The Lingering Scent

A few weeks ago, our family read the story of Mary who, in an act of extravagant love, anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. In Behold the King of Glory, Russ Ramsey writes, “As the scent electrified the senses of everyone present, Jesus called it beautiful. Creation testified to a Maker who delighted in beauty for beauty’s sake… Jesus said to Mary’s critics, ‘She has given me this gift because she is preparing me for my burial, and history will never forget her act of beauty.’”

Our reading left me wondering. What would Mary’s beautiful act look like in our current culture?

Within days, I was given an answer.

* * *

Later that week, we had friends visiting from out of town. They were only here for a few days, and most of that time they spent exploring and enjoying the city. At the end of their trip, we were grateful to have them join us for church. As we sat side by side, I was conflicted. I love these friends and was delighted to have them step into our community for a few hours. But during the service, I was distracted. As the guitar strummed and the room swelled with song, I scanned the rows of chairs and saw not flesh and blood, but rather story after story. We’ve walked and crawled and danced among this community for twenty-one years. We’ve witnessed devastation and miracle. Heartbreak and redemption. I wanted to lean over to my friend and whisper hints of those holy narratives. For her to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, messy, struggling, transformed saints covered in flesh and cloaked in their Sunday best. I wanted her to hear the significant ways in which God had touched and changed lives. For the Father to reach down from above and kiss her forehead through the stories of his people.

The service ended and the spell was broken. We moved from the worship service to our adult Sunday school class. The leader announced that we’d be taking a break from our current teaching series, as we did once every month, in order for members of the class to come up and share a bit of their journey. The couple who took the seats up front had been acquaintances for years, but we hadn’t known them well. They were engaging and honest as they shared about coming from very different backgrounds, struggling to reconcile creative calling to the realities of limited job opportunities, and growing to find God’s provision in the most unexpected places. Yet in the span of the forty minutes they’d been given to talk, there was one particular moment on which the eternal and the temporal hinged.

The wife had been recounting the arduous journey of adopting from Liberia. After more than a year of preparing for and growing to love two children as their own, they learned that one, their new son, wouldn’t be able to return to America with them. In an honest moment of desperation, the mother cried out to God. A God who she trusted to be both good and sovereign. How could their situation possibly be His best?

While journaling her thoughts during the flight headed to Africa, something in her heart shifted. Or perhaps it was awakened. Just as her heart was gripped with anguish on behalf of her son, the Father of all aches – even more deeply – for every last one of his children. Through her excruciating pain, a young mother had been given a glimpse of the beautiful heart of God.

My friend soaked up the mother’s words, said her goodbyes, and returned to Tennessee to resume life as normal. Only something was churning inside her. The Lord’s faithfulness in the midst of unspeakable pain had purpose. It was a reminder that she needed, and that we all need, to hear. Being true to her beautiful, gracious, creative nature, she began to scratch lyrics to the song sung from the heart of an aching parent. She called upon her friends – world-renowned musicians, whose immense talent is surpassed by their humility and devotion to the Creator. Within days and across hundreds of miles, they had composed and recorded a song. My friend, who had never met the mother, had poured out her talents in response to the glimpse of Glory she’d been given. She quietly offered the final product, a video containing the lyrics, as a gift. It was an extravagant, spontaneous act of worship like few others I’ve experienced.

“Art, like Jesus’ tears and Mary’s nard, spreads in our lives, providing useless beauty for those willing to ponder. Many consider the arts to be the “extra” of our lives, an embellishment that is mere leisure. Yet how many hours of sacrifice go into being able to play a sonata by Chopin? Or a dancer’s flight on stage at the Lincoln Center? What many consider extra, and even wasteful, may come to define our humanity. That evening at Bethany, in that aroma that Mary spilled, there were Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas floating in the air as well (thanks to James Elaine, curator and artist, for this observation). Every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us.” Makoto Fujimura

 

To God Be the Glory.

 



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Of Maps and Shadows

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Many thanks to my friend (and partner in crime), Carrie Givens, for wrapping up our reading of Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. Carolyn Clare Givens works in Communications at Church at Charlotte in North Carolina and does freelance writing and editing. A displaced Northerner now exploring the foreign ways of the south, she has previously bumped around the world, both as a missionary kid and as an adult. She revels in good stories, good music, and wrestles with the intersection of faith, art, vocation, and culture. Online, she hangs out at her website, carolyncgivens.com, on Twitter, and at her page on Facebook.

I once had a haphazard, twenty-minute lesson in orienteering. I’d never seen an orienteering compass, so I asked my friend Ben to show me how it worked. He began to demonstrate, lifting the compass to eye level, finding a mountain peak through the trees, and turning the map into alignment.

One of my pastors, Dave Huber, was recently teaching about the concept of wisdom in Scripture. He noted that the Bible doesn’t give us a map for life, but rather teaches us the fixed points of truth and trusts us to navigate life based on them.

As I stood in the woods with Ben and the orienteering compass, I quickly learned the value of fixed points. Three more steps to the left and we wouldn’t have been able to see that mountain peak. Without that fixed point, it would have been easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness of the trees, the confusing paths between them. Even with our map, without the fixed points, we may not have been able to find our way home.

Walking through life, there have been plenty of moments when I’ve been more surrounded by the trees than in sight of the fixed points of truth. Sometimes God, and His truth, seems invisible. Luci Shaw, in her book Breath for the Bones, writes of this feeling:

The God who is not there. Or, the God who is there but not here, except for occasional momentary visitations. I have often felt, in reflective moments as well as at the raw edge of experience, that I have a now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t God, a chiaroscuro God, some of whose features are highlighted in the manner of the Italian renaissance painters who employed that technique, but whose being exhibits such mystery, such inscrutability, such otherness, that it can only be represented by deep shadow, which might as well signify absence as obscurity, it is so unknowable. (p. 151)

It often feels that we have more shadows than light in our story. We wander in the woods with the lengthening darkness and we cannot glimpse the mountains.

In Breath for the Bones, Shaw speaks of the role of art in these times, and of the difficulty Christians often encounter when faced with the shadows. Not only is there the tension of authenticity—presenting through our art the struggles as well as the joys and peace of life—but as Christians, we strive to speak truth in our art. Unfortunately, as Shaw points out, truth isn’t always perfectly clear, nor is it always pleasant to face. She writes,

Christians who practice art must not always feel bound to produce sweetness and light. We have to recognize the darkness and shadow as well as the light, and realize that God allows shadows into our lives. God is not dark and evil, but he embodies mystery. (p. 161)

She goes on to say that the contrast between darkness and light is valuable—for you cannot see one without the other. “Contrast highlights, as it were; it allows meaning to be seen and experienced” (p. 161). The part of the journey lost among the trees may be dark and frightening, but we would not fully understand what it means to be lost unless we also had some understanding of having the fixed point in our sights and navigating toward it. But to get through the trees, we must sometimes walk through areas where we cannot see the mountain peak. And to do so, to step onto the confusing paths among the trees and away from the glimpse of alpenglow, requires a certain faith. “All mystery feels like a fog,” Shaw writes. “It presents hiddenness. It demands strong faith to walk into it believing that one day it will be demystified” (p. 162).

And this, I think, is the moment where the Christian artist comes into his own. I had a professor who used to say, “The writer is the one who points and says, ‘See.’” She knew the power of art to help navigate the darkness. It’s a wild and dangerous profession, one that the artist shares with the men and women through the ages whom God called to speak the truth. To do so, He asked them to lay on their side for a year, to marry a whore, to be sawn in two. It’s never been an easy life. “Christian poets stand with the seer and prophet,” says Shaw, “one foot in heaven, one on earth, perpetually torn by that duality of focus as the divine dream is channeled through their human voice or pen” (p. 164). We glimpse the light on the mountaintop and we point to it as we walk through the darkness.

Another pastor at my church, Jim Kallam, spoke recently about the final words of Jesus in Scripture—not His words to His disciples before He ascended, but His words in the twenty-second chapter of Revelation. Jesus describes Himself one final time in that chapter, saying, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:17 ESV). Jimmy said, “The morning star appears in the night sky when the night has reached its greatest degree of darkness…and what that signifies simply to me is this: though it may still be dark, it will never again be totally dark.”

Andy Gullahorn, in his song “Grand Canyon,” sings,

I can’t sleep
There’s too much weighing on my mind
But there’s a bird out there
Still singing in the dead of night
Like it knows there’s a season
when the sun’s gonna set
But the story isn’t over yet

The artist, the poet, the writer is the one who points and says “See.” The faithful artist is the one who navigates the dark, shadowy mystery by the Bright Morning Star, and is singing with the bird in the dead of night, saying that though we can’t see them through the trees, the mountaintops are still there, awaiting our approach to a break in the branches when we can lift up our orienteering compass to eye level and continue to find our way forward.

– – –

This post was written in response to reading Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. You can catch up here:

Graffiti Art and Repentance (Intro, Chp 1-2)
Tell Me a Story (Chp 3-5)
Pressing Into the Quiet (Chp 6-7)
A Musing on Divine Love (Chp 8-10)
Of Maps and Shadows (Chp 11-12)



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Tell Me a Story

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I’m grateful to share this guest post, written by Jen Rose Yokel, with you. In addition to being one of the original members of Greener Trees Reads, Jen is a writer, radio nerd, music lover, and hopeless literature addict, who grew up in the weird state of Florida where wild reptiles roam free. She writes for The Rabbit Room, fancies herself a poet and has been blogging since she begged an Internet acquaintance for a LiveJournal invite in 2002. Currently, she is settling into married life with her husband Chris in Fall River, MA. She doesn’t particularly enjoy writing about herself in third person, but she would like you to know that she really digs Apple products, vinyl records, good coffee, and spelunking used bookstores.

From the moment I stepped inside, something felt different. Different from any church experience I’d had before. I took the copy of what we called a bulletin in my Baptist heritage. Instead it was a list of readings, instructions, recitations.

I was about to experience my first Anglican liturgy.

It felt foreign, and yet, completely at home. There were no lights, no worship band on stage. The priest wore robes, walked to the middle of the church, read Scripture. We stood and knelt and took communion from a common cup. The sermon was short, lively, but the heart of the service was hearing the Word and taking the bread and wine.

It was otherworldly, beautiful in its calm reverence. Funny considering just a decade before I’d craved a more energetic experience than my memories of little Southern churches with a liturgy of hard pews and “Turn to page 320 and sing the first, third, and fourth verses.” I wanted movement, excitement, and everything else seemed dead. Now, I craved quiet, because everything else seemed fake.

My church journey has taken a number of turns, including a couple of charismatic side trips, many rock concert worship experiences, and now, a tiny city church that walks a line between Baptist and liturgical. If I think long enough, every one of them have their flaws. If I go into them with openness and appreciation, every one of them have their beauties.

Cliché as it seems, there’s some truth to the bumper sticker-ish advice: if you find the perfect church, run, because you’re going to ruin it. But what if all of us, together, in our fragmented quirky ways, are all simply telling the greater Story?

This isn’t to excuse harmful theology, but I wonder sometimes if despite all our grasping, searching, and learning, in the end we will always struggle to apprehend “pure truth,” always strain against the confines of logic, always fall short of grasping reality.

Maybe this is why, when asked hard questions about blinding truth, Jesus, the incarnation of the God who wove the universe and history, and continues telling the tale into a new creation, would say, “Let me tell you a story…”

As Luci Shaw tells it in Chapter 3 of Breath for the Bones

“I am reminded of an afternoon when my youngest daughter came home from high school, saying in disgust, ‘Well, today we dissected a grasshopper.’ As if that’s any way to discover what a grasshopper is.

We know the truth about grasshoppers not from a scatter of small body parts under a scalpel on a lab table, but from seeing them arcing up from the long, hot grass in a summer field…” (43)

I could chart the bits a of grasshopper for you and tell you what it does, or I could point to a real one, strong legs propelling it through the garden before you can blink. Dissection kills.

I can tell you what I think I know about God through the stories, grasp for an explanation, cross-reference and dole out doctrine, or I could let you read them and know a little something about Jesus through the way he talked about prodigals and treasures, through the way he put on a towel and washed the grime from his friends’ feet on his last night before dying on earth, before waking from death and changing everything.

This isn’t to say that it’s wrong to take a systematic approach. Great evil has been done by misinterpreting Scripture, and great good has been done for our understanding and inspiration. There is nothing wrong with memorizing a verse that gives you strength, feeling a flash of insight, or connecting the lines between stories, poems, and letters to see the structure of the Gospel.

What is a problem though is when we fail to recognize the limits of our language and understanding. “Truth is a touchy subject, a daunting word,” says Shaw. “It demands our serious thought… and we’re still baffled by it.” (40) You can’t face infinite God in limited flesh without being mystified.

Rather than letting our differences divide us into camps of black and white, perhaps it’s a better thing to let them give colors and shades to our understanding, to see the thrum of life below the surface with a “baptized imagination.” We seek truth. Our metaphors break down. They bump us up against contradictions and paradox, ask us to believe God’s people are oaks of righteousness and withering grass. Still we go on, together catching fleeting glimpses and trying to describe what a grasshopper is.

Shaw describes faith as “a large, rambling house… added onto over the years.” What happens inside makes it remarkable:

“Inside the building lives a diverse community, an extended family of people variously occupied — cooking, cleaning, studying, conversing, teaching, giving advice,receiving advice, listening, rehearsing, resting, making love, dreaming, creating. They are young and old, male and female, single and married, widowed and divorced, inexperienced and mature, naive and wise. They are school children, parents, laborers, teachers, businesspeople, scholars, artists.

Moving among them, talking and working with them, is and ordinary-looking man; it is the Christ, the One who lends the house its personal warmth, its structure, its creative center, its vision, its reason for being.” (x)

Not a specific kind of church — not in stained glass, icons, fog machines, or a rented movie theater — but a community. And our imaginations unlock the rooms, let us wander into each other’s space where we are free to ask, “tell me a story.”

Where do you see your room in the “house of faith”? What have you learned from people in other rooms?

How does seeing Scripture as a story rather than a theology text alter your understanding?

– – –

This post was written in response to reading Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. If you’d like to read along, the schedule is as follows:

Last week: Intro, Chp 1-2
This week:  Chp 3-5
Sept 15: Chp 6-7
Sept 22: Chp 8-10
Sept 29: Chp 11-12



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Catching Up: Conferences, Cliffhangers, and a Movie Critic

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Lots of life happening at our house these days.

A friend recently asked me if she needed to re-subscribe to Greener Trees – she hadn’t received anything in her inbox for a while. I tried to log in to the blog’s administrative page to work on a few things and couldn’t remember my password. Apparently, it’s time for an update.

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

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A little over a year ago, I was honored to join a team of wonderful folks over at Story Warren. You can learn more about their mission here. I’m delighted to share that Story Warren’s inaugural conference, Inkwell, will be held in Charlotte on June 21. On that day, two of my favorite worlds will collide. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. The conference is sold out, but there are still tickets available to the Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame concert to be held later that evening. We are lucky ducks, indeed.

* * *

NOAH

Last summer, Greener Trees Reads (online reading group) read Jeffery Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly together. In the fall, I was able to meet and chat with Overstreet during the wonderful weekend called Hutchmoot. We talked about the possibility of working on a future project together. Months later, the idea became reality. Here it is:

Once upon a time, two total strangers — one a mother and a teacher with a background in business; the other a writer, editor, and film critic — became friends after she invited him to join an online discussion of his book about film. They were both Christians. And they met at an arts-and-faith gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville. They both agreed that they wanted to work together on something someday. You can continue reading here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lookingcloser/2014/04/noah-2014-part-two-of-a-two-part-commentary/#ixzz331Sgw68s

This summer, we’ll be listening to and discussing the recordings from Hutchmoot. If you have an interest in the intersection of faith and art, you may consider purchasing the 17 hours of audio here. It will be well-worth your investment.

 * * *

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A simple assigned writing prompt surfaced this long-forgotten memory. We have much to learn from each other – far more than initially meets the eye. Over at Art House America:

Not much was said as we hiked up the trail. Words would have tarnished the moment. The Colorado mountains were doing their thing — offering the fresh taste of reality in a saccharine-laced world. The climb provided ample time to survey the landscape. I was overcome with the beauty, so thick I couldn’t swallow it all in one gulp. I had to take in little sips. You can continue reading here.

* * *

In March, David and I celebrated twenty years of marriage by taking a few days away in the Big Apple. It was a rare grown-up playdate – complete with Broadway shows, unbelievable food, and my first visit to the Met. I’ve binged on the life and works of Van Gogh this spring, so standing before Starry Night was a hi-light. We’re deeply grateful for twenty years of struggle, joy, friendship, community, and far more detours from the assumed path of life than we could have imagined.

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* * *

Perhaps the biggest news coming from our home is the newest addition – Little Lucy. It’s amazing how much joy this sweet little pup has brought into our home. She’s six months old and we are all smitten.

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Happy summer from our home to yours!

 



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A Letter to My Church

We met when I was just a child. I stumbled through your doors, a young girl who had become both a bride and a parent only months before. New city, new job, new marriage, new family – my feeble knees attempting to carry more weight than was humanly possible. You offered truth, friendly smiles, a destination for my weekly pilgrimage in search of hope.  Week after week, we greeted one another warmly.  We became acquaintances.

You asked small, cordial questions. The first crossroad was approached. I offered a slight glimpse of my wounded heart. I answered you in riddles, both hoping and fearing you would pursue more. You asked the next question. You listened. You didn’t minimize. You didn’t try to manage the chaos or despair. You didn’t turn away.  Week after week, we spoke briefly, yet with greater intention. We became friends.

Weeks rolled into months tumbled into years. We watched first graders receive Bibles and high school students launch off to college. We sat together at weddings witnessing the birth of new families. We observed helplessly as dying marriages gasped their last breaths. We celebrated the debut of desperately longed-for babies. We wept as tiny coffins were being lowered into frigid ground. He gave and He took away. Week after week, we continued to meet. To draw together for an hour or two. To sing and to pray. To tell each other the old, old story. To be reminded that yes, it is all true.

You were often my mother, my father, my siblings. My teacher, my student, my traveling companion. You brought me food when I was sick, when a new baby was born, and when another was lost. You shared your stories, your fears, your dreams, and your talents. With each kind act, knowing glance and deeper question, you offered healing and restoration. You spoke words of truth about yourself, about me, and about the One who brought us together. You loved well.

Yet there were seasons when you were the source of great pain. You were too busy. You didn’t have room in your circle of friends. You were tending to your own wounds and trying to repair the brokenness present in your own life. You failed me. And I did the same to you. But strangely, the pain and silence created an invaluable space.

For the brave work of longing.

For the reminder that we were not made for this world.

For the homesickness which nudged me back on the path toward Home. 

Despite the disappointments, we continued to meet. Week after week. Preschool Christmas pageant after Thanksgiving Eve communion after Maundy Thursday after crowded Easter morning. We didn’t give up on one another. We kept coming back – at times running and at others limping. Our relationship changed. We became family.

Our kinship was not born of common interest, background, social standing or life experience. It wouldn’t necessarily have been of our own choosing. Yet we loved the same Father who saw fit to bring us together. Week after week, a sacred alchemy transpired. The common became Holy. Through the jagged cracks of a broken, selfish, and prideful people, the Glory of the Most High spilled out and penetrated the darkness.

You changed shape as some were called away to other communities. They left as a result of following the Father, and their appointed time with us had been fulfilled. I confess that I’ve been tempted to do the same, but for less than admirable reasons. When I wanted more from you, or when you weren’t serving me in the ways that I had hoped. When our differences felt threatening. The gaps between us too wide to cross. I longed to flee to a place where my opinions were affirmed. But He knew that our differences served a marked purpose. What had seemed like an obstacle to my ideal had actually been rescuing me from a mirage. Yes, you had your own idols. But when you didn’t bow down to mine, you were offering a different perspective.  You saved me from myself.

Thank you for coming back week after week, year after year.

For leaning in. For your goodness and your weakness. For your hopeful words of encouragement and your honest tears of brokenness. For having vision for my life, my marriage, and my family when I wasn’t able. For granting me the sacred privilege of speaking into your life as well.

In your faithfulness and in your failures, you continue to draw me back to our Father. 

 

We walk through your doors

Broken and weary

Self-sufficient and prideful

Critical of those different

Blind to need

Brokenhearted by life

Enslaved by selfishness

You welcome us in

Giving room to rest

To struggle

To Fail

To Grow

To Hope

I am thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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A Better Thing – Reflections from Hutchmoot 2012

The first face-to-face meeting of our reading group.

There are events in life that are worthy of memorialization. Every detail is recorded for posterity. Hallmark birthdays. First steps. Weddings. We submerge ourselves fully and bathe in the richness of the moment. It is a sacred place. I won’t attempt to memorialize the events of last weekend at Hutchmoot. Pictures and scrawled notes fail miserably. Rather than recounting the specifics, I want to share a bit of the sacred fragrance that has lingered with me as a result.

Last year, my attendance at Hutchmoot was unexpected after learning of an open spot only days prior. I had little time to develop expectations, and sojourned through the weekend like a wide-eyed tourist taking in the sights. I went with no particular agenda, no preparation, and having had met only a few who would be attending. I arrived with open hands, and I left with a full heart.

During those few days in Nashville, I met folks who were writers, musicians, artists, and book lovers. We had much in common, and conversations flowed easily. Through the following year, some of those initial meetings grew into deeper friendships. Black and white took on tints of color. Initial sketches of those writers, musicians, artists and book lovers developed into more complex portraits. As months passed, I began to see them as parents, friends, spouses, and children, all finding their way through this thing called life. We read through books together and learned from one another. We shared life’s burdens and triumphs. We prayed for each other. As diversity and imperfections surfaced, the degree of affection and loyalty deepened.

In speaking about a writing group which had been meeting together for several years, Anne Lamott describes the following:

“They all look a lot less slick and cool than they did when they were in my class, because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. You can see this pulse in them now.”

 

According to the lineup of speakers and musicians, a gathering like Hutchmoot could be perceived as a gathering of the “slick and cool.” Yet the actual experience was anything but. Nearly every conversation, whether in a crowded hallway or during a structured seminar, was peppered with the themes of gratefulness, brokenness, struggle and redemption. Folks were honest about life and cared for one another well. Hearts got bigger.

During one of the sessions, Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive read, sang, and played through the life of Rich Mullins. Mullins, like so many of us, led a life of seeming contradictions. He was steeped in scripture. He wrote unabashedly of the power, tenderness, grandeur and compassion of Christ. Yet his life was marked by significant struggle and addiction. Mullins had the courage to be honest about his life, and as a result, ushered in a new era of Christian musicians who would do the same. It’s an unexpected irony – his brokenness may have been the most beautiful thing about him. His struggle only amplified the grace of God. The same is true for all of us.

Yes, Hutchmoot was indeed what Jonathan Rogers termed “an embarrassment of riches.” The food, the music, the conversations, were far more lavish than mere words can convey. Yet the senses of taste, sight and sound only served to heighten an awareness of the eternal fragrance present in each one of us. Not of perfection, competence, or achievement, but the unmistakable incense of a broken, forgiven people. A people who are deeply and eternally loved by their Father. It’s the broken vessel that is most potent.

 

Maybe it’s a better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken, then redeemed by love

Andrew Peterson, Don’t You Want to Thank Someone

 

I’m grateful to have been given a few days with these beautiful, broken, and redeemed people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The servants of the secret fire… until we meet again.

 

 

 

* Photographs not printed with permission. If you’d rather have yours removed, don’t hesitate to let me know. 



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The Gospel According to Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn

 “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally.”  Frederick Buechner

At the heart of the gospel is The Story of us all. We are created to live in reliance on the Father, yet we often choose independence over dependence. He is relentless in pursuing his children. We are loved infinitely in the midst of our unloveliness. We need to remind each other. We need to be reminded. Thus, the power of story.

We all have a story to tell. Sometimes, we need others to go first.  Eighteen years ago, I married David, a single father of two young children. Within the span of six months, I became a wife and full-time parent, took a new job, we moved to new city, and took the first tentative steps on the journey called marriage. Eventually, we became part of a small group of folks from our new church. During our first several meetings, we spent time getting to know one another by sharing life stories. I’ll never forget one evening in particular. We were meeting at our house. I burned the spaghetti (yes, I was newly married and figuring the cooking thing out). I asked one of the women if we should make a new pot, or if that one would suffice. She gently said that a new pot may be best. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but such gently honesty became a hallmark of the group.

The most memorable part of that evening, however, was not the culinary near-disaster.  One of the couples was nestled into the love seat in our small family room. These friends were measured, yet generous, when sharing their story. They were open, honest, and genuine. They were warm toward each other and laughed easily. Within a span of minutes, they spoke with consistent cadence and tone about their enjoyment of one another as well as significant struggle. But the wisdom that burrowed into my soul, and still has a home there today, came in the form of a brief, passing comment. The couple, who many of us held out as having the”model” marriage, had been married for eighteen years. She turned to him and said, as casually as if they were reaching agreement upon when the tires were last rotated, “Yes, I think we’ve had five really good years.”  The last five. Out of eighteen.  Oh my.

Immediately, the twin emotions of dread and relief flooded my heart. After one year of a difficult marriage, was it possible that we may need to log in thirteen more before experiencing “really good years?”  Just thinking about it was exhausting. Yet oddly, at the same time, the pressure was off. The cat was out of the bag. Our friends had given words to unspoken truths, and confirmed a sneaking suspicion. Marriage can be really, really hard. There are rarely quick fixes. But there is more.

That night, our friends gave us an invaluable gift. They spoke truth. Without apology or despair, without false hope or empty promises. They put to words what we were feeling, and as a result, we had the courage to speak the “t” truth (life as we experience it).  Marriage, and life for that matter, wasn’t what we thought that it would be. It all seemed to fall quite short of what should have been.  By putting to words the “t” truth of experience,  our friends made it safe for us to struggle with questions of “T” Truth (ultimate Truth):  What had we really been promised? What could we depend upon with complete certainty?  Where were we wrong, or defiant, or just naive in our thinking? They went first, which made it easier for us to speak when our turn rolled around. Yes, our friends entered the darkness with us. For us. When we didn’t quite have the courage to go there ourselves. They gave us hope.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Fast forward sixteen years. David and I had just discovered Andrew Peterson’s music, and friends happened to have two extra tickets to his sold-out Christmas concert. As we took our seats, one glance at the stage proved promising. Several guitars, a cello, violins, and a piano waited silently, pregnant with possibility.  I might add that large cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars characters were dappled among the instruments. Not your typical Christmas show backdrop.

Eventually, without pomp or fanfare, folks filed onto the stage, one by one. Their presence was one of humility. Andrew introduced his friends, and thus began the “music in the round.”  Each took his turn sharing a song or two, along with the story behind it.  Andy stepped forward.  He shared briefly, then sang  Any Other Way – a song written about the hardest day they’d experienced in marriage.

I was stopped.  It had happened again – only rather than being spoken in the family room of our home, the cry of our hearts was being sung from onstage. Andy and Jill shared words of truth. Without apology or despair, without false hope or empty promises. They expressed through music what we had experienced, and doing so, validated the “t” truth about marriage. About life. They went first. Making it easier for others to speak the unspoken truths in their own stories.

When I listen to their music, I’m given the gift of reassurance. Like an intimate conversation with a dear friend who “gets me”, I’m reminded that I’m not alone. In the struggles, joys, challenges and dreams of life. Jill speaks volumes in just the first few lines of A Lot Like Me:

Sometimes I think you hesitate to say the way you really feel
Like there’s no way that I could understand where you are coming from
But if we could tear down these walls of bricks and mortar built with fear
I think we’d be surprised to find how small our differences become

We’re all in the same boat
Sailing on the same old stormy sea
If you look real close
You’ll find you’re a lot like me

So, outside of the fact that they’re two of the most genuine folks I’ve ever met, that is my brief explanation of why I’m so very drawn to and grateful for Andy and Jill. Their music affirms the dignity of struggle, the joy found in “everyday” moments, and the promise that we’re known and loved. They are storytellers who are gracious in sharing their very personal stories with us. In doing so, they invite us to consider our own. And ultimately, they gently redirect our attention to the Author of all Hope. The One who spoke first. The One who knows us intimately. The One who is relentless in pursuing His children. The One who loves us in the midst of our unloveliness. Andy and Jill remind us. At the heart of the gospel is The Story of us all.

~~~~~~~~~~

Andy’s new album, Beyond the Frame, was released today. For a most-excellent review and a bit more on Andy, you can read the review by Jonathan Rogers here. You won’t don’t want to miss this album. Go ahead and buy a few extras for your friends. Available for purchase here at The Rabbit Room.



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Join Us

“The characteristic common to God and man is apparently. . .
the desire and ability to make things.”  Dorothy Sayers

Would you consider joining a group of like-minded folks as we read through The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers?  Although it may not be the typical book on your summer reading list, that’s a great reason to read along with a group.  I’m already a few chapters in, and am itching to hear what others have to say.  We have so much to learn so much from one another.

The Book

Sayers was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and her insights are highly relevant to us today.  For those who are unfamiliar with the book, the back cover states:

“This classic, with a new introduction by Madeleine L’Engle, is by turns an entrancing meditation on language; a piercing commentary on the nature of art and why so much of what we read, fear, and see falls short; and a brilliant examination of the fundamental tenets of Christianity. The Mind of the Maker will be relished by those already in love with Dorothy Sayers and those who have not yet met her.

A mystery writer, a witty and perceptive theologian, culture critic, and playwright, Dorothy L. Sayers sheds new, unexpected light on a specific set of statements made in the Christian creeds. She examines anew such ideas as the image of God, the Trinity, free will, and evil, and in these pages a wholly revitalized understanding of them emerges. The author finds the key in the parallels between the creation of God and the human creative process, and continually refers to each in a way that illuminates both.”

I’ve asked a few folks to share their thoughts:

“I’d had a hunch for a long time that there was an underlying connection between our human creativity and the manner in which we were, ourselves, created.  But it wasn’t until I read Dorothy Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker that I felt anyone had really articulated precisely why this might be so and why it might be so important.  As I read, I found myself nodding in almost constant agreement, often stabbing a finger at the page and proclaiming “Yes, that’s it exactly! That’s what it feels like to create!” And to my great delight, she describes the process with, not only great wisdom, but sharp wit.

Dorothy was quite a woman and far from perfect.  She’d stand out boldly and scandalously in our own generation, so you can imagine just how large she must have loomed in her own day–a day in which women had to fight tooth and nail to be taken seriously by the academic establishment. Part of what I so admire about the book is how carefully she builds her arguments and attends to her detractors. You can almost imagine the voices of the stuffy, misogynistic world around her poking holes in her thesis while Dorothy–severe, opinionated, and undaunted–sits hunched over her desk fearlessly plugging up those logical holes with the insight and wisdom of a modern-day sage. In reading The Mind of the Maker I fell in love not merely with the work itself, but, in the end, with the fierceness and audacity of its matchless author.” Pete Peterson

 

The Mind of the Maker unpacks Dorothy Sayers’s view of the creativity trinity. She breaks the creative process down into Idea (the unseen image which guides), Energy (the outworking of an idea into form), and Power (the connectivity between art and viewer). Sayers believed this creative triad permeates the artistic world because it follows the structure of the Creator Himself: Father (the unseen Idea), Son (the physical manifestation of Idea), and Spirit (the connective force between God and humanity). Sayers’s work is a tightly woven masterpiece, encompassing philosophy as well as diagnostics.”  Rebecca Reynolds

The Plan:

There are a few different ways to participate:

~ If you’re on Facebook, there is a new “Greener Trees Reads” closed group, which is ironically open to anyone who would like to join.  Just send a  message to me (or leave a message on the Greener Trees FB page) and you’ll be added to the group.

~ Or, you can join the conversation via Blog updates.  Details to come, but you can start by letting us know “you’re in” in the comments section.

~ If you live in Charlotte, we’ll provide a few meeting options during the summer where we can get together and discuss as well.  Time and place TBD.

The schedule:  

Introduction, Chapters 1-2 by June 15th
Chapters 3 – 4 by June 22nd
Chapters 5 – 6 by June 29th
Chapters 7 – 8 by July 13th
Chapters 9 – 11 by July 27th

*I’ve been warned that the first few chapters are fairly dense, but well worth the time invested – hang in there.

The Rules:

There are none.  But I’d ask that we focus on “what is stirred in me” rather than “what I do or don’t agree with.”  We each bring a unique story and perspective to the group.  All are welcome.  All are valued.

Even if you can only join us for a part of the summer, your insights and comments will teach and encourage others.  

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and pass the information along to anyone who may be interested.  This is my first time to jump into such a venture, so we’ll be learning together. Thanks in advance for grace and flexibility!

The Mind of the Maker is available at The Rabbit Room store.

 



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It Takes a Village

For thousands of years, civilizations have raised children.  Local communities shared the burden of birthing, nurturing, disciplining, and preparing their offspring for adulthood.  Generations learned from one another, wept, and rejoiced together.  It was unthinkable to tackle such a daunting endeavor alone.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Although we may live hundreds of miles from our relatives, and our packed schedules curtail relationship with those in our neighborhood, we still need each other.  Wisdom, experience, perspective, and encouragement from others serve as critically-needed oxygen to feed the heart of parenting.

This Mother’s Day week, I have the great honor of introducing some of my friends to you.  Each woman’s perspective, voice, and family, is distinctively different from the others.  Yet each individual story has been spun from the heart of the same Great Storyteller. My hope is that you will be encouraged.  That the burden of birthing, nurturing, disciplining, and preparing children for adulthood will be lightened.  Even if only through affirmation that no, you are not alone.

Mothers have the great privilege of ushering life into this world, and of sustaining and nurturing it.  Many of you have never given birth to children.  Yet you bring life and enrichment to your friends, neighbors, extended family members, and those in your community.  The truths these friends will be sharing are equally applicable to you.

Men, I’d encourage you to take the time and read the posts as well.  Each offers a glimpse of the Father.  Of his love and provision.  Of the gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) ways in which he breathes life into his children, and prepares them for their great inheritance.  As you read, if a particular piece brings someone to mind, please share generously.  The words penned are the currency of the Kingdom, and when shared, will suffice as a meaningful gift to the receiver.

Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a new post from a different writer.  Take time to explore their sites.  If you’re touched, let them know.  Your words will be an encouragement to them.

To my friends, thank you for inspiring me (and others) as we navigate the journey before us.  We need each other.

It takes a village.



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The Gift

The following post was written by Carrie Luke, who blogs at Journeys of a Prodigal Daughter.   Carrie recently lost her beloved friend, Sydney, after a battle with cancer.  I only met Sydney a few times, yet through Carrie’s tender words and pictures, her life and spirit have greatly impacted me – and a multitude of others.  It has been truly amazing to watch this beautiful community of women surround and step into the lives of Sydney’s family.

It had everything one might expect to find at a birthday party. A string of colorful balloons and streamers lined the front porch. Two young girls in fancy dresses pranced in and out of the front door like wild ponies full of excitement as the guests began to arrive. There was a “do it yourself” Mojito station, a lovely catered dinner with all of the fixings, and the infamous “Carmel Cake” was displayed in the dining room.

It was a perfect setting that lacked only one thing. The Birthday Girl. And we were all missing her.

It has been almost 8 months since Sydney passed away, and her husband Todd had graciously opened up his home for an evening of celebration and remembrance. He has been amazing through this entire journey. As a confessed introvert, and contrary to that nature, he has unselfishly time and again, invited people into his grief and loss with his amazing writing and blog.

Now, he opened up his home ( and Syd’s closet) which provided everyone with an opportunity to stop, to feel, to laugh, and to cry. We were celebrating her birth, but more importantly we were there to commemorate the life that touched us all so much.

After dinner, the sharing began. Todd started the round with a hilarious story about his wife, Sydney. You can read about it here.

As the stories progressed and more people began to speak, my husband leaned over  and asked if I was going to share. I shook my head and whispered, “No. I just don’t have any words right now.”

This was true concerning that particular moment, but it was also the case for my life over the past 6 months.

At the realization of my long season of silence, I got uncomfortable and very wiggly. I am known to lots of people by my words and by my laughter.  Both of which could be induced by my quiet relationship with Sydney.  So I decided to try to find her.

I quietly slipped out of the living room and went to visit Sydney’s closet. It was just a small window preserved so that we can still get a glimpse of the whimsical, intrepid dynamo that she was because so much of that was displayed in what she wore.

I stepped into this portal and immediately teared up,  but I also felt very happy. How can you only be sad standing amongst Sydney’s wardrobe and jewelry? All of the colors, the boldness, the patterns, and the style encapsulated her free spirit. It was like walking through a field of wild flowers.

I looked at some of her favorite books and necklaces. I ran my hand across her shirts and giggled at all of her silly, printed t-shirts and four pairs of the same running shoe. And then I saw them, the very large, but simple turquoise earrings. I moved in for a closer look.

Last spring, Sydney walked into my birthday party at Cantina. That may read as rather uninteresting. But, it was a miracle that she was there and that she was walking. She had been in a wheel chair for months, and we all doubted that she would ever regain her footing.

When I opened her gift, I found myself an enviable recipient of a “Sydney Original.” She had made me some earrings, and I was very touched by how well she captured me. They were small, subtle, and very delicate turquoise earrings.

Standing there in her closet, I realized that she had the same pair, only her’s were larger and more dynamic. She had made me something of herself, but had adjusted it to fit me.

I had found some words.

I quietly walked back into the living room and rejoined the group. I still did not know if I would share, but at least I felt more connected to the evening, to Sydney, and to myself.

***This is what I wound up sharing. I am writing it out as requested to be placed in a book for Todd and Sydney’s children:

“How I Met Your Mother.”

I knew of your mom through church. I say that only to communicate that is where I recognized her from the day we actually met in an Old Navy.

You have to know that your mother was a special kind of “lovely crazy.” I do not mean that she was unbalanced, for she was most certainly of a sound mind. But, she would get SO excited about something, throw caution to the wind, and then chase after it with both hands. That day, she was excited about me.

As I was walked around the store, I noticed that every where I turned, your mom was right there. Finally, she popped around the corner and said(declared:), “Hi. I’m Sydney Gaylord. I heard you speak at church a few months ago, and I really want to get to know you. I really want to be your friend.”

I was startled, but mostly I was just deeply touched. Your mom had no idea of the kind of day that I was having or the darkness that I was being called into for redemption’s sake. But God did and here was your mom, a sun burst of beauty and light declaring me worthy of pursuit.

I smiled at her and said that I would very much like to be her friend.

A few months later, she invited herself over to my house for lunch. Again, I was very startled but in this context, I was also intimidated. I knew that your mother had refined tastes and lots of experience with dining. I don’t cook and my home is very small and humble. But, my insecurities were outweighed by my desire to be with your mother.

She brought you two girls,(this was before your brother was born) and you played with my daughters. You were SO engrossed with Maggie and Emma because they were “big” girls. You played dress up and played with the ‘misfits.’

I fixed your mother a grilled cheese sandwich, which I scorched,  to go with our tomato soup. She sat in my kitchen and raved about the meal as if she were being served at the White House.

After we finished eating and had shared some of our stories, your mother got up and began “snooping” around.

You will hear this often pertaining to your mom. She had an unquenchable thirst when it came to finding out about something or someone. But it never felt obtrusive to me, only loving.

Well, maybe it felt a little obtrusive when she opened up my freezer and pulled out my 5 lb bag of M&M’s. But, after she turned to me and said, “Now, I love you even more for having this kind of stash,” I realized that she was a safe, kindred spirit.

When it was time to go, she gave me a hug. That was when she saw a few photographs on top of my bookshelf. She picked them up and began rifling through them. (read *snooping) She stopped at one and said, “What is this?”

I looked at it and responded, “That is a photo I took of a hydrangea bush just beginning to bloom.”

“It’s amazing,” she said.

I looked at it again.

“Really?” I doubted.

At that point my husband had come home from work and had joined us.

“Really?” he echoed. “I’ve never thought much of it.”

I looked at my new friend and smiled. “Sometimes,” I said, “We have to outsource our encouragement.”

She threw her head back and laughed deeply and unabashedly.

She asked me why I took the picture.

“I liked it because Hydrangea’s can grow on dead wood. In this moment, it still looked pretty lifeless to me against the pine straw with only a few little green leaves poking out. It is a picture of where winter and spring meet. It is a picture of hope.”

She was quite. Then she hugged me again and told me that I take great pictures.

About a week later, I got a call from your mom asking if she could have that photograph. She said she needed something for a class that represented “hope” to her and wanted to use it. I felt touched and was happy to give it to her. I scribbled a verse on the back and wrote “to my new friend, Sydney.”

A few months later, she gave me this.

She found it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me and the “hydrangea of hope.”

Now it sits in my kitchen window as a daily reminder that no matter how long or barren the winter, spring always follows. Your mother staked her life on that truth and now needs no daily reminder. She is living in the proof.

This was one of the many things that I loved about your mom. She believed by faith that in Jesus, hope can always be found if one only took the time to look.

That was what she did with me one day in a store, and with countless other people over the years. This was one of her special gifts to a hurting world, and it will never quite be the same without her.

(*taken at your mother’s grave the day of her funeral)



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