Joy Behind Bars

suite italienne

Last night, we attended a violin/viola concert held at a local church.  The soloist hails from Chicago, a man in his early 40s with white hair.  He only played one song I recognized.  As he played, I watched and listened with intensity.  I remember performing and all the hours of work that went into perfecting a piece.  He used sheet music, something a lot of professionals don’t use.

The tiny nave of the church could only hold about 100 people, tops.  And it was 97 degrees.  A couple of lackluster fans spun in the background.  Two stained-glass windows tilted open to let in a cross-breeze.  Though the sun had moved behind the hills more than an hour before, the air hung warm around us.

The soloist started out by tuning.  He played an A in three different octaves.  The pianist, a fine musician in her own right, plucked out the right octave for each.  You have to tune to the stable instrument.  Violins, and most portable instruments, flow in and out of tune easily.

He started playing.  He showed a certain tentativeness in the first selection.  I can only imagine he could tell his stringed friend would be screechy on the high notes.  The warmer the room, the sharper notes tend to get. He played on.  He put more gusto into playing and went after the high cadenza passages. The Dvorak “Romance in F Minor” felt quite poignant.

However, he kept pausing, sometimes even between movements of a piece, in order to tune. His mouth a grim line, he bowed an A.  He mopped his brow.  He picked up the song again.

I thought about how many hours – decades, really – he’d invested in practicing.  His bio said he picked up the violin at age 3.  So…30+ years of playing.  Hours a day.  Before school, after school, weekends, nights.

I could see some notes made him grimace.  The high cadenza passages of the “Concertpiece” by Enescu had him cringing.  He stopped and tuned again before the next song.  His eyes widened on Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne” during the Tarantella movement.  Stravinsky built pieces on dissonance and syncopation, throwing the song’s steady beat off in order to challenge the player and the listener.  The violinist wiped his brow again. He allowed himself the tiniest smile at the rich, melodic passage created by the pairing of him and his wooden friend.

I remembered my own years of performing flute concert pieces.  I evaluated every note that came out of the silver tube.  I cringed at the wrong notes, the bad pitches, the sometimes disconnect between me and the accompanist.  I held my mouth in the same grim line while playing. I smiled – not much, because you can’t get a sound out of a flute with all your teeth hanging out – when something gorgeous came out.

Bars make up the partitions of music.  Rhythms and sections and phrases and notes, with bar lines as measure divisions.  Musicians live behind bars, bound to practice and practice, perform and practice some more.  The music can become a prison of sorts.  You put time, sweat, effort and passion into a song.  You play it and you measure yourself by it.  In the world of professional musicians, you’re only as good as your last performance.  Professional performers serve a life sentence, if they choose to accept it.

At the end of the performance, the crowd roared.  We stood to our feet, clapping until the pair came out and put on an encore.  The violinist grinned, his heart on his face, bowing to the audience.   Life behind bars can be pretty good.  You can find your song there.


Faith Rock

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It’s just getting light out.  I can hear the rooster across town, greeting the morning.  He crows a faint – yet illegal – minor second.  His notes carry across the valley.

I have been reading the minor prophets lately in my Bible reading plan.  I am minor-propheted out, if there is such a term.  Psalm 61 followed

O God, listen to my cry!
    Hear my prayer!
From the ends of the earth,
    I cry to you for help
    when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety,
  for you are my safe refuge,
    a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.
 Let me live forever in your sanctuary,
    safe beneath the shelter of your wings! – Psalm 61:1-4

That’s where I am right now.  Overwhelmed.  Things spin all around me while I try to make sense of it all.

Yesterday, towards the end of a meeting, one of my supervisors passed out rocks with golden words painted on them. He dumped them all out of a coffee mug onto his lap, turning them face up. He held one up, examining it.

“These rocks have positive qualities on them.  You can keep them in your pocket and when you’re worried or stressed, you can hold onto them,” he said.

Then he doled out two each to the three of us.  To my immediate boss, he gave “willingness” and “prepared”.

“Those qualities exemplify you,” he said to her.

Next, my coworker at the front desk.

“You get ‘happy’ for your personality.  And I think you’re ‘brave’, too,” as she’s about to set off for a long road trip.

He searched through the rocks left on his lap.

“I have some Susan-rocks,” he said, smiling as he shuffled the pebbles.  I wondered what that meant. He must have felt my skepticism at this point.

He handed me my pair of stones.

I thanked him as I took them, smooth, flat-faced stones with neat gold script on them. “Faith” had rounded edges. However, “honest”, true to the essence itself, had a pitted, uneven cast. It didn’t rest easy in my palm.

If I were to be honest, I’d have to say my faith suffers at the moment. Reading Psalm 61 today, I’m reminded on whom I depend.  The small stones sitting face-up on my desk will help me to focus on the Lord. He is my refuge when my heart is overwhelmed.  He is the rock of safety. I hold onto Him.

Love Changes Everything

jesus cooking fish on the beachWhile at the conference weekend before last, the teacher brought up a familiar scripture passage. You remember, right before Jesus went to the cross, Peter denied him 3 times?  While at an ocean-side fish fry, Jesus instituted this restoration for the ashamed apostle.

 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.”  Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” – John 21: 15-19

All of the preceding, I’d read dozens of times before.  But the last paragraph and how the teacher, Dr. Ted, interpreted it, got me thinking.  The Greek word Jesus used when he asked “Do you love me?” is agapeAgape is altruistic, an all-encompassing love.  Peter, when he said, “You know I love you”, didn’t use the word agape.  He used the Greek word phileo, which is brotherly love.  Think Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  Or so I’m told. Finally, the last time Jesus asked Peter if he loved Jesus, Jesus himself used the word phileo.  Peter could only say, head hung low, “Lord, you know everything.”  They reached an agreement that Peter indeed loved Jesus as much as he was able – with great affection.

Jesus started telling Peter how Peter’s life would end.  That little bit always seemed incongruent to me, like is Jesus meting out punishment because of Peter’s betrayal? Dr. Ted said Jesus was up to something.

“Jesus was telling Peter, Hey, you love me.  It’s enough.  My love that I have for you and the world is enough.  You will grow in your love for me and the lost over time.  So much so that when you die, it will be for my glory. I know your limitations. Don’t fret.  My love covers you.”


I know in my life, I see how much I fall short of God’s ideal. I’m terse when I should show mercy.  I could give more of my time and money.  But God.  It’s not over yet.  His love for me means that in the moment, who I am is enough.  Yes, I submit to His lordship and am willing to change. Because of Jesus’ love, I can put down my personal club of condemnation  – like Jesus had Peter do – and love as best I can now, today.


post-milestone-1000-2xI got this badge (above) from WordPress yesterday.  Because yesterday, dear readers, I wrote my 1000th blog post.  Kind of mind boggling, yet my more driven side wonders it didn’t happen a year ago.  Anyway, it encouraged me to think about the future of this blog and what’s realistic.

Despite saying I’d try to post when I can due to taking a full-time job in January, I’ve still tried to post every weekday.  Five days a week.  Sometimes I miss a day.  But I do my best to put something up.  I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I think I would like to cut back even more.  I believe the term I’m looking for is intermittent.  I just can’t get it done all the time in the way I’d like, with the swirl of work, home, chores, church and trying to breathe now and then. Though breathing is overrated, in my opinion.

I guess I want you to know that I’m not going away.  But I won’t be as prolific as I used to be.

And…it’s Friday.

dancing squirrel

Have a great weekend, everyone!  See you soon.

Ever Be

I can’t get this song out of my head.  It’s like Bethel Church’s latest earworm.  Here’s video of them performing, and while it’s filmed in a picturesque setting, it comes across as voyeuristic to me.  Bethel has a reputation for showing people deep in worship, which feels like like peeping at someone showering in my opinion. Too personal, people.  Some things shouldn’t be up for public consumption. It always makes me cringe a little. Besides, controlling sound in an open environment like a mountaintop is impossible.  You’re hearing a studio mix, pumped out and lip synced with a breathtaking backdrop.  Too cynical?  Nah.  I’m married to a sound guy.  He points these things out to me.

So…pull up another one of their videos, and take a gander.  What do you see?  The beautiful people.  The young, thin, and hip swaying to the music, singing along.  Something’s off. Taking a mental roll call, who’s missing?  Oh yeah, the senior saints.  Where are the wise ones? And, living in America, where are the fat people?  Surely they have fat people in Redding.  Where are the scarred, the ugly, the mismatched? Is anointing  and the favor of God attached to attractiveness?

I understand that film is a visual medium.  I get it.  The whole video endeavor strives to color-coordinate the cast, from worship leaders, drummers, bassists, etc., to the audience.  But what do these videos say?  They put out a false message.  God loves you, no matter your size or age.  He doesn’t have a velvet rope you can only cross if you’re 5’5″ and 110 lbs. or some other low BMI.

Jesus came for the broken.  When you get to the end of yourself, tired of trying to live life under your own steam, that’s when you can call on Him and He will meet you.  Yes, he beautifies the meek with salvation (Psalm 149:4).  He rebuilds us and remakes us into who we were always meant to be.  But we don’t come to him with it all together.  The “together” people have no need of God.

Please understand that Bethel has an amazing worship center; I’m not knocking their hearts at all.  They put out great, anointed songs.  We use several of them in our regular rotation of worship sets.  But don’t be misled by the advertising.  Jesus is for you, no matter where you are in your life.  Yes, let His praise “ever be on our lips”. But our worship, through music and daily actions, belong to God alone.

Magical Mystery

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Picture by

What do you find magical?  One of my writer group friends came up with this question the other day.  Magical, using the second definition (not the occult one), means “beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life”. For me, that encompasses a lot of areas. I have a few…

Chocolate chip cookies.  Red lipstick.  Baby chortles.  Music by Debussy.

Zac thinks the Vikings naming Greenland, despite its icy landscape, elicited a sweet bit of magical irony. Also, power stations.

Pepperoni and black olive pizza.  Anything with basil in it.  The very earliest signs of spring.  Rainbows, anywhere.

Ruby finds flying magical, especially if you’re a cheetah-wing (half bat, half cheetah).

The chill breeze of autumn.  Sunrises.  The sea. Parmesan pita chips.  Bridge mix.  Okay, okay, this list is getting rather food heavy.  Guess you can tell I’m not on a diet!

Jonathon says my smile has a magical quality.  Sweet man.

Running as the sun crests the treeline, the air expectant.  Cat snuggles.  Laughter from any one of them – Jonathon, Zac or Ruby.

Last, but not least, I think God’s holy presence is magical. He lives outside of time, yet he continually works in and through our everyday lives.  He changes us from glory to glory every time we meet.  I believe God loves surprises – the good kind.  All of these things delight or transport us in some way.  Each of us experience things differently, with a unique perspective. What is magical to you?

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. –  2 Corinthians 3:18

Olive Tree

But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God.
    I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.
I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people.Psalm 52:8-9

Photo courtesy of

    Photo courtesy of

I attended a conference this weekend up in Bellingham. A good friend of mine invited me, and we drove up together.

It’s been a long time since I saw people truly hungry and abandoned to the presence of God. They had no shame as they danced, basking in the love of Christ. It was amazing. The conference itself was called the School of Prophets. Nobody asked you if you were prophetic. If you attended the class, you simply were. If not, you’d better figure it out right quick, because we did exercises giving each other words from God on the fly. I’m sure it sounds kind of crazy, but it was glorious. I learned to hear God for myself. I might get a glimpse of a picture or see a word – even hear a word – and I had to go with it. Our instructor said we were in a gymnasium. We were practicing, getting stronger. Anything we spoke that wasn’t life, which is the essence of the prophetic, would be dead and simply fall away.

Here’s an example. We formed two lines, one with backs to the wall. That line stood stationary, while the line facing us rotated. Every couple of minutes, the person in front of the stationary line would move down. Each of us would give a word to the person across from us. Eek!

I landed in the stationary line at first. Across from me stood a lovely girl with short dark hair and sea-blue eyes. We had no time to prepare, truly. I smiled. She smiled. We introduced ourselves.

I closed my eyes. Then I saw a bubble.

Great, God, I thought. She’s going to punch me in the throat for this ridiculous word.

“I see a bubble…” I started and I went on to talk to her about having a fun personality and how much we all need more of that.

She giggled.

“My nickname is Bubbles,” she told me.

My turn to laugh. The Lord knew her, even if I didn’t. God, I’m in.

See, in the end it isn’t about us, our super-spirituality or awesome knowledge of the Bible. It’s the Lord wanting to speak to His children. His thoughts outnumber the grains of sand. Guess what? Thousands of those thoughts are about you. He thinks about you all the time. All of them reflect His love for you. Guess what else? He loves us. All the time. He doesn’t love you more or treat you differently if you pastor or if you drive a bus. His love won’t diminish if you cheat on your spouse. He won’t abandon you when you gossip.

If you want a specific answer from God, you might get it. Or you might not. The thing He wants to communicate most is that He loves you. Period. He probably won’t deliver you out of your circumstances. But He will deliver you *in* the circumstances so that your heart changes.  His love changes everything.