The pain of Mother’s Day

I love Mother's Day. Mothers have a tough job and deserve to be honored. But I gotta be honest; for the last six years, I don't enjoy being at church on Mother's Day. For one reason.

“Will all the mothers in the congregation please stand!”

I get it. It's a nice gesture to honor all the moms there. All the ladies that spend their entire morning herding children through the morning, barely giving their own appearance a second glance; they deserve that moment of recognition. The women who have raised children and have several beautiful grandchildren to brag on; they deserve it too.

It's just a really awkward moment for some of the rest of us.

I'm not a mother in the physical sense of the word. I haven't birthed or even raised an adopted baby. But I consider myself a mother. My children are just growing up halfway around the world without me. My three years spent with the African Children's Choir gave me 49 beautiful children that I was blessed to “mother.” They're growing up and some are practically legal adults now (???!!!), but they will ever remain in my heart.

If I stand during that moment in church, I will get funny looks and might even start rumors that I'm pregnant or something. So I sit, and feel a little sad about the kids that aren't a part of my physical life anymore.

I think of my sister in law, who went through the agony of waiting for an adopted baby. She has a beautiful son now, and can stand proudly as she cuddles that beautiful boy, but I'm sure the years of waiting made Mother's Day a painful reminder for her.

I found this post and thought it was beautiful. I hope you will take the time to read it.

And Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers, aunties, sisters, nannies, grandmothers, and friends out there.


Disrespect during communion

I'm angry.

I'm tired of people tromping all over communion time like it's not important. It's become another ritual that we do each week. We make our way up the aisle and gulp down the elements without really thinking about what it all means. I'm so tired of people disrespecting it.

I don't think most realize what they're doing. But I find myself super sensitive to the people around me. Those that look at me funny when I don't jump in line right away, because I choose to take a few moments in my seat to pray, reflect, and prepare. People that talk and visit and whisper as they wait in line.

I suppose for some, communion isn't a big deal. It's just something we do on Sunday morning. For me, it's incredibly important, and when those around me start whispering while I'm trying to pray, it's really disruptive.

One Sunday during communion, a woman interrupted my quiet time to compliment me on my dress. I appreciated the sentiment, but the timing was terrible.

Please, people. Communion is not social hour. Be silent and reverent, if for nothing else than out of respect for those who desperately need those few blessed moments of silence and reflection.
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Remember the great sacrifice our Savior made for us and how communion honors that sacrifice.


My numb heart

I'm tired of tragedy. I'm tired of turning on the news and hearing things like the Boston Marathon bombing. There's so much tragedy going on that I'm starting to not feel much anymore.

I'm saddened, but I'm also numb. When I hear bad news, I get a glazed over look in my eyes and think, “Not again.” Then I sigh, throw up a half hearted prayer, and move on with life.

I used to feel a lot. After 9/11, I cried for days. I was glued to the news, not because I wanted to see more of the tragedy, but because I so desperately wanted to help, and it was the only way I felt close to the people hurting. Now when bad news strikes, I avoid the news. My heart just can't take anymore.

It's like my work in a retirement facility. I love my residents and serve them the best I can, but death is imminent when you work with seniors. Many mornings I come to work and see yet another death notice posted. I've just become numb to it, mainly out of a need to survive. You can't go all to pieces all the time. You have to pull yourself together and move on. There's still a job to be done.
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I don't want to be numb to everything, but at the same time I need to keep living. If I allow myself to feel too much, I'll be stuck to the news for days, letting sorrow consume my life.

I will pray, because it's all I know to do.

O God, we are stunned.
We cannot take it in.
It seems unreal and yet too real.
Bear with us in the pain of what has happened
and give us the healing of wounds that now run deep.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Adapted from Funeral Services of the Christian Churches in England, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2002.


Rethinking my resentments

I shared a big revelation recently: I’ve become disillusioned with Christian subculture. Now I’m struggling to figure out what to do with that.

My big problem is it defined me for so long. It defined my faith. It’s who I was as a Christian. Now that I’m redefining myself and stripping off so much of Christianity that disgusts me, it’s hard to figure out what kind of Christian I am now. I feel like I’m caught between the old goody-two-shoes-me and a new worldly me. I want a balance between the two.

I used to be the Christian that was absolutely offended by anything that wasn’t cleaned up for my eyes and ears. Once I discovered Christian music, I didn’t want to listen to anything else. It felt safer. My college boyfriend, who had a deep love of music, loaned me a Pink Floyd CD. It was one of his favorite albums and he wanted to share it with me. I was wary, because it just looked “evil.” I listened to about a track and a half, and grew incredibly offended by a couple of swear words. I gave it back to him, refusing to listen to anymore. He told me that if I could just get past those words, I might really enjoy the music. With my arms crossed in front of me, I refused. I would not come off my holy high horse.

Looking back on that, I’m ashamed. I wasn’t willing to come out of my safe bubble to engage with him musically, yet I played CCM music for him the entire length of our relationship. It was not his music of choice, but he lovingly listened to it with me. He never once said a bad word about it. He could have. A lot of what I played lacked originality or good musicality. Compared to his music collection, which ranged from that Pink Floyd album to Franz Liszt to every Billy Joel album in existence, my collection was pretty simplistic.

He was nothing but kind to me and my music, and I couldn’t give one of his favorite albums a single listen. He wasn’t a Christian, but sometimes he portrayed more Christlike characteristics than I did.

Now, I’d rather not listen to those CCM songs. I find them too simplistic and predictable. I listen to a bigger variety of music, mostly non Christian. I listen to songs that goody-two-shoes-me would be shocked at. I recently had the rap song, “Thrift Shop” stuck in my head for days (Don’t judge me like I used to judge all others, please). I’ve learned that many non Christian songs have really deep messages; messages that I think Jesus would agree with.

I don’t want to go back to goody-two-shoes, but I also don’t want to roll too far the other way. I still want to be conscious of what I’m listening to and watching, and careful not to feed too much “filth” into my head. I want to be in the world, open to other’s music choices and thoughts, all while remaining focused on Jesus.

It’s a struggle.

Question: Do you ever find yourself caught between the secular and the sacred? Where’s that “fine line” for you? What’s okay and what’s not?

The comfort of Liturgy

The highlight of Holy week for me was not Easter. It came in an unexpected way, on Maundy Thursday.

The Maundy Thursday service was a Tenebrae service. I had attended one years before, and was touched by how powerful it was. In a Tenebrae service, the lights are slowly lowered throughout the service, until the sanctuary is cloaked in complete darkness, symbolizing the darkness that fell upon the earth as Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:45).

I appreciated the quiet, the stillness, and the contemplation. I feel like those moments make the celebrations much more meaningful on Easter Sunday.

What surprised me most was how much the liturgy that was woven throughout the service touched me. I have mixed feelings about liturgy. Sometimes it just seems like rote routine that we trudge through. I think of stories I’ve heard of the early Catholic church, where people recited words in Latin that they barely understood. I’m wary of reading words that are placed before me, out of fear that I’m just reading them instead of letting them into my heart. I don’t want to become a stagnant shell, simply going through the motions.

Sometimes liturgy brings comfort. Although I feel we tend to overuse the Lord’s Prayer without really thinking through what it means, those words bring me comfort as I quietly let them slide off my lips. Whenever I recite the words of confession from the Methodist hymnal that I learned so many years ago, the words touch the very innermost part of my soul.

Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved You with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church.We have not done Your will, We have broken Your law, we have rebelled against Your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As I sat in that Maundy Thursday service, we recited liturgy. It didn’t feel forced or rote. It felt meaningful and sincere. I let the full effect of each word slip into my soul. I thought of Jesus and the incredible sacrifice He made and how unworthy I am. How amazing this crazy thing called Christianity is.

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.


My real problem

I started writing to work through some really tangled issues in my head. I had a problem and I wanted to know what was wrong. I wanted to get to the root of it, solve it, and move on.

For a couple years, I’ve assumed my problem was with worship. Since musical worship used to be so special and now is just music, I figured my issue was with that. And while much of the difficulty lies there, it’s bigger than worship.

I think I’ve uncovered the root of my problem, why worship feels fake, and why going to church is such a struggle for me. It’s bigger than not liking the music style or the selection of songs.

I’ve become disillusioned by the Christian culture. This culure that has made me believe this happy, safe bubble was the way to live. That by surrounding myself with music that only speaks of Jesus or shopping in stores that limit their market to the select Christian evangelical, I will be well. Saved. Blessed.

Then I hit the real world, and my bubble got popped. That happy little Christian world I built up has crumbled around me, leaving me in shell shock as I brush off the pieces.

I see Christian music as a marketing tool and Christian stores as irrelevant chains that keep Christians locked away from the real world. I’m resentful. I’m shaking my fist at the church, screaming, “How dare you misguide me?”

I’m completely disillusioned with the church, with Christian subculture, with worship music, with every shiny piece of merchandise that states, “Jesus is the light of the world.”

It makes sense that this problem would surface most obviously in music. Music shaped much of my adult life and made me who I am today. It’s the career path I chose. I believed that I would be taking my music and using it always to glorify Jesus.

And I think that is still my purpose, but with a slightly divergent path.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to identify the root of my problem. From here, I hope to continue to work through my resentments and emerge healed, albeit bumped and bruised from the journey.

When worship is physically painful

This tweet recently showed up in my feed:

Old lady at church: “It’s too loud.” Me: “Try moving to a seat that’s farther from the speakers. In another church, perhaps.” #InMyMind

I realize this is supposed to be tongue in cheek, and I’ll admit, I chuckled. But it still makes me sad.

When complaints are made about the noise level of worship, it’s laughed about behind the complainers back (usually an “old” person) and then filed in the circular file. And we move on, doing absolutely nothing.

I work with the elderly. I get it. Some will find anything to complain about. Others are impossible to keep happy. (Although I’m convinced that in any group of people, you will find complainers.) I also know that not all old people hate loud music. Have you heard live big band music from the 40s?

I’m beginning to relate to the noise level complaints, especially after I had minor surgery last year. In an attempt to ease the constant feeling of pressure in my ear, I had a tube put in. It didn’t help and now I’m just waiting for it to fall out.

In the meantime, I have bionic hearing. It’s like there’s a megaphone in my left ear. This dumb tube has left me super sensitive to noise. The volume at most worship services has become unbearable. Contemporary worship is physically painful for me.

I feel for the poor old lady that speaks up about the volume. She may have a very valid complaint, but it’s simply dismissed.

If there is an old lady in your contemporary service, that’s quite impressive. The sheer fact that she’s not swearing the music off as “devil music” is quite a feat! Can we work to make the situation a little more enjoyable for her?

Just a thought.

Question: What are your thoughts on the noise level in worship?

You’re giving up what?

I’ve recently become obsessed with Words with Friends. I play with a couple coworkers, and one is really good. He has about eight to ten games going at one time and he usually wins. He and I sit in our break room at lunch, intently staring at our phones, often playing each other. (Yes, the irony in this situation is not lost on me.)

One of several games I lost

Last week, he looked up from his phone and said:

I really need to apply this level of commitment to something else.

This then led into a conversation about Lent. He knew what he needed to give up, but wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to do it. All those players were depending on him!

I like the idea of giving up things for Lent. Surrendering something important (to us) as a small reminder of the powerful thing Jesus did for us. I wanted to give something up this year, but I had a hard time deciding what. I tend to come up with things that are too easy. I need something that will challenge me.

A friend once said that Lent wasn’t always about what you give up, but about beginning a better habit. I think that’s the direction I’m leaning this year. And that better habit needs to be spiritual in nature. For over a year, I’ve been struggling to get my quiet time back in order. I read my Bible, but it’s often just words on a page. I pray, but it’s often nothing more than, “Um… help me, God. Thanks.”

My church is offering a Lenten devotion along with communion each Wednesday. I need to go. I’m making the commitment to go each Wednesday, reflect on the elements, confess my sins, and open my ears and my heart to God. And in addition, I will keep reading my Bible until those words become alive again.

So, really, I am giving up something: the complacent lifestyle I’ve grown way too comfortable in. I am more than ready to be done with that.

Question: Are you giving up something for Lent this year? Or starting a better habit?

I can still sing to worship

Through all the worship frustrations lately, I still long to use my voice to worship. I believe my voice is a gift given by God, and I want to give it right back to Him.

Lately I’ve been noticing that the finely tuned instrument of my voice is not so finely tuned anymore. After graduating from the college of music at FSU, my voice was in tip-top shape. Not so much anymore.

I sing here and there, but nothing serious. I’ve noticed my breath control is pitiful, my range isn’t so spectacular and my voice just doesn’t flow so naturally anymore. I miss singing. REALLY singing.

I’ve tried to keep my voice in shape myself, but with limited success. I need accountability. I decided to join my city’s community choir. It’s a choir of volunteers (we pay to be a part of it). It’s not all professional musicians. We’re joined by one common bond: a love of singing.

On my first night there, Dr. Andre Thomas, an amazing conductor (and one of my professors from college) took the podium and commanded our attention. My butt slid forward on the seat, my posture snapped into position and I held my music high, anxious to start. We sight read through a piece to begin. I was nervous. It had been years since I had really sight read.

Our entrance came and 100 plus voices sprang to life. My nerves dissipated immediately. My voice melded into the beautiful blend of harmony that enveloped my ears. Sight reading felt effortless. I was struck at the volume that mere voices can produce.

And the beauty of that sound.

A hundred voices all united for one purpose. To sing and to sing well.

My heart felt full. As much as I enjoy singing other styles of music, choral music makes me happy. It makes me work. In the midst of all those voices, my voice blossoms.

With so much cynicism in my heart as of late, it’s refreshing to find music that I can put my heart and soul into. I may not be on the front row of worship with hands held high, but I will be at rehearsal each Monday evening with my posture straight and sheet music in hand.

I’m thankful that I can still lift my voice to God.

The worship social hour

Can I get something off my chest?

I’m trying really hard to work through my worship issues. I really am. I’m trying to acknowledge when something is my issue rather than placing blame on someone else. But sometimes, I don’t think it’s my issue. Let me share a story from last month.

The Sunday before Christmas, Drew and I took a trip to the United Methodist Church in downtown Tallahassee. There’s just something about Christmas carols on a pipe organ, and it’s become a tradition for us to find a church with one during the Christmas season. We settled into the balcony and enjoyed the view looking down at the 100 year old sanctuary. As a Bach prelude boomed out of the pipes, I closed my eyes and relished in the music of my favorite time of year.

As the service began, my attention was drawn to two women sitting a few rows in front of us. They whispered back and forth to each other. They continued all the way through the offertory, a beautiful organ and flute duet. This struck me as slightly rude, but I closed my eyes and tried to shut them out, focusing on the melody of The Coventry Carol (one of my favorites). Every time I opened my eyes, they were still whispering. I gritted my teeth, growing more annoyed with each passing minute.

I thought for sure they would stop when the offertory did. No luck. The whispering continued into the sermon, all the way to the end. I was stunned… and greatly frustrated.

I don’t think I’m too off base saying that this is incredibly rude and disruptive; rude to the people who have worked to put the service together, and disruptive to everyone around you.

I watch while people come to worship and greet neighbors during the music. They have a conversation behind someone deep in worship, or someone who is trying to be. If you politely ask them to be quiet, you’re often seen as the rude one.

Some people might think it’s okay to talk during the music. It’s not. Even if it’s an offertory or something you’re not actively participating in, it’s still an act of worship. And you’re tromping all over that person’s beautiful gift to God.

Don’t even get me started on whispering during THE ENTIRE SERMON.

C’mon, people. Yes, there is a social aspect to church, but that shouldn’t take place during the service. Don’t disrupt someone else’s worship time.

Worship should be sacred and holy. Let’s treat it as such, and start by being considerate of those around us.