but I finally got my necklace chain unknotted and put away. And I’m sure you’re wondering, dear reader, why I took the time to recount my battle with a necklace chain. I guess the reason is because the metaphor of the necklace is not lost on me. Having walked through some of the things that I have over the last weeks, months and years, it had become quite evident that what I was doing with that necklace was not unlike what God has been doing in my own life and heart. In my own way, I’ve been trying to help God sort out the plans He has for me, but those good intentions have created more knots and tangles. And then I approach God with impatience and frustrated because things are not working out in my time frame.

But untangling things takes time. Straightening out knots and working out kinks are not things that happen immediately. Like I did with my necklace, God is carefully unlooping, unknotting, and undoing the ball of chaos that my life has become. I fully recognize the accomplishment that came from untangling this necklace is slight when it comes to the freedom that God offers in Christ if I will let Him do the untangling of my life.

It is a good reminder during this Holy Week. The reason Jesus came in the first place was because humanity could never get it together enough to be in right relationship with God. We were too entangled in sin. His sacrifice, His death, and His resurrection was the untangling we needed in order to be free.

Today, I choose to be free.

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Why the Western Education system has failed me

I will qualify this post with a statement: I really love school, education, and learning. However, Western education has failed me. Big time.

From the time I entered pre-school I was taught that in order to be successful in life I had to do well in school, get a degree (or two or three), get a good job, and everything else (such as friendships, marriage, and family) would fall in to place in its own time. And for a goal-oriented, type A, perfectionist person like myself, I knew that I wanted to be successful and would do what I needed to in order to achieve that. Everyone kept telling me that I should DO what I love instead of BEING with people I love. And I did. With a vengeance.

Today, as I sat in my graduate school philosophy class, my professor made an awesome comment. He is actually the inspiration for this post. He basically said that rather than teaching us solely how to be “successful” (according to the individualistic Western mindset), our education system should have been teaching us social skills – how to treat people with kindness, how to value them for their uniqueness, how to have successful interpersonal relationships. I happen to agree.

Even the [American] Church has failed me. For the past 10 years or so, almost every time I walked into a church the conversation was quickly turned to what skills I could bring to the table and how I could serve. Or, I was forgotten as soon as I walked away. I felt like I only mattered because of what I can do and not simply because I exist. Sure, it helps that many of my skill sets are perfectly tailored to a church setting, but still… Jesus taught us to firstly love God and to secondly love other people. All of the Law summed up in two very simple statements. And we can’t even get that right! All I’m saying is that I’ve spent most of my life being a do-er rather than a be-ing because that’s how I was taught to be in order to have success. I’ve definitely started rethinking that.

Community is a word that I have shied away from most of my adult life. For me, it has come off as a bit disingenuous and something that would force me to be there to set up before and tear down after with (maybe) a cursory “Thank You” tossed in my direction at the end of it. It’s never seemed worth it to me. However, the more I engage with the Gospel and the more I engage in the academic realm, I find that community is essential to making life worth living. But not community in the way that I see it done in Western culture.

As a Western thinker, I don’t actually know how to serve or give without expecting something in return. I don’t truly understand how my actions and words can influence other people, for better or worse. I am careless, reckless, and argumentative. It’s in my DNA. I am human. However, I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I actually put others needs above my own, for their sake and not because I would feel guilty about it later. I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I would take the time to stop and think about the words that were coming out of my mouth rather than saying idle things that I would need to apologize for later. I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I could change the way that I look at the people around me and appreciate them for who they are and not wonder what benefit they might be to me down the road. They would be the benefit, simply because they are apart of my life.

The irony of this post is that without western education, without seminary, without the philosophy class that I was sitting in this morning… I would have never gotten to this point. I have been really careful not to make sweeping generalizations, because there are a lot of people that have made it through life very successful and are amazing, altruistic, loving people. I hope to get there. But I find that my focus needs to shift and what I value needs to change.

Is it just me?

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Thoughts on Sabbath

The discipline of having a Sabbath is something that I have never done well. My personality drives me to always be doing something… even if I’m home, I’m probably doing some type of work. It was only a few days ago that I realized that I had driven myself to a place where I was teetering on the edge of my sanity (…that might be a little dramatic, but that’s how I was feeling) because I not was actively practicing a Sabbath rest.

I was ready to blame my frantic pace on the people around me… but that wouldn’t be fair. As a friend pointed out to me on Thursday, I helped create the world that I am currently living in. So, for me, the past few days have been about recovery and setting boundaries; boundaries that I intend to keep. As a single person in ministry, I have found that it is really easy to take on activities and projects without a second thought… it’s the idea that I’m helping out the people with spouses and kids so that they aren’t overburdened. But I realized that I was beginning to miss out on my life… my family, my friends, my hobbies, etc., etc. And that began to frustrate me. I was angry at God for putting me in the position where I was overworked for His sake.

Then I received some really good words of wisdom from two different people that I absolutely trust. They helped me see that a lot of what I have been feeling has come out of what I have helped create. I don’t need to say yes to everything. I don’t have to carry everyone else’s burdens. I just need to do what God has called me to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

Which brings me to the weekend. I’ve spent the majority of the past 60 or so hours just resting. Reading, chatting with friends, watching TV, scrapbooking… resting. It has also been a good time of self-reflection. I’ve been thinking about where I am and where I want to end up and how to get there. I’ve spent a lot of time praying about my future and contemplating what the next few years might look like for me. I guess the thing I’ve learned most from my Sabbath weekend is (in its very beginning stages) how to submit my life to God. It’s something that I’ve been attempting for the past year – to fully submit – but that, I’m finding, starts with stopping… with not trying to DO everything, but just allowing myself to BE.

I am currently reading Mark Labberton’s “The Dangerous Act of Worship” (which, by the way, I highly recommend for all worship leaders, but also for any person who breathes) and I think he did a great job in summarizing why Sabbath is important:

“Practicing biblical rest in some pattern of sabbath-keeping is not a sign of abdication, nor arrogance, nor bourgeois indulgence. Instead it means we stop at least once a week to remember that we are not God.”

I am not God. What a concept.

Sabbath isn’t about giving up control of my life, it’s about acknowledging that my life shouldn’t be mine to control in the first place when submitted to God’s will. Sabbath is as much apart of what I do and who I am as a worship leader as anything I might say or do when I stand on a platform on any given Sunday.

Sabbath is important. It stinks that I had to go through the week I did in order to realize it.

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