little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the category “Music for the Soul”

“…can only come from Love…”

Even though I saw Carrie Newcomer in concert well over a month ago, I woke up with an unforgettable tune of hers in my head and heart: I Heard an Owl.

Give a listen when/if you have a chance and follow along with her moving lyrics. Methinks it’s an anthem for today and everyday.

I Heard an Owl

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do.

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice that’s calling out
Across the great divide
I am only just one person
That feels they have to try
And questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love.”

So don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In these times of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Each sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

So don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though we’re shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
And the only peace this world will know
Can only come from Love.

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Breathless Choir

While I confess that I am not an avid or active news-watcher, it’s been impossible to not hear about and be affected by the events that have erupted in our world recently.  Mass shootings. Terrorism. Senseless violence. Innocent lives lost. Millions of souls looking for a place to call home. Seemingly, each day, the news seems to smolder with horror and tragedy – both far and near, and in its wake, it’s hard not to feel fearful or angry; it’s hard to find hope.

Yet, here we are – planted right in the middle of the season of Advent – the seedbed for hope, for new life – the reminder that even in darkness, light does and will shine.

In the midst of these bleak headlines that appear in our news and in the beautiful mess of our own personal lives, I believe there is always reason for hope…for love…for peace. Those are the very forces we must use to fight against the fear, anger, and despair that can so easily paralyze and corrupt us. Those are the strongest forces there are.

Just this week, I happened to stumble mindlessly into an ad (of all things!) that reminded me of the beauty that can come from tragedy and the hope that survives when the sun sets.

The ad featured “The Breathless Choir,” a New York-based group of 18 men and women from the ages of 12 to 92 with severe breathing problems. They were brought together this past September and taught to sing again by an acclaimed British choirmaster named Gareth Malone. Yes, these people, many of whom are on ventilators and breathing machines, have been taught to sing again.

Any further words I could attempt to offer about this inspiring group would pale to what and who they actually are, so all I will venture to say is that their music not only consoles and heals but also it literally breathes hope into this fragile gift of life.

Enjoy this miracle of breath, song, and hope:

and Happy Advent.

We are enough

Ok, friends, I confess, I have voices in my head. While this may or may not shock you, and you may feel tempted to leave this post – this blog – forever, please hang with me here for just a little longer…

These current voices in my head differ from the ones I had as an 8-year-old tomboy playing “house” or “concert” with Barbie and Ken and their entourage OR building an immense G.I. Joe fort to protect against the onslaught of Cobra and his reign of terror.  I used to take on a lot of roles and voices in those days (ahem, another example: playing LIFE and Monopoly by myself), and praise God for the gift of the imagination – especially the very colorful and mildly frightening kind this only child had…

[Alas, those kind of voices are fodder for thought and deeper examination at another time.]

Do you know the voices that I’m talking about now? The ones that this 34-and-a-half-year-old has been hearing much of throughout her teen, young adult, and adult life — the spectrum of voices that claw and gnaw for my attention? These are the voices that call into question who I am — am I pretty enough? feminine enough? attractive enough? fit enough? smart enough? kind enough? good enough?  Plain and simply, am I enough? These voices, which have only grown louder and more ubiquitous through our media-driven and image-obsessed world, are the ones that even call into question the very aspects of myself for which I’m most thankful — the ones that make me ME. These voices, when I listen, can be exactly what make my own REAL voice dissolve.

As a teacher of squirmy, squirrelly, impressionable, and self-conscious middle schoolers, I am also keenly aware of how the voices around us not only affect me but also the children in my care. At such tender ages, our youth seem to become more and more fixated on who they are “supposed” to be and what they are “supposed” to look like rather than on igniting that fascinating, frightening journey towards who they really are – who they are becoming. Do they really know or want to know who they are or are they more concerned with the image they want to project — the image they think others will accept?

With these cacophonous voices ringing in our ears, our hearts, and our heads, each day can become a battle to reclaim one’s own voice, and the victory can be real. Over this summer, thanks to dear friends and family, a retreat and group therapy, book friends like Brené Brown and Barbara Brown Taylor, and various circumstances that have made me fall flat on my face (literally and figuratively) and into what really matters, I have asked God to help quiet those voices and help me listen to what is real. I never thought I’d be one to tune into those voices, but alas, news flash, we are ALL human and can ALL fall prey. That also means that we are ALL human enough to rise up again and change the station. For me, God is the one who helps me get on my feet again — who reminds me of who I am — but I’m also grateful that some mainstream folk out there in our culture are making different statements and offering new voices.

Thanks to Ann Voskamp’s weekend multivitamin from her website A Holy Experience, I learned of Colbie Caillat’s new song called “Try.”  Not only is the song fabulous, but also her music video preaches a new message — a new voice, and I hope women and men, young and old, will watch and listen and feel empowered to be exactly who they are without having to TRY to fit a mold that is not theirs to begin with.

LISTEN to this voice and feel yours emerge – just as it is:

With love, my friends.

“I wanna see you (and me) be BRAVE!”

HAPPY SATURDAY, friends!  Today, I’m offering an interesting post that invites you to do more than just read…

1.  LISTEN:

(how many of you got up and danced like wild goats in a field of dandelions after watching this like I did? It’s hard NOT to move to and with the beats of this song…)
2. DIGEST:
“Brave” by Sara Bareilles
You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you…I just wanna see you…I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave
I just wanna see you…I just wanna see you…I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave
Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave isSay what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveWith what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveAnd since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveWith what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveI just wanna see you…I just wanna see you…I just wanna see you…I wanna see you be brave

 

3.  REFLECT:

What does being BRAVE really mean anyway?

Do you think of Braveheart roaring “I am WILLIAM WALLACE!” before the attack for freedom or about soldiers offering their lives on the battlefield? What about the firemen and women and police officers risking their own lives on the streets to save others?  When it comes being BRAVE, these are certainly powerful, true examples, but I do think there are far more possibilities and opportunities to see and celebrate the every-day bravery in ourselves and others.

When I first saw this video thanks to two dear and very brave friends (Mary and Anne, I love you!), I longed to be in it with Sara B. and dance like a fool right alongside her and those fabulous, yet very ordinary people like me. Craziness like that has always appealed to the child-like loon that I am (no wonder I teach Middle School), and while I think those dancers in her video are indeed brave (especially the precious red-shirted wonder in the weight room), I think her message speaks to far more than just getting up and dancing wherever you are if you like.

For years, I’ve been tangled up in my own cluttered thinking that I had to do what others expected me to — that I had to never disappoint or stir up or heavens, be REALLY honest when it came down to it.  I have been too afraid of hurting feelings, letting others down, or detaching from the image of what people THOUGHT I was (what Richard Rohr calls “the False Self” that I started to believe in myself) rather then being content with who I really was.  That’s not brave.

When I think about being BRAVE now, I think about being honest. I think about telling the truth no matter what – the truth about who we are and what we want or need — a truth we so often hide from because of fear and insecurity.  So many friends (book friends and “real” friends, although I’d just prefer to call them all friends because that is what they are) have helped me arrive to where I am now, and Brené Brown has especially opened my eyes to see that “the risk of losing yourself would be far more dangerous than the risk of letting people see the real you.” Wow. Amen.

So, what do you see in yourself…without judgement?

What would you tell someone…if you weren’t afraid?

When I think about being BRAVE now, I think about feeling vulnerable and uncertain, but going through with it anyway. I think about telling someone I love them.

When I think about being BRAVE now, I think about having face-to-face conversations that are HARD, yet their hardness reveals their necessity.

When I think about being BRAVE now, I think about motherhood, faith, authentic friendship, telling a story, inviting someone over, sharing music, playing music, painting, writing, singing, saying “no” when you need to, smiling at a stranger, striking up a conversation, listening, being silent, calling a friend you haven’t spoken with in a while, saying “I’m sorry,” or breaking a rule that you’ve set for yourself and held so rigidly for far too long…

Dear friends, let us see and invite and celebrate the bravery in others and in yourself today. If this life itself is grace, what, then, are we waiting for?

BE honest.

SPEAK truth.

BE your authentic self without apology or disclaimer.

What does BEING BRAVE look like for you this week?  this day?  right now?

Orchestral landfills

I just read about and watched this moving piece about music springing forth from bits and pieces scraped from a landfill in Paraguay.  It’s a must share and a must view.

This is a masterpiece, and I cannot wait to share this beautiful lesson with my students this upcoming year. May it teach us to be more aware of our own daily waste — our treatment of trash. More importantly, may it compel us to be more aware of, as the video states, our treatment of people…ALL people.

God calls us to…

Bring in the “garbage.”

Make use of the neglected.

Pick up the forgotten.

Love the unloved.

Believe the unbelievable.

And dig our hands deeply into grace.

Amen.

Midsummer Musings…with a new set of strings…

Disclaimer:  I am SO very grateful to be a teacher (or as my papa says, an “educator”) and to be entering my twelfth year this August (whoa, Bessie, pull them reigns!).  The school year is both demanding and exhausting, and yet, it feeds me each day through the relationships I enjoy and through the day-to-day happenings that can be so unbelievably exciting, humbling, and soul-filling.  Furthermore, there is real beauty and purpose in pausing at the end of each school year to reflect, rest, recharge, and prepare to return again, hopefully with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit (for both teachers and students!).  And, so while I am deeply thankful for the school year, I am increasingly grateful for sweet summer time…this summer space, this summer pace.

(yes, I’ve clearly gotten over the “empty classroom syndrome” and those lonely birds I wrote about back in May.)

Today is July 1st.  Really?  How did you arrive so fast, friend?  Well, while I confess that I may not be initially tickled pink to welcome in this new month already, I feel the need to give thanks for what has come and gone and how it has helped shape today.  Man, over the first month of this glorious summer, I have learned a LOT.  As the first summer in eleven years of teaching that I have not taught, coached, or tutored, I have learned a lot about letting go and about welcoming in (sorry for ending with a preposition; it’s summer mode, folks; forgive me!).  So far, it has been a summer of HEALING, and that healing has come in the form of quite literal healing in twice-a-week physical therapy, but also in cultivating friendships, enjoying family time, embracing music in a fuller dimension, exploring new parts of the ATL, writing poetry, devouring books, giving myself permission to rest, and taking risks to, again, let go and welcome in.

First, the letting go.

It has been difficult to let go of  what I’ve been used to for so long; how easily we get sucked in and often addicted to our routines.  For example, it’s been an adjustment to let go of doing anything related to teaching, tutoring, or coaching this summer, AND let go of the guilt that initially accompanied this reality.  What will people think?  Am I letting others down…my students, their parents, myself?  Bah…

I have also let go of confining schedules and demanding routines that used to own me throughout the year and even into the summer, never allowing me to fully rest. Granted, these were my own choices to run, swim, bike, and work out obsessively every morning, but now that my body cannot do what it used to, I am grateful to God for renewing who I am beyond those strivings — beyond those identities I had constructed for so long and from which I still panted, obviously still thirsty…

So, this past week, I took a deep breath, and I let go and sold my bike, my beloved “Bluebird.”  I am so thankful for the past 6 and a half years with her and for the commuting rides we shared to school for 3 of those years, but it is time to move on and to realize that physically, I’m in a place where I cannot do that anymore.  It ain’t easy to say that out loud, nor to act on it, but it’s necessary.

Letting go…

and then welcoming in…

and so, I’ve traded my handbars for pirouettes along the fret board —  a flutter of fingers over a steel-stringed shore — a reconnection with my love affair with music and a dusty guitar I’ve had since I was 13.

While I’ve been able to play a few tunes here and there over these past twenty years and do know basic chords, having learned from my musically-gifted papa and friends along the way at camp and in high school, I’ve never officially taken lessons.  And so, on June 4th, I had my first lesson, and I have since looked forward to every 30-minute session per week.  My teacher is patient, kind, funny, and unbelievably talented, and our musical tastes harmonize beautifully, as we introduce each other to new tunes and artists each week.  While I’ve only had four lessons at this point, I cannot even begin to express all that I have learned, both song-wise and music-wise, but even in ways beyond my beloved 6-stringed guitar (by the way, “Debbie” is her name, for she is a Gibson (Epiphone) guitar, and for those of you who grew up in or knew the 80s, you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout).

Each session uncovers more and more about vulnerability, the hunger for challenge, and the importance of practice, and along the way, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself.  Indeed, this teacher has become a student again, and in an area in which I’ve lacked confidence, especially when my calluses have gone away and the guitar sits lonely and waiting in the corner, and I think to myself that I just can’t play like I used to…

Hmmm, I wonder how many of my students have felt this or feel this.  How important is it for me to put myself in their shoes and take on a new challenge — one that demands practice, respect, perseverance, and humility?

It is vital.

It is vital to remember what it’s like to mess up and fail AND to do so in front of somebody, and have to start over again and practice more.

It is vital to feel passion towards something creative AND to be able share it with others (I have shared more “sing-a-longs” with friends and family in the past month than I have in the past 15 years!).

What’s beautiful, too, is that while this guitar playing is absolutely vital for my soul, it is also assisting my physical healing; in fact my physical therapist considers it a boost to the healing process in my left elbow and arm.  Who knew that what I always put aside for athletic pursuits would pull me back home and help me feel whole again?  Who knew that a debilitating injury would actually give birth to this rekindled love in my life?  Thank you, God; You knew.

And so, on this 1st of July, I look back in appreciation and thanksgiving for the healing that has taken place and for the light that emerges from the dark, and I anticipate a song-filled road ahead. Will you sing with me?

p.s. any requests or ideas for songs to learn?

The Piano Guys

A few weeks into sweet, sultry “summah time,” I am grateful to say that the lonely birds have nested elsewhere, and I’ve found the summer stride — thanks be to God!  Peace reigns.  In fact, I stumbled into this video yesterday while cleaning out email (amazing how our digital mail builds after only a 5-day vacation!), and it ushers and celebrates such peace and joy in my heart.  It’s a piano/cello cover of Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” and while I normally love to savor song lyrics (“just know you’re not alone,” coos Phillips in the chorus), there’s something here about the simple, moving conversation between cello and piano that is transforming. Often, words are not needed, or perhaps the music alone transcends them?

Click below to enjoy a little love from The Piano Guys.  Turn it up and close your eyes.  Maybe you’ll find “home,” wherever you are.

What do you think?

Music has always been a central part of my life, but recently its chords have been plucked (he he he) with more power and meaning.  And passion. And vulnerability.

More on that in another post…

Remedies for the lonely birds

So, I must admit that along with the inevitable excitement for summer and the final sigh after grading 30 exams and 28 final essays, some of the lonely birds silently and unexpectedly swooped into my nesting heart this weekend.  It may seem completely outrageous or just utterly nerdy to feel this way, but at the end of another school year, I  feel a bit down. A part of me feels like a mama bird saying goodbye to her little chicks that will never return to the nest, and for this single lady, I seem to feel it acutely, as so much of my life involves my kiddos and my orbit at school.  I miss my lil’ cherubs, I miss my friends and colleagues, and there’s just a gaping, raw part in my heart that offers, “what now?”

(mama calls this “empty classroom syndrome”…)

And so with the same gaping, raw honesty, I know I must “lean” into these moments, ask God for help, and keep on…

Here are a couple of remedies that presented themselves this weekend…maybe they can be kept in pockets and heart boxes to pull out in any future lonely moment.  Because, friends, there is ALWAYS grace:

1.  The warm embrace of my mama, who knows me better than any human being on this earth.  That coupled with sharing together uncontrollable laughter is the best medicine in the world.

2.  Watching the Braves shut out the Mets on Saturday night with a little help from the pitcher unexpectedly rocking a two-run homer

3.  Celebrating the birthdays of people you love (a.k.a. Mama and Kate Monster!)

4.  Hearing a sermon on Trinity Sunday that offered the memorable image of  “God holding us like a hazelnut”

5.  The gift of a guitar and a desperate voice…AND the hope of guitar lessons this summer (perhaps with a teacher who played with the Indigo Girls, Tuck and Patti, and B.B. King?!?!?!!)

6.  ANY song by the Indigo Girls, whose tunes I’ve been loving and living with since 1992…

but especially these days:  I Believe in Love (sorry, the audio isn’t the best, BUT I recommend seeing them LIVE instead!)

7.  Mary Oliver poetry…yesterday, I dug into her book of poems called Redbird…how about this apple…

I will try

 I will try.
I will step from the house to see what I see
and hear and I will praise it.
I did not come into this world
to be comforted.
I come, like red bird, to sing.
But I’m not red bird, with his head-mop of flame
and the red triangle of his mouth
full of tongue and whistles,
but a woman whose love has vanished
who thinks now, too much, of roots
and the dark places
where everything is simply holding on.
But this too, I believe, is a place
where God is keeping watch
until we rise, and step forth again and–
but wait. Be still. Listen!
Is it red bird? Or something
inside myself, singing?
-Mary Oliver

 

8.  Eating a freakin’ double angus BEEF burger with good friends at Urban Pl8 and loving it.

9.  Old hymns that evoke sweet harmonies

10.  Sunday lunch with our priest, celebrating friendship, communion, and contemplating God over bowls of Thai curry, thick laughter, and seasoned stories

11.  Realizing that I am not as alone as I think I am

12.  The promise of John 16:33

13.  Welcoming the first taste of morning by being outside in it…watching the sunrise tickle the greens of trees

——————————————-

Tell me, Lord,

how did you plan this day

in all its heartache,

its wonder, its beauty,

its simple silliness,

and make it so

we’d be okay

another day

and want to keep on singing?

Amen.

Letting go…letting in…

This past week, after a long, soul-filling walk with a dear friend, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about control — the control I think I have, the control I try to release —  that tricky, sticky struggle of our human nature.  Why do we so desire control?  Why is it so hard to let it go? Somehow, even when I think I have let go, I realize how easily tangled back into that mess I can become  — that illusion of thinking I have it all together.

All around us, our society constantly bombards and feeds us with images laced with sugary, addictive notions of control and power, and how easily we succumb to those lies, thinking that we can plan and schedule and control the rest of our days.  In my own personal life, for these past 11 years since college (eek!), I have lived on my own and found myself seeping into routines, rituals, and habits that often made me believe that I was steering my own ship.

Unfortunately, yet fortunately, there are those “beautiful disasters” that arise in life that make us wake up to our powerlessness and our deep need for grace.  I have experienced quite of few of those as I have entered my thirties, and I realize that I have to pray to let go every single day.  In my desperate humanness, as soon as I lose control in one area, I realize how tempted I am to cling on elsewhere – to retain some tangible sense of safety and security.  However, the irony comes when we realize that in losing control we gain true freedom…the freedom to LET GO, to not worry, to trust God completely and fully, and to LET IN all the love He gives.

Last month, during our Christian Emphasis Week at school, an amazing human being and singer/songwriter named Ginny Owens came to share her gifts.  Another dear friend had introduced her music to me just days before her arrival, and while I was instantly transformed by her voice and piano melodies, it was who she was and her story that resonated with me most.  Ginny Owens is blind.  In spite of this “deficit,” this “disability,” this “powerlessness,” Ginny sees much more of life than many of us do with full sight.  In her brief time with us, she taught me about trusting deeply, about letting go, and about letting in all the beauty and love that God intends for us daily…would we but seek it.

Daily, we must pray to seek, to unwrap, to let go, to let in.

Here’s a bit of Ginny that I listen to every day; a dose of peace and encouragement — even in the midst of those most unraveling moments:

Les Misérables, Lent, an elbow, and “Ashen Hope”

Last night, my mama and I went to see Les Misérables (thankfully, it’s still playing at Tara Cinema if you have not yet seen it!), and we sobbed through its entirety, shedding tears at both the savage existence of man, but also over the triumph and redemption with which the story ends — with which every story ends.  Indeed, there is grace.

And so, my soul is awake today with images, songs, and symbols of both despair and hope from Victor Hugo’s powerful work, but also with what all of it means during this significant Lenten season — a time of reflection and repentance, of silence and emptying — of remembering our very mortality and whose we are.

With these brimming thoughts, I am also very aware of my bandaged elbow at my side.  Wrapped tightly like a swaddled babe, she is a symbol both of my very human limitations, but also of buried and bursting hope.

While this trial has dragged on far longer than I ever would have anticipated, I do feel the Lord’s presence and purpose through it all, and I know that He is teaching me, day by day.  I am finding far more time for quiet and rest and being still these days — that which was absent from my life for far too long.  Truly, I feel like God has saved me from myself.

From all these swirling thoughts and this stillness on a Sunday afternoon blooms a poem I wrote called “Ashen Hope,” whose thread finds common binding in Les Mis, Lent, and my little left elbow.  🙂

Ashen Hope

From the rising dawn

to the setting sun,

as I wander this world

in mortal rags of ashes,

Lord, let me be aware of my limits,

with a heart open to realize

that I will not live forever.

 

Such knowledge

I will not fear,

for you made me for paradise,

and my imperfections, cracks,

and these broken, wounded limbs

let your limitless love

and light

shine through.

 

With another breath,

you have blessed me this day.

May I choose to live,

not in sameness,

nor to the tune of broken records,

but as if flowers

were growing from my belly,

and birdsongs, dancing from my lips.

 

May I choose

to love extravagantly

right where you have me.

 

In this Love,

we do live forever.

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