two steps forward.

backwards.

two steps forward, one step back. two steps forward, one step back.

chutes & ladders.

really, truly, the game of life.

i learn and i grow and i become and i am and then i’m not again but i want to be and i live in the awareness of the forward and the backward but i no longer live in the backward.

with every step back, i recognize my steps forward until the forward steps take me further down the road than any backward step i’ve made.

and i am grateful for the backward steps because they help me see the …they keep me, rather…in motion. and i can see where i’ve been and from where i’ve come and, thank you, god, i don’t have to live there anymore but i won’t forget how far you’ve brought me because

OH, GOD.

you are SO. GOOD. TO. ME.

my friend brennan says, ‘the father loves us just as we are and not as we should be because we will never be just as we should be.’

and i see and hear and know in my bones that is true when i am in motion.

swimming in an ocean, i think i’m getting places and then i look at the beach and realize i’ve been swept back further than i realized.

and in this backward swim, i am grateful that the sea is still greater than i am

because throughout it all, it’s all about learning to trust him more, anyway

and he is less concerned with my backward and forward than he is my sinking into himself.

* * * * * * * * * *

every friday, gypsymama hosts five-minute friday. write your own and go link up, or feel free to utilize the space below. it’s a great exercise in stream of consciousness writing. and be sure to read through what other bloggers are saying, it’s a great way to connect to other hearts and minds. click here to read my previous 5mf posts.

have a great weekend! xo

 

 

 

sacred gifts.

like ministry, i come by music fairly honestly. my father was a tremendous musician. he and my grandma both played the piano by ear, which is sadly not a trait i inherited. (in fact, i’m not a good musician at all.) he played the saxophone for different bands from the time he was in high school and majored in music at unc. my mom’s mom, grandma mitchell, was classically trained and sang like a bird. she even had a radio show a long, long time ago. she was a flawless soprano and continued to sing solos in church well into her 80′s when she passed away.

i took piano lessons from the time i was six years old until i was 13, jazz piano in high school and then classical piano again in college. my dad gave me my alto sax when i was in middle school and i sat in first chair for a few years (give or take some weeks) until i went to high school when i discovered just how bad i was. i couldn’t march and read music and play at the same time. i took private lessons from the band teacher but gave up after my freshman year. for my 25th birthday, my dad gave me a guitar but i lack the discipline required to develop any sort of real skill, no matter how many lessons i’ve had (something i’m working on).

so, while i have a deep appreciation for and some understanding of music, suffice it to say i am more of a singer. plain and simple.

i have been a singer all of my life. growing up, my sisters and i would sing together with my dad at the piano. i tell you, there is nothing like family harmony, which is another gift we received from grandma tyson’s country roots.

as a child, i would wake up early to watch kids, inc. (come on, you know you did, too) and practice all the latest pop songs for my audition for either that or the mickey mouse club. (i can’t believe i missed my chance with jt!)

ahem.

in elementary school, i sang in our youth choir and in school choruses. in middle school and high school, i was a member of the select, audition-based, ensemble groups. from the time i was in high school through the time i moved home from new york, i always had a voice teacher. among them, renowned opera singers such as catherine alderman and betty mcdonald. {that link is to her daughter, monique. i couldn’t find anything on betty, sadly.} in new york, i trained with a phe.no.me.nal musical theatre teacher…whose name escapes me…

i started college on a voice scholarship, but my voice is simply not classical, which was sort of the norm. plus, it gave me anxiety to be inside a box for the next four years -and then for the REST OF MY LIFE- when i had so many other interests. so i continued taking lessons and was a member of our chamber choir.

…boxes give me anxiety, by the way, which is why i guess i’ve never fit into one. and why i run from anyone who tries to put me into one. i don’t even mean to or realize i do it but it’s been pointed out to me time and again. which isn’t to say it’s necessarily a bad thing. it’s also not even the point of this post…moving on

i’m not trying to boast myself. the reason i’m telling you all of this is because, on paper, i might look like i have some experience or know what i’m talking about to some degree when it comes to music. i love all things about it, and mostly all genres save for angry music. i’m not an expert but i know a little bit.

i also told you all of this because it was a good set-up for the thing i’m about to tell you.

here’s the thing: even with all of that training and dedication and years and years of lessons and hours upon hours of practicing and certain encouragements, i would never say of my own voice that it is beautiful or even great. by no means am i a powerhouse, although it has always been my greatest desire to be a big, black gospel singer. my voice is more along the lines of…alison krauss/bonnie raitt/eva cassidy/patsy cline/’annie’-ish. it’s just…different, i guess. i love to sing, i know how to sing. i know different vocal exercises and breathing techniques. nothing happened in my life to make me feel discouraged about my voice, but it’s something i’ve always been insecure about. the reason for this is because it’s…well, it’s the one thing i have that belongs to me and me only. it’s mine. just mine. it is what it is, there’s not really much i can do to change it anymore. you either love it or you don’t like it. but…what if you don’t like it? it’s all i have. please don’t take it from me. please, please don’t take that from me.

i subconsciously left this story out of my week-long series of why i left my particular charismatic church. one night after worship practice, i was really disheartened and told my worship pastor (the same one for whom i worked). he said to me, ‘well, we’re just not sure you’re who we want on the worship team.’ i had been on the team for at least 2 years, which i of course called into question within my own heart. at that point, i became an ‘alternate’ but i was still singing most weeks for some reason so it was another reminder to me that i was not good enough but hadn’t been kicked off the team (yet). i was basically in limbo and it was really uncomfortable.

a large part of why i wasn’t ‘who we want on the worship team’ was because i wasn’t a performer when it came to worship. i wasn’t not trying to achieve stage presence, it just wasn’t my focus. (since, you know, we were there to WORSHIP GOD.) but this all went down just before we moved from our storefront church into our megaloshrine to ourselves and stage presence was exactly what they wanted. it wasn’t enough to simply pour out our affection onto jesus. in order to ‘take it to the next level’ (barf me out), they needed Superstars for Christ, which i was not. (i don’t even say that critically, it just was the way that it was.)

finally, i stepped off the worship team for good. more tragically, i stopped worshiping all together. the whole experience was so disheartening and gave me a general distaste for and eventually robbed me of my worship, certainly the joy of it. not to mention, my heart was broken and my pride was wounded. not because i wasn’t on stage – i knew i wasn’t the performer-diva-worshiper and hadn’t set out to be. what was so devastating to me is that my worship came into question. you don’t like my voice? you don’t like how i worship? what don’t you like about it? if you the worship pastor don’t approve of me, then god must not, either. but i’m not going to put it all off on this pastor, poor guy.

see,  i allowed the devil to needle away at the thing about which i was already most insecure and then he stole it from me.

i heard della reese say to her little counterpart angel (the one with the accent) once, ‘god doesn’t say make a beautiful noise, he just says make a joyful noise.’ and so this is how i justified my apparent ineptness. except for the part that, for me, it wasn’t even joyful for a while. (i still quote this from time-to-time just because it cracks me up.)

the reason i left out that part of the story is because it’s still something i consider from time-to-time, even 10 years later…what if he was right? what if i really didn’t have what it took to worship god correctly? (because there is a ‘correct’ way to do it, you know.)  i didn’t want to tell that story because i didn’t want to open the door for anyone to say to me, ‘well, it’s true. you really did suck.’ so i just left that out all together.

i finally had courage enough to join the worship team at my church here in eastern nc and was a regular vocalist/leader for a good while. but it didn’t take long for those same voices came back. the last night i led worship, i decided it was just too much. i took myself off the team. actually, it was almost a year ago exactly. the last time i led worship was on a saturday. my dad died that tuesday. and so i thank god for the season he foresaw when i would need space to mourn and grieve his loss.

mind you, i love to sing -in my car, in the shower, i sing disney princess songs to hannah grace- but mostly, i am alone when i do it. i don’t criticize myself when i am alone, only when i sing in front of others. i only hear the ‘you’re not good enough’ voice when i know others have listened or are listening. when it comes to worship, it’s not that i’m afraid they won’t like my ‘performance’, i’m more afraid i’ll get distracted by my own ‘performance’, or lack thereof. i get in my own way. does that ever happen to you?

the whole season of losing my worship and being brave enough to find it again lasted a period of several years. it was in my brokeness, in my desperation and in my utter emptiness and powerlessness that i had to rediscover and reclaim my worship. i had to fight for it against the one who stole it from me. it was my birthright to worship. it did not belong to ol’ slewfoot. once i did -once i joined forces with god and took it back from the enemy of my soul- i immediately recognized his delight, his pleasure over me which, at this point in my life, i wouldn’t trade it for anything. i get more joy out of worshiping my sweet jesus alone, or doing it from the congregation anymore, than from being on a particular team, no matter how much i love the fellowship of a team. this doesn’t bother me. and it doesn’t bother me that it doesn’t bother me. my worship is all i have. and it’s too precious and too sacred; too precious and too fragile for me not to fiercely protect it or to allow myself to be distracted by the voice that says, ‘we’re just not sure you’re what we want…’, which would only cause anyone to compete and compare themselves and i don’t have time in my life for that nonsense. i can’t set myself up to go through another season of not worshiping at all. i can’t afford it.

i don’t want to be the center of anyone’s attention, as long as i can be the center of his.

rather, as long as he is the center of mine.

i don’t need a microphone or a stage.

i just need my audience of one.


worship is one of my faaavorite topics and i’m sure there is much we can all say about it, which we will as we continue this journey together.

 

for the time-being, though, let’s keep our focus on these questions:

is there anything in your life -any particular gift you’ve been given- that is just that sacred?

or perhaps one that you need to take back from the one who stole it from you?

{would you be brave enough to let the rest of us pray for you that it would be returned?}


the onion: layers two and three revisited.

i talked to karen the other day. you know, my therapist?

can i just tell you…i immediately feel better after speaking to her. always. always. i don’t even see her on a regular basis anymore, i just check in with her every few months to make sure i’m still not crazy. we only spoke on the phone yesterday for about 20 minutes and my world changed. ah…therapy. i think i’ve already told you that, for the last six years, karen has been the singlemost person that god has used to change my life.

i recommend therapy for everyone. everyone. karen is licensed, has a degree and is a christian but not a christian counselor (big difference), which i would also recommend (especially if you yourself are not one). but…oh. therapy. wow. yeh. highly recommend it. do yourself that favor. you deserve it. (just be sure you find the one that fits for you – and make sure they have a degree and not just a certificate they bought at some camp or on-line. just saying.) you know how i said yesterday i can’t endorse anything in which i don’t strongly believe? yeh. therapy. wow. get yourself some. you’ll love it.

thank you for joining me for that public service announcement. now on to my regularly scheduled blog.

when i last left you, as you may remember, i was worried that i had built up walls since my dad died about going to church and getting married. blah, blah, blah.

in a word: i haven’t.

karen reminded me that my dad’s never died before. and everything -everything- i do in my life now is filtered through that lens now. it hasn’t even been a year since he just up and left us out of the clear blue. and even if it’s been ten years, it takes as long as it takes to get through it.

the bottom line is: i’m just not ready. for either. and that’s okay.

{read here for a list of stupid things people say to single people, lest you try to ‘encourage’ me}

i spent last sunday afternoon with my amazing friend dar, who talked about seeing life through the lens of an eternal perspective. as soon as my dad died, it’s like the dial on my camera through which i look at my life shifted to a different perspective without my knowing.

it’s not that i’m opposed to either church or marriage. i promise i’m not. i love the institution of both because god made them. i’m not suggesting they are not valuable because i know that they are. there’s not a rebellion in my heart about either, which is why i’ve had such a hard time accepting where i am right now - like, it was bothering me that i haven’t been more bothered that i’m not compelled toward either right now the way a good christian should be. (i really, really hope you know when i’m being facetious by now.)

the real truth is, i’m not willing to spend my time doing things that are not of lasting value anymore. my church? my small group. i would not trade the time i spend with the girls in my wednesday night group for anything in the world. that is more ‘church’ for me than anything i could do on sunday morning because all we do is show up, just as we are (some of us just a few minutes late and usually smelling like stank because we have just come from the gym), in all of our guts and glory and just ask questions and hug & encourage each other and get to know god better together. leslie is an incredible leader of that group. right now, conventional church is just not for me. and that’s okay.

and marriage? i think i’m just worn out. in the last eight years or so, i’ve danced through my ‘parade of fools’, as my bff-karen says, and it’s just not worth it anymore to date just to date – or ‘to date with the potential for marriage’ (blech, christian cliche…sorry) someone who…well, i guess let’s just say anyone…with whom i’m not on the same page, if i’m going to be diplomatic about it. and that’s okay. paul said in 1 corinthians that it is good for us to stay unmarried if we can (7:8). right now, i can. and i wouldn’t trade that for anything. i’d rather be single for the rest of my life than to be married to the wrong person.

and right now, my abundant life means i get to go visit all my married friends with kids and move in with my co-spouses of sunday funday fame, the cobb’s, once our baby is born and i get to drive up to new jersey this weekend to marry off my heterosexual life partner & bff-amy to her wonderful jabazz, and go see my sister and brother-in-law in the city…or i can just go sit on the beach and feel the sand in my feet. alone. i realize that between marriage and singleness, marriage is the least reversible of the two. one day -maybe- the door to the other may open up. (maybe.) but for now, i’m okay with my lot in life as is.

and so, i’m okay. you’re okay. we’re all okay.

okay?

love you guys.

is there anything you’re wrestling with that makes you uncomfortable? have you considered that maybe -just maybe- you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be? that perhaps you’re okay exactly as you are?

the onion, layers two & three: revelation.

so, i’ve had a revelation. just a little one. like, tiny. tiny. not a big one at all. at…ALL. in fact, just forget i said anything. just

forget

i said

okay, so here it is.

singleness & not going to church & my dad’s death.

just this week, i realize i’ve put up these walls since my dad died but i don’t know what to make of them.

which is why it’s time to call my therapist.

(i’ll let you know what she says.)

what are you guys doing this weekend?

love.

xo

but i digress.

so, ever since my dad died, i really haven’t been back to church. at least not in full force. i have visited some churches here and there but i have only been back to my own church twice. in the beginning, it was because i didn’t want to be looked at sadly or hugged or asked, ‘how are you doooiiing?’ really, i just wanted to be invisible. between you and me, i also haven’t been because i’m afraid of how much it will hurt. i just haven’t felt like completely losing it in front of god and everyone. and i’m okay with this (the whole not going to church thing, i mean).

but i guess you would really have to know the home i grew up in to completely…or even sort of…get it, where as children we would have ‘prayer group’ in our home every week where we would basically have hymn-sings with my dad at the piano and love-fests and laugh-ins, followed by homemade ice cream my aunt merle would bring…and i have this vision of huge slices of bundt cake on paper plates, too, so i’m sure those were present. and at aqueduct every few weeks, we would spend long weekends relaxing in the holy spirit and being intentional about getting to know the people around us.

certainly not a glamorous life but we had community and fellowship and it was real and intentional and we were known and we were loved, all of us.

and i would not change one single part of how i was raised in this way because i knew god. i was shown god this way. i can’t remember a time in my life when i didn’t know the lord. i never asked if god was real or questioned things like the gifts of the holy spirit. of course i believed. i just…believed. i knew those things were true (even if no one else  knew i knew those things were true…)

i can’t expect you to understand unless you shared that experience -which many of you did- and i totally get it. i realize the way my sisters and i grew up is very unique, and sometimes i forget this and take for granted that most folks really cannot relate and therefore probably don’t understand why i’m just. so. un-religious, even about things like (not) going to church.

because church for me has always looked like a living room. and it looks like you and me sitting in a coffee shop talking about life. and it looks like a house full of young zealots who, about 10 years ago, would stay up night after night praying on our faces and crying and singing to god on bolin heights. the same group who fasted and prayed every single night for specific friends to meet god and for my dad to get help – which they did and he did. (do you hear me? GOD MOVES on our behalf when we pray and believe.) and, to me, church looks like the bpw clubhouse at 7 am every morning because brennan manning says, ‘church should look more like an aa meeting’. and church looks to me now like 10-12 precious, beautiful, strong and soft women who are all in different places on the journey who just show up on wednesday nights and really get to know each other and love each other deeply, even if it means we skip our lesson for the week because there is no agenda other than simply loving on each other. and it always ends in a kindergarten-circle on the floor praying for each other and everyone we know (even if i’m the enforcer of the brevity. :)) this is the church where i experience god. this is the church i know and love.

i get it if it offends your sensibilities or if you have questions about my spiritual disciplines and practices. but you can’t tell me i don’t love jesus or his people, just like i would never try to convince you to meet me for brunch instead of going to church on sunday morning. i know why it’s important to you. i get it.

i thank god for his church. for our church. because it takes both your church and my ‘church’ in order to love and reach those who are lost and unloved -and to best take care of one another. it takes both of us to really listen to our brothers and sisters and not judge where they are on the journey or try to get them saved and to still love who jesus is in them because that is who jesus loves.

would you believe this isn’t even the point of the message i set out to make today? i am thankful.

tomorrow (and by ‘tomorrow’ i mean ‘maybe monday’ and by ‘maybe monday’ i mean ‘if i am inspired to put it together’): layer two of the onion, which has something to do with both this message and my whole ‘look at me, i’m single’ platform.

love you guys. hope you have a great weekend!

xo

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