Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Marriage Initiative Video for Renovatus

Here's a video I designed for the Marriage Initiative @ Renovatus...check it out!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

CREATE & INSPIRE

Friday, August 21, 2009

Making Church Artist-Friendly

Redeeming the arts is key in reaching the world with the gospel.
(Originally published in Christianity Today, November 17, 1997 - by Karen Beattie)


When Mako Fujimura came to the U.S. from Japan in 1990, he was amazed to meet many artists who had grown up in Christian homes but rejected the church and their faith. "It's shocking how many of them there are," says the New York painter.

These artists, many at the top of their field, grew up hearing the gospel. "But their creativity was not welcomed," Fujimura says; many now live lives far from their Christian upbringing. He prayed about how to minister to them.

In Japan, Fujimura's art had provided a powerful way to share the gospel when artists, critics, dealers, and collectors he met through his shows would ask about the spiritual content of his work. Their response was so overwhelming that he asked Christian leaders to help him set up a structure to reach out to them. The resulting ministry, International Arts Movement (I AM), has branches in New York and Japan.

"Many times the church is blessed with creative people but doesn't have the right perspective to empower them," Fujimura says. I AM attempts to fill the gap. Artists meet together in cell groups to support, mentor, and disciple one another.

I AM also hosts events where Christianity can be explored through artistic expression. Says Fujimura, "If you're called to be an artist, you're called to be in the world but not of it. Therefore, you need accountability, you need prayer, you need groups that understand your creative side."

ADULT SHOW AND TELL
Like Fujimura, Chicagoan Dave Carlson, whose production company makes television commercials and music videos, also has a passion to provide a safe place for artists. Six years ago, after learning that a member of his Bible-study group was a poet, Carlson hosted an "Art Night" so members of the group and their friends could come and read their poetry, sing, dance, perform monologues, or share whatever they wanted—a kind of "show and tell for adults," he says.

With the first Art Night a big success, Carlson hosted others. Soon, as many as 60 people would pack his apartment to observe the latest work from professional artists or nurture artists exploring their creative side for the first time.

Art Night became a place to bring non-Christian friends looking into Christianity. "It's a safe environment to explore spiritual issues," Carlson says. The vulnerability and acceptance found at Art Nights became an integral part of developing a sense of community that Bible-study members found lacking at church. "When people are trying to search out their spirituality, artistic expression is one of the deepest ways they can connect to God and to one another," he says.

REDEEMING THE ARTS
In Livonia, Michigan, a Detroit suburb, Christian artists flock to a similar event at Trinity House Theater. The Common Room was begun ten years ago when Lauren Garfield wanted to encourage Christian artists to produce new and excellent work. "I found art in churches either boring or not current. It didn't have integrity," she says. With her friend Timna Peterman, Garfield developed the Common Room, adapted from 1600s Oxford College when the "fellows" gathered in a room after dinner to be amused and informed.

"We give Christian artists a place to do their art—and churches haven't always done that," says Janice Leach. She and her husband, Jim, are directors of Trinity House Theater, where the Common Room is held twice a year. Susan Vanderbrink, a professional dancer who has performed there, agrees. "I think Christians need to be communicating well in the performing arts and the visual arts. This is a good context for people to keep working and growing and getting better at it."

Similar to the format of Saturday Night Live—or what Garfield calls "Garage Theater"—the show brings together poetry readings, sketches by local playwrights, storytellers, black gospel choirs, multimedia shows, modern dance, monologues, satire, and stand-up comedy. Garfield and the others try to create a joyful, even wacky, atmosphere. Once local artists were given Etch-a-Sketches and asked to create masterpieces for display in the theater lobby. Common Room events have been so successful that the 95-seat theater is usually packed on two consecutive nights.

Paul Patton, a founder of Trinity House Theater and the Common Room, has transplanted the concept to Regent University in Virginia, and another group has started the Common Room in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

HEALING THE SCHISM
Fujimura believes the real objective of innovative ministries should be to heal the division between artists and the church. "There's been a great schism and fear in the evangelical churches over imagination and creativity. I can certainly understand that; I think creative types have many deep issues that are difficult to handle," he says. The ultimate goal of I AM is to steer artists back into the church where they can find discipline in a loving community and be encouraged not to stop being creative and "fit in" but to celebrate their creativity.

David Fitch, a Ph.D. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and a core member of the community that hosts Art Nights, believes the church desperately needs artists. "God cannot be expressed purely in the mundane, everyday logic and cognitive language of our life. Art expands beyond all that. If you don't have art, you're going to have a hard time relating to God."

Fujimura believes understanding and redeeming the arts is key in reaching the world with the gospel. "Unless Christians are empowering creatives who are Christians to come up with alternatives that reflect God's glory and character, we'll not be effective at all."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Paintings from HeArt & Soul Conference - Dayton, OH

"CAPTIVATING"











"A NEW DAY" | "BIG GOD"

True Community

"The key to creating or transforming community is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others.

The shift we seek needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, and each meeting we attend. For at the most operational and practical level, after all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this:
How are we going to be when we gather together?"

- Peter Block, "Community: The Structure of Belonging"

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gratitude

A simple recipe, easily multiplied and able to feed many.
Best when served warm and served often.
Inexpensive to pull together, and not much time required to pull it off.
Great for unexpected guests and familiar friends alike.
No known allergic reactions on record.
Pairs well with the wine of joy, the oil of gladness and the bread of life.
It's origins are ancient, it's flavors fresh, and it has a memorable finish.
Not a heavy dish, so great for gatherings that call for light-hearted fare.
Easiest when necessary ingredients are prepared ahead of time.
It's rich aroma can fill an entire room, and it's affects can be quite intoxicating.
Not meant to be stored for great lengths of time...serve immediately.
Feel free to share this recipe with others...it's a pretty popular dish!
You'll be surprised how many will come back for seconds!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Latest Painting: Believe


Monday, August 10, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Signs - Nice Romantic Short Film

Signs - Nice Romantic Short Film
Video sent by sarbjeet_98

sort of how me and my beloved met. LOVE the creativity of this film. ENJOY!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Candle in the Wind

I love a good bath. There’s nothing like it in the world. For what else can compare to the warm invitation to let every care of the day melt away into nothingness? Where else can you surrender all defenses, releasing your mind to wander in the blissful state of thoughtlessness? When else in life can you do absolutely nothing, and emerge forever altered--a transformed person?

Now, I know these sentiments might be quite contentious to those loyal shower-takers of the world. But nonetheless, I must confess, the bath is my refuge. A shower serves a purpose…a bath, on the other hand, changes lives. Esteemed as such by the English, that in ancient times, battles were even fought over them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember any major world conflicts ensuing over a shower.

So, consider my absolute delight when I discover that one of my husband’s love languages is…you’ve got it…setting up a really great bath. (In my book, yet another indicator that this was a match made in heaven.) He masters the mood by placing every candle known to man in every little nook and cranny of the bathroom, so that the light is gentle on my eyes and on my features. He draws the water…hot and steamy, complete with smell-good stuff…resulting in a silky, luxurious layer of sparkling bubbles to slip beneath. A glass of cool water rests on the ledge, just within arms reach…to quench my thirst as I bask in the glow of it all. He orchestrates the music from one of my favorite smoky jazz singers…and the stage is beautifully set. The vibe is so right. The earth stands still. The escape…sheer perfection.


Last night was such a night. We had spent the weekend ministering at church, and we’d been burning our candles at both ends for what seemed like days now. So my beloved, in an endearing act of service, surprised me by drawing me a bath. It was solace to my aching and weary soul. And as I lay there, something in my heart was drawn to the candles that flickered around me.

Each of them was different, uniquely made, extraordinary in their own right…some were poured into glass, some were unhindered by any structure at all. Some were light in color and glowed throughout, some were dark…radiant only at the source of the flame. Some were smooth in texture, some fluted or carved or mottled. Some were tall and lean, while some were short and squatty. Some were newly bought and burning brightly for the first time, some were barely alive with light and soon would serve their final tub-side tour of duty.


But there was something strikingly similar about this menagerie of odd-shaped vessels of light. Each of them encircled a flame. Each of them contained a blackened wick, whose sole purpose was to be a light-bearer…to burn. And I thought to myself how wonderful it would be to live life so simply…to have one single purpose, one well-defined goal. To find the One Thing that you were created to do, and for it to be just this: to burn.
“You know that’s all I want from you.”
Oddly, I was conflicted…and almost offended.
“What do you mean?! There are so many things that have to be done…so many hurting people that need help…so many jobs to complete…so many people with so many requests…when there’s so, so little time! How can you say that’s all you want from me?”
But I knew in the tender silence that He was right. I’ve added all of the other stuff into the mix. I’ve made the “To Do” list long, and the tasks unending. I’ve crowded out the One Thing until at best, I’m a smoldering wick, a glowing ember.

Surrendering to the clarity born of truth, I understood His point completely. He really does have only one purpose for me to fulfill…and there really is only one thing He wants from me – to burn.
No matter what I find myself being busied with…no matter what I find myself doing, or how I spend my day…I am to do one thing: Burn.

And suddenly, I felt the God-thought inside of me take focus. Wicks bear light. But in order to be light-bearers, they must be dry…and they must be blackened by fire. In fact, that’s what that dry, charred place in the center of my soul is. It’s my “wick”.
You see, I’ve fretted over the “desert areas” in my heart for most of my life. Wondering how I could’ve been so negligent…thinking that if only I was more spiritually disciplined, there wouldn’t be a single dry spot within me. Hoping that eventually I’d get things right and the dryness would just disappear…or be softened by some super spiritual downpour. But what I now realize is that the dryness is necessary.

Have you ever tried to light a candle that’s wick was wet? It won’t light. Ever tried to light a wick that’s covered in wax? Nope, not a chance of a flame. So lesson # 1 becomes clear: A wick has to be dry.
Lesson #2 is a little harder to embrace, willingly: A wick has to be charred…blackened by fire.

Read any book on hospitality, and one of the “helpful hints” recommended in creating an inviting atmosphere in your home is to char your candle wicks. It lends a sense of hominess and even if the candles aren’t currently burning, it helps your guest to imagine the time when they cast a warm glow throughout the room. Or just ask any wedding planner: if you want candles to light quickly and easily, introduce the wicks to fire before you intend to actually use them. It helps them to burn.


In the solace of my candle-lit sanctuary, my heart began to respond to this new insight, with wonderment. So in order to burn, I need to be dry and charred. Dry and charred. Not exactly the two words I would have chosen for describing my life. Not warm, fuzzy things like: joyful or merciful or compassionate. Dry and charred.

The life-pictures began to flash before my eyes. Dry and charred. I saw the parched desert places where I was forced to wrestle at the core of my being with what I knew and believed of God. I saw the fires of life that I once thought would consume me, leaving me singed, smelling of smoke…and lifeless.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I recounted the times that I have felt the cold, stinging void of faithlessness…desperation…and disillusionment. My heart began to ache as I walked through the fiery memories of betrayal, injustice, and misunderstanding. Engulfed by the heaviness of grief…by the agony of mourning…by the remorse of senseless loss, my emotions felt raw and exposed…and I was undone.
“I was just preparing your wick…”
He whispered soft and low.
“I was just preparing your wick…and now it’s time for you to burn. It’s time to be a light-bearer in the darkness around you. It’s time to let me shine from the dry and charred places in your heart. It’s time for you to step into the very purpose that I fashioned you for…it’s time to burn.”
…“Oh, and one more thing…”
“Yes?” I answered, fearing the worst.
“Don’t forget to dance…”
“Dance?!?” I asked.
“Look at the flames around you. See how each one responds to the gentlest of breezes? As you burn, I don’t want you to forget to dance. Don’t be encumbered by the dryness of the desert or the ferocity of the fires you’ve had to endure. Respond to me with reckless abandon. You see, the flame doesn’t question the trustworthiness or challenge the authority of the wind. It simply whirls about with ease and grace…announcing with great delight it’s very existence.” “So burn for me, beloved. Burn brightly. But in your burning, don’t forget to dance… And as you dance, listen closely, for I am singing over you…”
As I dried myself off and got ready for bed, I felt a peace inside the depths of me unlike any time before. Somehow, in His amazingly wonderful, magnificent way, God had answered a million “Why’s” that ran rampant in the caverns of my heart. It was as if the missing puzzle pieces had miraculously fallen into place, and I could now see the full picture as it was intended to be.

Funny thing, the next time I went to light a candle I made extra special note of that dry, charred wick in the center. A small grin crossed my face, and I’m convinced I heard the slightest whisper in my heart…
“Burn, baby…burn.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

HER

I can hear the sound of her crying in the night, in private, as the rest of the world slumbers and sleeps

I can feel the suffocating heartache of her dying dreams and the endless ticking of time

I can see the disappointment in her eyes when she talks about the life that is, and remains protectively silent regarding the life that could have been

I can sense her looking back at what used to be, turning what is into a dry dusting of salt

I know the emptiness that comes from her living to fulfill other’s plans rather than pursuing a passionate purpose of her own

I wrestle with the discomfort of her restlessness over wanting to be someone, but whom? wanting to do something, but what? wanting to reach that goal, but how? wanting to leave her mark, but where? wanting to find true meaning, but why?

I can recognize her shame, as old as that of Eve’s, from not getting it right the first time, and the embarrassment that comes with the fallout

I can hear the lies circling around in her head as she compares her life to the way “they” say it should be–falling so short, and feeling so responsible for the mess that it has become

I can see the effects of her tuning out, unplugging and turning off–hoping to stop the misery and meaningless momentum

I can feel the guilt that comes from her own dysfunction…and the effect it’s had on her family and friends

I can look in the mirror and see her distorted figure–one that to her seems awkward and ugly, but in reality is breathtakingly beautiful and a sight to behold

I hear the haunting echoes of her voice calling, “Do you see me?” “Can you hear me?” “Will you touch me?”

I close my eyes, and I know she’s out there.

I close my eyes, and I know that I love her.

I close my eyes, and I know I am not just like her…I simply am her.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Problem With Growing Up



Remember the days when your imagination ran wild and the world was filled with colors and sounds and smells? Remember how great recess was? It was the highlight of your day…and your entire day somehow centered around those 30 glorious minutes when you could let your mind and body run free. Remember how easy it was to create a masterpiece, or pretend to be someone fabulous, or imagine you were in some exotic location? Remember? If you give it a try, it really doesn’t take much to make your way back to the time when you were young and innocent and carefree.

Isn’t it odd that we spend the first half of our lives striving to be older than we really are, and the other half longing for the days of our youth? It seems that somewhere along the way, we wake up and realize that “Life Happens”…and we wonder where the time has gone, how on earth we got to this place, and why we struggle to feel passionate or inspired about anything.

So what really IS the problem with growing up? Why DO we find ourselves stuck in such a life-tapping rut? The bottom-line answer is just two little words, but their impact on our lives can be undeniably life changing: we forget. Sounds overly simple, doesn’t it? But this kind of forgetting isn’t like forgetting the dry cleaning or forgetting to floss or forgetting your mother’s birthday. This strain is much more subtle and sinister…and it infects us slowly over time. Forgetting is a destructive force that can wreck havoc on our truest selves, and inevitably it leaves us drained, exhausted, burned out, shut down…and eventually dead inside.

Obviously, the bigger question here isn’t WHY do we forget…it’s WHAT do we forget?

  1. We forget who we are. We let our careers, our children and our responsibilities…the things we DO…define us. Who you ARE is simply not a title or job description. Who you are is the ‘You’ you take to bed at night…and the same one you wake up to in the morning…regardless of who else is in your bed or in your house or in the company you work for. One of my favorite word pictures in Scripture puts it like this: “it’s like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” We have forgotten what we look like. We have forgotten how God sees us. We have forgotten who we are…at the core…with everything else stripped away.
  2. We forget what we love. In mentoring creative people, I’m often surprised at how detached they’ve become from their childhood delights…the things that brought them the purest sense of joy. We all, no matter what our upbringing, LOVE certain things. It’s inherent in all of us…and if we give ourselves permission for one short moment…the memories will start to rush in like a flood: A particular flavor of ice cream. A song on the radio. A smell that drifts through the air. A place to escape to. A car to escape in. A time of the year. A part of the country. A game or silly tradition. A best friend’s sense of humor. A secret ambition. A daring dream. You see, what you love is an extremely powerful part of who you are…a huge part of what makes you uniquely YOU. It was intended to bring depth and color and vibrancy to our lives, but instead, most of us have let it be systematically crowded out by the things that everyone else loves. Oooh, did I just say that?! Yep…and I meant it. Plain and simple: we’ve forgotten what we love. We’ve forgotten what brings us joy…what lights us up…what makes us giggle, and wiggle, and dance. We’ve forgotten life’s simplest delights…the things that make us feel like a kid again. And in return, we’ve grown up way too fast.
  3. We forget why we’re here. Purpose is a multi-million dollar topic these days, so I’m not going to try to gloss over it in a few short sentences. But ultimately, I think one of the most vital elements of living a life filled with purpose is this: connectivity. Being connected to why we’re here. The truth is, very few of us know for sure. Many of us don’t have a clue. And for those of us who think we’ve got even an inkling of an idea: the final answer will most likely come as a complete surprise! So, whether you’ve figured it all out or not, is not the challenge. The challenge is to connect to the truth that we all were created with a Divine Plan in mind. We all were given a unique voice, intended to make a unique impact on the world around us. With unwavering courage and belief, we need to embrace the realization that without each of us, the world would be forever altered–and a far less beautiful and special place.
  4. We forget when it mattered. Forgotten things tend to be shoved in the closet. It’s that “out of sight, out of mind” thing. If we hide them, then we’re not responsible for them. The problem with closet-stuffing is, the stuff doesn’t go away. It just builds up. And if you’ve seen some people’s closets, you’ll know that you can barely get the door to close! Some people have been closet stuffing for years…some for an entire lifetime. Always waiting for a convenient time to drag it out into the light, dust it off, and by some miracle, breathe life back into it. Waiting for permission. Waiting for more capacity. Waiting for a season of lighter responsibilities, less commitments, fewer distractions. Waiting for a day that rarely ever comes. A play-write friend of mine put it this way, “It’s like breathing. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is to write…and when I go to bed at night, I can’t sleep until I’ve put at least a few words down on the page.” For him, it matters. It challenged me to the core…because I’d never had that kind of hunger to pursue what I love. I lacked the fortitude. I lacked the perseverance. I lacked the tenacity. I had de-emphasized it, un-prioritized it…and stripped it of it’s significance…it’s importance. But once I allowed myself the personal indulgence of re-visiting it, I realized it DID matter. It mattered an awful lot! It had mattered all these years. I’d just simply forgotten to LET it matter.
  5. We forget where we put it. For many of us, it’s kind of like the dog that loves to bury bones. Oh, he loves bones for sure! The only problem is, that once he’s done digging that hole and filling it back up he forgets WHERE he buried it. And that thing that he loves more than anything in the world is laid to waste under inches of dirt. It could be a dream. It could be an invention. It could be a new expression of creativity…or problem solving…or a sense of life’s destiny. But all too often, and for really honorable reasons, we bury life’s greatest treasures in the back yard…and we forget where we’ve put them. Sometimes it’s under a big ‘ole pile of responsibility. Sometimes it’s hidden in the pit of doubt and unbelief. More times than we’d probably like to admit, it’s lost in the grown up weeds of neglect. The good news is this: what seems like an insurmountable task is really quite simple. Just dig it up. It doesn’t matter what you use to do the digging. Just dig. Don’t stress about the poor condition you’re bound to find it in. Give yourself some much-needed grace. It’s weathered the elements, no doubt, but it’s hearty and it’s endured. It hasn’t gone anywhere. You haven’t lost it forever. All it needs is a little dusting off, some TLC, a little bit of quality time…and it’ll be good as new! Best thing is, so will you!
  6. We forget how to play. Crazy isn’t it? We’ve gotten so good at doing the responsible thing, the right thing, the reasonable thing…that we’ve forgotten to do the things that make it all worth it in the end. Take a look at your basic local playground. Simply drive by with a kid in your car and they will be PLEADING for you to stop and let them out to play! Funny thing is, I don’t know a single parent in the world that has to send their kids to laughing lessons…or to pretend practice…or to wonder workshops. It’s already built in! It comes with the package! It’s God designed! And they instinctively recognize an opportunity to exercise their God-given gift when they see one! However, as adults, we’ve systematically desensitized. We’ve gone numb. We’ve let the weighty cares of life cloud our vision. We’ve let the light inside of us burn out, and we’ve done nothing to replace the bulb. This fix is an easy one…and you might just have some fun, too! Give yourself the permission to take some time to play. Play solitaire on your computer. Play a round of putt-putt golf. Play checkers with your kids…or Yahtzee or Clue. Play Hide and Seek. Play the guitar you haven’t touched since college. Play Hop Scotch. Play Marbles or Backgammon or Mystery Date. Or better yet…Play Hookie! Chase something. Ride on something. Swing from something. Laugh at something. You’ll be amazed at just how young it makes you feel! Years of aging will fall off of your face and the huge sandbags of responsibility you’ve been carrying around on your shoulders won’t seem to be nearly as heavy as they’ve always been. The world will be a much less gruesome place to live in, and you might even enjoy your job more…and your wife more…and your kids more…and your life more. If you’re going to be here on earth for a while longer, don’t you think it’s worth enjoying it while you’re here?!?!

You see, none of these things that we’ve forgotten about take incredible amounts of time, energy or resources to fulfill. It’s simply a practice…an intentional practice of remembering. It costs you nothing. Nada. Niente. But the pay off is immeasurable. The portfolio dividends are record-breaking. No bank vault in the world is big enough to hold its benefits. Wall Street couldn’t begin to calculate its’ return on investment ratios.

Remembering who you are, what you love, why you’re here, when it mattered, where you put it and how to play can transform your dull and ordinary life into something wonderful and colorful and grand. It can weather any social issue, governmental transition or economic decline. It can turn the absolutely forgettable into undeniably memorable. It can keep us from growing older…and help us to grow richer, wiser, deeper, affective…and much more fulfilled.

If there is just one thing that I want you to remember from all that you’ve read here today, it would be this: Remember to remember…and don’t you ever forget!

One Block From Home

Just over two years ago, my dad was killed in a tragic accident. The news is never easy to take, regardless of the circumstances…and it’s an even harder thing to wrap your heart around when it comes from out of no where, unexpectedly altering life as you’ve always known it.

It’s the weirdest feeling…that initial mourning that doubles you over in grief, and the numbness that follows. It’s as if you’re invisible and everything around you is moving in slow motion. At some point when crises arise, I always seem to move into survivor mode, orchestrating events and details, serving as the sounding board…the shoulder to cry on…the strength that holds together and supports. The down-side to this kind of inner wiring is that I know full well that sometime after the chaos ensues, I will have my own personal reckoning with those things that I filed into the “I’ll deal with that when I have the capacity” drawer. Sometime after the duties have been handled and friends and family have been consoled, I’ll open up that drawer and allow my heart to rifle through the memories and stories and details…feeling the painful gravity of each and every one.

So it was with the death of my dad. Most of that week shared with my family in the aftermath of the terrible news is but a hazy blur in my memory. But true to form, once my husband and I arrived back home, the floodgates opened up and it all came rushing back as if it had all just happened…as if I was still back in my hometown hearing the sordid details for the first time. I was told way too much…too much for a heart like mine, anyway. And even now, though I’ve processed my way through the grief and loss, there are images that remain that I just can’t seem to shake. I won’t share most of them with you, they’re just too horrific. But there is one haunting thought that hangs on me that’s worth sharing.

You see, the story goes like this: My dad was simply on his nightly walk. He’s taken that nightly walk since I was just a wee kid. He chose the nighttime because it was cooler in the summer…allowing him to maintain a year-round schedule. He would mark out the mileage of different routes, and change them up every so often for interest, but for the most part he was a creature of habit and would walk the same route for months at a time. It became a well-known mainstay in town that night after night around 10 pm, you could see my dad walking through the surrounding neighborhoods and industrial areas adjacent to where he lived.

I’ve often wondered if he felt something different hanging in the air that night as he bent over to lace up his sneakers…if he sensed anything unusual or off center as he walked down his front steps into the darkness of night…if he wrestled within himself about even taking his walk that night. Or whether it was just another night like every other night before, routine in nature…not even registering on the radar of unusual. So we’re told, like clockwork he rounded the last corner at around 10:25, probably feeling the refreshing that comes from knowing he was well within reach of his goal. I can only imagine that his step quickened as one more block was conquered, one more marker was passed. He’d made this trip thousands of times before, and if I’m anything at all like him, it was his favorite part of the journey. The home stretch before him…steps and heart feeling a bit lighter because of the worries and cares that had been lain down on the miles that trailed behind.

One block from home, and the sweetness of victory laced his lips where the saltiness of sweat used to be. One block from home, and the street where he lived was in full view, and home was just within sight. One block from home, and perhaps in his mind he was already making his way back up the front steps, in through the front door and into the glow of his living room, where all of his familiar things would greet him. It’s such a haunting thought, isn’t it: he was just one block from home when his life ended. He had almost made it. He was almost there…wrapped in the arms of safety once again. He had almost found his way back home…almost.

But speculation has it that as he emerged from the thick darkness that had been such a comfort and ally to him over the years past, his vision was distorted by the bright lights that filled the intersection, and he walked directly into the path of an oncoming car. A car that had just been bombed with an onslaught of water balloons…water balloons thrown by some kids just having a bit of reckless fun. No one is really to blame, in the end. No one bears the full weight of responsibility. Yet each and every party involved was connected to a series of events that would change all of their lives forever.

Although the story is sad, at best…and really quite tragic, there is always a lesson to be learned from the ones who go before us. And what echoes in my heart is this: Beware of the bright lights of change that can blind you to oncoming traffic and rob you of the goal that’s just within your reach. In stepping out of the comfortable and the familiar, shake off the lethargy of the routine. Anticipate the change…prepare yourself for the emotional distortion that it can bring. Walk in complete awareness of the things that move around you…especially the ones that have the power to “take you out”. Maneuver your way safely around the obstacles in your way…and never lose sight of your destination. You’ve put in the hard work, you’ve invested the “sweat equity”, you’ve silenced the inner voices that plead with you to quit, and you’ve rounded that last corner.

So whatever your dream is…whatever purpose your life is meant to serve…whatever your unique vision or ultimate life goal might be, don’t let yourself be taken out…especially when many of you are only one block from home.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chips and Cheese

My husband and I snuggled in the other night to watch a movie. We had our feet propped up, our warm blankets draped cozily across us, and our standard fare of tortilla chips, pub cheese, sodas and the remote (of course) lined up just within arms reach. Sheer perfection.

The only thing that came close to dulling the brilliance of the evening was an “issue” I had with the chips. You see, I’m a pretty simple, laid back kind of gal. I’m not picky or fussy or high maintenance when it comes to much of anything, especially chips. But one thing is certain, if I’m having dip with my chips, then I at least expect the chip to fulfill it’s primary function. Kind of like a field goal kicker in football…but don’t get me started on that! It’s just that if you’re going to be known as a functional part of something (i.e. “chips and dip”), then is it too much to ask that said chip would actually fulfill that function? Call me crazy. Anyway…I digress.

My ramping frustration came from the fact that every time I reached in to grab a chip and attempted to scoop up some dip, inevitably the chip would break. One would crack here. One would crack there. One that looked absolutely perfect in the bowl completely disintegrated mid-scoop. It was the weirdest thing!

But a funny turn of events happened as we made our way towards the bottom of the chip bowl. The chips that were not whole…the ones that were already broken and fragmented…when bunched together, were able to scoop up far more pub cheese than any of their “perfectly whole” counterparts. Finally, I was able to scoop and munch to my heart’s delight. I was one happy camper.

Then the thought crossed my mind: we’re all just like that big bowl of chips. There are chips that look fantastically put together…whole, complete, without weakness or flaw. All indications are that they can get the job done without the aid of anyone or anything. And yet, all too often, the they fall apart under pressure…finding that their unexposed areas of weakness have done them in, in the end. Then there are those who have been minimized by life’s trials and hardships…nicked and broken and fragile at best…they find themselves at the bottom of the bowl. But when joined with others like them, they become a strong, productive, unified force…able to accomplish far more than any them could achieve on their own.

Truth is, we were created to be in community. We were never intended to be alone. The world is a harsh and oftentimes brutal place. It doesn’t seek forgiveness, and it deals out judgment with a heavy hand. It can very quickly become a cold and empty place should we try to go it alone. But if we allow ourselves to be known for who we truly are…transparent about our broken and fragile state…and if we learn to trust people with the sensitive and sometimes painful things of our authentic selves, then we open the door to the influence of their strength and courage in our own lives.

Designed to be in community. Designed for strength that can only be unleashed when we embrace our own weakness. Designed to do great things for the world, but never completely independent of the world. It’s comforting to know we’re not alone. It’s an even greater comfort to know we’re not the only broken chip in the bowl. And it’s both comforting and humbling to realize that we truly do need each other. Otherwise, we’ll wind up being tossed into the trash can at the end of the night like a bunch of useless crumbs at the bottom of the bowl.

I don’t know about you…but I’ve got a lot more “cheese to scoop” in my life. I want so badly to make a difference and have an impact on this world. Big deal if I find myself at the bottom of the bowl. The way I see it: I’m in excellent company.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

INVINCIBLE

Sitting here next to my mother’s hospital bed, I’m not sure whether to lovingly smack her around a bit for not seeking medical help earlier simply because she didn’t want to spoil Thanksgiving OR squeeze her so tight for so long that the blood clots in her heart will be forced out of her body altogether. Conflicted, I’m struck by how it’s always so good to see her, but not like this.

And that thought leaves me vulnerably coming to grips with a raw and irritating truth. My mother is NOT invincible as once thought. She is not indestructible, as she might have considered herself to be. She is not even immortal, as most of us had assumed without even realizing it. It’s just that there has always been her, and I think somewhere along the line we have all taken for granted that there would always be her. Talk to those who know and love her, and you’ll find that they simply can’t imagine life without her. Even if we could, we wouldn’t want to.

If you think me melodramatic, you clearly haven’t met my mother. Let’s just suffice it to say that whoever coined the popular phrase “dynamite comes in small packages” obviously was referring to my mom. It’s as if she were one of those characters on the TV series “Heroes”, and spunkiness was her super power. She doesn’t know the word “quit”, she delivers food to “old people” and she’s always said she’d “rather wear out than rust out”.

Taking that to heart, she’s busier now at 80 than she’s ever been. Volunteering for countless local organizations, she’s been elected as President of most of them, and has won more humanitarian awards than anyone else I know. She’s gained a certain level of unexpected notoriety in her bustling little city…being featured in a ridiculous number of newspaper articles, non-profit newsletters and even on a local billboard. She’s left quite a mark on this tight-knit community! In her “spare time” she works out 3 times a week…earning a front-row spot in her Taebo class, and truth be told, lifts more weight in the gym than most people half her age.

Tiny in stature, but gigantic in heart, she has spent the bulk of her life as an ambassador of good will and hope. She has invested the best of herself in humankind, and has championed the cause of kindness. Her fingerprints are all over the hearts and lives of entire generations of people…and I’m proud to say that she IS the stuff of which legends are made.

And yet on this day, she finds herself resting precariously in the hands of a loving God, being made uncomfortably aware that her days are numbered before the Lord, and most likely getting a stronger dose of her own frailty than she would’ve cared to have taken on her own. She has abruptly arrived at a place of a fresh appreciation for every moment of every day…cherishing everyone that has made her life so colorful, and so worth living. Something we would all benefit from, whether young or old, if we could just see our lives through her eyes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pizza With Mercy on the Side

I know we’ve all been there at one time in life or another. You know the time I’m referring to…the one where the very thing you need to happen just isn’t coming soon enough and your heart is waging the war between what is on it’s way and what reality has to offer right now. Truly, I think, this is one of our most significant life moments. This is where we show what we’re really made of. This is The Big Test. This is the point where you make an inward decision to muster up every ounce of courage inside of you and rally the troops to victory, or raise the white flag of surrender and concede in absolute and utter defeat…folding to the pressure of not yet realizing what is yet to come.

It happens to all of us in a myriad of different ways, but this particular test on this particular day for my husband and me was a simple financial one. It went something like this: paycheck equals “X” amount of dollars…bills equal “X” amount of dollars…and Column A minus Column B left us nothing but the anxiety of holding our breath until the next payday. Sound familiar? Our hearts were weary from having been in this position one too many times before, and quite frankly our spirits were crushed and we were just down right fed up.

So my husband came up with the greatest idea: let’s comb the entire house for all of the loose change we could find, and go buy one of those cheapy take-out pizzas from Little Caesar’s. Simple enough in strategy, but its effect on our mindset was nothing but profound. We felt like college kids all over again. We started shouting through the house as we discovered unexpected treasure. We even turned it into a competition to see who could scavenge for the most money. By the end of our adventure, we’d scrounged up just enough to make our typical purchase of a pepperoni pizza, breadsticks and buffalo ranch dipping sauce (for me…’cuz I’m the princess). We loaded up into the car, black labs and all, and laughed the entire way to the pizza shop.

So, with the confidence of a “hunter” (insert Neanderthal man noises here) my husband stepped up to the counter, emptied his pockets of every silver coin he had on him, and boldy stated, “I’ve got $6.35 to work with, what’ll that buy us?” Having already keyed in our “usual” purchase, the manager made another entry that brought the price down lower than “usual”. And he gave us TWO marinara sauces…and TWO buffalo ranch sauces…and the freshest pizza and bread sticks he had on hand. You see, he wasn’t responding to the sale, he was responding to the need. In one tiny transaction that would barely make a dent in his sales totals for the day, he made an impact on our hearts that turned a miserable situation into something not only bearable, but delightful. With a few strokes of the register keys, he made us feel human again. And probably not even having a full grasp of his action’s impact on us, he restored our joy and completely transformed how we felt about our situation. In monetary terms, it cost him very little…but the emotional pay off was priceless. He saw an opportunity to “Pay it Forward”…and in a very real way, he made it happen. He saw through the transaction and responded to the need. Truth be told, I think I saw my husband skip to the car to deliver the good news.

The question is this: Are you doing life one transaction at a time…focused on the pay out at the end of all your interactions and hard work? Or are you moving beyond the ins and outs of everyday negotiations and responding to people’s real needs? (What’s funny is that in the end, it seems to be the simplest things that have the biggest impact.)

Oh, and to answer my husband’s question, I’ll give you an “insider’s tip” on this one (and it’s born out of actual life experience): six dollars and thirty-five cents buys a lifetime of loyalty and repeat business…when you throw in a little empathy and mercy on the side!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Showing Up For The Game

I’ll never forget attending my first professional football game. I was living in San Diego, and the company I was working for had reserved a block of seats for employee use. I was so excited to sign up for a set of tickets for me and my friends that I just had to pinch myself. That excitement turned into utter elation when I found out that the Denver Broncos would be the opposing team that weekend against the Chargers…and one of my favorite quarterbacks, John Elway, would be at the helm of the ship.

You see, I thought the man had class. He played a clean game, ran some unbelievable plays, and performed to a level that often-times inspired his team to victory. And even beyond his developed skill or raw talent, he was just down-right likeable. Truth be told, if you were looking for a sports hero, he pretty much wrapped up the total package.

So game day came, and my friends and I took off early from work so that we could get there early enough to grab some good eats and settle in for all of the pre-game hoopla. I felt like a wide-eyed 10 year old as I sat and watched the festivities unfold before me. By game time the anticipation was almost unbearable and I found it quite impossible to stay in my seat as each team hit the field to battle their way to victory.

But play after play, possession after possession passed, and I had yet to see Elway come alive. He was there, sure enough…in his navy and orange uniform…right in front of my eyes. But something just wasn’t quite right. His play was flat. There was not rallying of the ranks…no passionate spurring-on of his teammates…no dynamic transformation when he stepped onto the field and took hold of the football. He was in the game…but disappointingly, he just never really “showed up”. What promised to be one of the most memorable events in my life, ended up as nothing particularly extraordinary…not nearly as thrilling as it could have been.

As I remembered that feeling of let down…of dashed expectations and disappointment…I had the thought that what we do in life is a lot like the big game. Each day in our job, in our families, in our dealings with clients and fellow employees, we have the opportunity to really “show up”…completely engaged, inspiring and affecting everything around us. OR we can simply play the game, get the football down the field, get on the bus and go home.

It’s completely our choice in life & well within our power to make what we do undeniably memorable & absolutely extraordinary…simply by choosing to show up for the game. I guarantee you this: you truly show up…and your fans will have memories that they will cherish for a lifetime…and they’ll share them with everyone they know. The art of showing up…such a simple thing…but it’s transforming power makes for strong, connected families, pleasant work environments, elated customers…and an irreplaceable sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. Hey, by the way: GOOD GAME!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From Good to GREAT!

On the way to work this morning my thoughts were fixed on the topic of greatness. It sounds much nobler than it really is...quite honestly, I struggle to even remember HOW I got to work this morning. But for some reason, I just couldn’t shake the thought, “What makes up the difference between good and GREAT?”

I envisioned the usual morning chatter around the office...everyone swapping stories about their weekends. For some it was good, but for others it was GREAT. But WHY?!, I wondered. I thought about great places I like to shop, great people I love to hang around, great food I love to eat, and how much I enjoy listening to really great live music. But what on earth is it that makes these things GREAT?

The answer came to me the minute I stepped through the office door and heard people sharing the details of their time away from work. It’s in the little things. It’s the pine nuts and goat cheese on top of the Brixx salad I love so much. It’s the cut of the dress...or the tiny bits of beadwork detailing it. It’s the way someone makes you feel when they’re around...how they make you laugh, or forget your worries...or inspire you. It’s the musician that infuses his plucking of a string with boldness and creativity that makes for a unbelievably killer bass line that cuts straight through your soul. It’s all of the little things that add up into something wonderfully memorable...something far beyond good...something simply GREAT.

Performance Psychologist, Todd Kays says,
”Greatness requires going beyond the normal everyday requirements and doing all of the little things when no one else is watching… simply for the love of doing it.”
So this week, as you’re enduring the not-always-so-joy-filled task of dealing with overly demanding people or unruly kids, or as you're driving from Point A to Point B for the fifty-seventh time...be sure to remember: it’s the little things that you do while no one’s watching, simply for the love of doing it, that can transform whatever mundane thing you might be doing into something wonderfully memorable...omething far beyond good... something simply GREAT!

And I really mean this when I say it: HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Race of Endurance

Life has a funny way of giving us reality checks. (see: re·al·i·ty – noun, “actual being or existence, as opposed to an imaginary, idealized, or false nature” or “the totality of real things in the world, independent of people’s knowledge or perception of them”, or my favorite, “something that has real existence and must be dealt with in real life”).

My reality in this season of my life is this: I’m 40 years old. Yep, I’ve entered the fourth decade of my life, and I have to say, it’s had a profound affect on my “perspective” already.
Maybe it’s the eventual surrender to the fact that my body will never again fit quite the same way into the blue jeans I wore in college. It seems there are changes in my physical person that are a frontal assault to the eternal youth that delightfully resides, unaltered, in my spirit. And I will never again know the weightless sweetness of being indebted to no man. Whether it’s the inevitability of paying taxes, church ministries I’ve accepted responsibility for, or relationships that entail nurturing and full involvement to thrive—I’m forced to come face to face with the very real fact: I will never again be “my own man”.

You see, I’ve lived quite the “life of Riley” in my young adult years. I’ve been single without children for most of my post-college career days. I’ve moved from the South to the West Coast to the East Coast, and back to the middle again. I’ve taken in a movie on a momentary whim…without any planning or preparation of any kind. I’ve had the luxury of sitting in Southern California’s rush hour nightmare, entertaining the idea of just how great a new outfit might look and feel…and taking the closest exit to make that idea a reality. All without any calls home to coordinate my late arrival or discussions about budget line item priorities or childcare. In short, I’ve spent the past twenty years of this life honing my skills as a Sprint Racer.


Oddly enough, this parallel came to me yesterday as I swam the final laps in my half-mile workout…in preparation for the triathlon a friend (now my husband) and I are conquering in September. Now, most of my friends and family at the hearing of this news are probably raising eyebrows in alarm or sheer astonishment…but the process of winding up at this place is worth explaining.
Wanting to meet the daunting marker of my 40th birthday with courage and complete acceptance, I desired most to do something “significant”…something “unexpected”…something “BIG”. And the deciding factor came when I was whining to my friend about the aforementioned physical changes taking place…and how my shadow hadn’t crossed the threshold of a gym in six months...and how I was fed up with my lack of motivation. “Motivation?” he asked…”You need motivation?! Enter a triathlon…that’ll supply your motivation!”

So tapping into the spontaneous nature of my sprinter’s heart, I did it. Crazy or not, I signed up for a triathlon.
But it wasn’t long into my first workout, that I began to think, “They want me to run HOW FAR?!?!” I have trouble running to the bathroom…let alone running THREE MILES!!! But what do you know, a few weeks into it and I was walking longer on the treadmill, lifting weights, and still feeling like I had energy to burn at the end of it all. Surprising how your body and mind can adjust so quickly.

The first time I got back into the pool, after a short thirty-year hiatus, the scene was pretty ugly. I get into the water thinking, “It’s like riding a bike, right?!” But about half way down the lane, something went terribly wrong. My body rebelled against my best intentions and highest goals…and I felt a panic washing over me with the sudden realization that no matter how much I breathed in, it simply was not enough. I needed more air…more AIR…MORE AIR!!! What was going on?!? For crying out loud, I’d done this before! I’d been a sprinter on the swim team in junior high…this should be easy. But every muscle in my body was screaming in pain…my lungs felt like they were exploding…my head was spinning and my vision blurred. And the voice in my head said,
“They want me to go HOW far?!? How sick ARE these people?! They’ve GOT to be kidding. There’s no way on earth!”
Amazingly enough, within two weeks, I was swimming 36 links…a half a mile! Incredible. That first day, I had no hope of ever reaching that milestone…and the weeks that followed carried a growing concern that I didn’t have what it takes to meet the challenge…that I’m too weak, too frail…that it is just too late in the game to try a stunt like this. But with some digging down deep to find that courage that hides out in the deepest part of my heart, with some disciplined consistency, and with some much-needed encouragement from my friend in my weakest moments, yesterday I broke through a barrier of sorts that loomed in my head and heart like a thick stone wall. I had done what only two weeks before was unthinkable.

So there I was, victoriously swimming the last laps of my half-mile workout, and I began to hear my Father speak to my uncovered heart once again.
“Melody, you’ve been a sprinter for most of your life.”
And as He showed me the unencumbered way in which I’d lived my life, I began to understand what He meant.
“You’ve done a great job of living in the moment…of burning bright and fast…of wringing the life-stuff out of every day. You’ve been busy, involved, connected. And wasn’t it you that only months ago said that you wanted to do something ‘significant’, ‘unexpected’ and ‘big’?”
“Yes Lord, that’s what I said I wanted…more than anything.”
“Well”, He said, “more than anything, what I want is to forge in you the heart of an endurance racer.”
“An endurance racer, Lord?” I asked with feelings of intrigue and sheer terror running through my heart.
“Yes, an endurance racer,” He said with the tenderness of a Father who’s in teaching mode.“You’ve been through days when you felt like you were going to drown before getting to the end of that lane, right?”

“You mean when I was struggling financially, and…”


“You’ve tried to run the race of life, huffing and puffing like a fish that’s been thrown up on shore, right?”

“You mean when I moved and everything seemed so foreign, so out of sync…”


“You’ve had to bear up under the heat, push through the pain, and do it when you just felt like giving up altogether.”

“You mean when I went through the unexpected divorce…”


“You see, this race you’ve entered…this triathlon…is much like this life you’re a part of. There are different tasks you will be asked to complete…each one challenging in it’s own way. There are external influences that will come against your progress…causing you to tire and lose heart. There will be highs and lows, joys and sorrows. There will be days when you break down walls, and days when you will be broken.”


“So now is the time to prepare…now is the time to draw from what you know and put it into action…now is the time to build up your endurance. Be strong and courageous when the challenge seems bigger than the hope that’s in your heart. Be gentle with yourself…and pace yourself. Don’t forget to rest, do things that inspire your heart and soul…and just like your Momma always said, don’t forget to eat your vegetables. Because how you handle yourself now directly affects your performance later.
But more important than anything else, Melody, you must finish the race. You must not give up…you must not lose heart…you must not quit. The race will not be finished today…the race will not be finished tomorrow, or next week. But one day, you will most certainly taste the indescribable joy of crossing that finish line. And know this: I will be waiting right there for you…cheering you on. Waiting to celebrate your efforts of a race well run…the victory of spirit over flesh…the final defeat of the one who whispers, “You don’t have what it takes to meet the challenge…you’re too weak, too frail…it’s just too late in the game to even try.”
As I pulled myself out of the pool that day, I felt an unexpected and overwhelming sense of new-found courage mixed with the savory sweetness of accomplishment. And although some of my family and friends would already like to think me crazy, I have to admit that I heard voices…the echoes of a cheering crowd somewhere in the far distance…and the all-familiar sound of my Father’s voice, shouting,
“THAT’S my girl!”
1 Corinthians 9:23-25: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Romans 15:4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Charlie Hall, “God of Hope”: “Your hope inspires my endurance/God of hope fill me up/Your hope is my anchor/And though you slay me I will hope/Your hope inspires my endurance…”