Tuesday, October 2, 2018

I Missed You

It's interesting to me how words and phrases can mean different things.  For example:

Image result for hideous dress
Nice dress.
If that is your favorite dress that you have ever seen, or if it's the one you wore to prom, then I meant I love it.  Not really.  I don't like it.  At all.  It was the 4th picture when I Google Imaged "hideous dress."  But I'm guessing  you read that in my tone of voice, even though the idea of reading tone of voice in a blog post is preposterous.  It's sarcasm, and the intent is clear.

But it's not always that clear.  A few weeks ago my neighbor came to me and said the tree on our property line was sick.  He said he wasn't sure whose tree it is.  Actually it was infested with carpenter ants, as it turns out, and it was only a matter of time before it lost the will to live.  So he wanted to know if I was ok with him calling someone to cut it down.  Sure!  Please do.

A couple of weeks later the guys were here to cut the tree.  They did a great job.  That evening my neighbor came over again.  We talked about how great a job they had done.  He mentioned again that he wasn't sure whose tree it was.  We talked a bit more, and then we went into our homes.

I called Lisa to tell her what all had happened.

"Did he ask you to help pay for it?"
"No, which I thought was strange."
"That is strange, since it's right on the line like that.  Are you sure he didn't ask you to help?"
"Yeah.  He just said a number of times that he wasn't sure whose tree it is."
"John.  He did ask you to help pay for it."
"No, not at all.  He just...oh.  Right.  Yes.  I'll call him back and 'offer' to help pay for it."

Some people are really good at picking up on these subtexts.  Lisa is.  Some people are not very good at picking up on the subtexts.  I'm not.  For me, the problem is I tend to take people at their word.  How can it be my problem if you didn't just say what you meant?!  The answer is, of course, that sometimes people are trying to be nice or considerate.  They really don't want to tell you that you're a complete idiot any more than you want to hear it.  We're in the South, after all.  There are rules.  Sometimes I envy people who have the gift of seeing subtext so clearly.

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For the rest of us...
Sometimes I don't envy them.  Because the problem is sometimes when you read subtext, you can read subtext that isn't intended.  So you turn yourself completely in knots trying to figure out what someone was really trying to say, or even worse thinking you know what they were saying (when maybe they really did just mean they thought your outfit was ok).

You know where I've seen this a lot?  Church.  Church choir!  "We missed you."  See, when I hear someone say that, I think, "Isn't that nice to be missed."  But as it turns out people skilled in the art of reading subtext often realize that "we missed you" actually means something more like, "You should feel very guilty that you didn't show up to help us pull weeds in the children's playground.  It was for the children.  You're a monster."

Image result for playground weeds
If it weren't for the weeds, the children would love this.
The problem here isn't a question of subtext.  Unfortunately it's much worse.  The problem here is a question of honesty and authenticity.  And it's made worse because sometimes people who are making the statement don't actually know they are being dishonest!

Here's why.  When people in the church say, "we missed you," they think that's what they mean.  But what they really missed wasn't you.  It was your labor.  Or your voice.  Or your--dare I say it?--your money.  And when they say "we missed you," they really want you to come next time so you can contribute your labor.  Or your voice.  Or...your money.

That's not what church should be.

It's true that everyone contributes something unique to the life of the church.  It's true that the church is less when you aren't a part of it.  But you aren't welcome in the church because you have something to offer.  You are welcome in the church because everyone is welcome.  And God loves you.

Confession: I used to say, "We missed you."  I'm sorry about that.

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You have to forgive me now. 
Look at those eyes.
That said, along the way I've picked up a few ways to reclaim authenticity in this area, and I'd like to share them with you.

1. Actually care.  It's that simple.  Actually care about people more than you care about the thing or the project.  You cannot fake this, no matter how hard you try.  If you direct a church choir, care about the singers more than the sound or the size of the choir or how impressively they can sing in tune (note: that doesn't mean you don't care about those things...just that you care about the people more).

2. Trade "we" for "I."  I missed you.  "We" means I'm speaking on behalf of others, and it implies I'm speaking for all the other people who showed up to pack the lunches for the children."I" is personal.  Because it's personal, it means more.  It means I noticed you weren't there.  There's not a bunch of us ganging up on you.  I'm not trying to make you feel like you're on the outside.  I looked for you.  I didn't see you.  I wish I had seen you because it would have made my day brighter.

3. When you tell someone you missed them, listen for a moment if they tell you what was going on.  Respond.  Ask questions.  Invest in the relationship, because nothing will communicate that you missed them more effectively than caring about them.

4. Actually care.  I know I already said this.  It's really the only one that matters.

Or, put another way, when you say, "I missed you," make sure you mean, "I missed you."

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Layers of Transformation

We've been living in our house for a little over four years now.  So just about four years ago, a bunch of kind folks did us a solid and helped us move 20 minutes toward the church.  I promised them I'd invite them all over for pizza and to see our house once we finished working on it.  Ha!  Joke's on them...the work never ends.  That said, we are nearing a point where we aren't thoroughly embarrassed to have people in our house.  So maybe we'll be able to make good on that soon, though I've been thinking that for the better part of a year and a half now.

Over the years we've worked hard transforming the house.  We've painted walls.  We've painted ceilings.  We've replaced light fixtures and doorknobs and switches and outlets.  We've worked on flooring.  In one of my prouder moments, we stole half of our son's closet by opening a second door into our bedroom and putting up a wall in the middle.  He's a little bitter about that, but the truth is his closet is basically a black hole anyway, so he doesn't miss the extra space.

Image result for black hole
We try not to get too close.
My favorite room (at the moment) is our sunroom, which we have decorated with a beach theme.  Like most rooms, we painted every square inch of it and redid the floor.  We painted the ceiling sky blue!  We even came up with a clever way to kinda sorta air condition it when we added a window to our den.  A strategically placed box fan and a prayer leaves the sunroom comfortable on all but the hottest of days.

Image result for beach
This is basically what we were going for.
The house feels like ours now.  The previous owners might recognize it, of course, but they'd also see the changes we've made.  I'm not 100% certain they'd like them, mind you.  And that's what got me thinking.

One of the most interesting things about doing extensive work inside a house is discovering what I might call layers of transformation.  It's like paint (or, in the case of a 1966 split level, wall paper, AKA the bane of my existence).  You're looking at the outermost layer, which someone painstakingly picked out and put up.  You don't like it, and you want to change it.  But underneath it is another layer, which was also painstakingly picked out and put up...and was similarly despised by the person before you.  Throughout most of our house I've found evidence of at least three previous transformations.

Image result for 1960's dining room colors
People in the 60's made interesting choices.
Point is our house has something of a life story.  It was built, and then it became, and then it became again.  Now it is becoming once more.  What has guided its transformation?  You wouldn't be wrong if you said its owners.  Clearly we have made the choices here, and just as surely as I question the judgment of some of the previous owners, some future owner will no doubt scratch her head and wonder just what on earth possessed us to paint a ceiling blue.

But it's not just the owners or current taste and fashion (not that I would be able to speak to taste and fashion anyway).  It is requirement.  The house has become what people needed it to be.  I'll give you an example.  When we moved in, the stairs up and down had a rail on both sides.  This was because the previous owner was elderly, and years before had been caring for her even more elderly mother.  They needed the extra rails to get up and down the stairs.  But those same rails in the hands of sprightly children (and, to be honest, their father) became a launching pad of sorts, used to send us flying from the top of the stairs to the waiting floor below.  It's just as exhilarating as it sounds.

Image result for annoyed mother
And also just as annoying to mama...
The house we are living in has become what it needed to be for each person who has lived in it.  It has adapted.  I'd imagine if houses could feel pain and emotions, it would have hurt from time to time.  We cut a new window into it.  And a door.  We changed it.  Sometimes just on the surface, and sometimes deep inside.  We were not the first.  Our kitchen was refaced in the 90's.  We won't be the last.  Our house will one day need to be something else for someone else, changed by those in its orbit.

We aren't so different.  We in a constant state of change, becoming, growing, adapting.  We are transformed by those in our orbit.  That's why mama always said you needed to choose your friends carefully.  It's not just that the people around you can get you into trouble.  It's that if you're around trouble long enough, you start to cause it on your own.

This is a good news/bad news situation, this constant transformation.  The bad news is that you don't get to "arrive."  There's never a moment where you can say, "Great!  I've done it!"  If you do somehow manage to attain perfection, maybe pride of achieving it is the first step away from it.  I don't know...perfection is above my pay grade.  I just know that being the best me is a constant struggle.  But that's also the good news!  If the struggle continues, then there is also forgiveness and grace.  If you mess up, you aren't stuck forever.  You can transform once more and become.

If you could peel back the layers like that God-forsaken wallpaper, you could see who we have been--better, and worse.  But you could also then clearly see and appreciate the gift unfailing Grace and the triumph of the Spirit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ministry Is Messy

June is something of a whirlwind for me.  For years now, June has included Music-n-More camp, Youth Music Mission, and Vacation Bible School in succession.  This year they occurred in precisely that order, leaving me this week to get everything straightened out before I step out for a few weeks.

As I was cleaning up yesterday, I realized just how much of a mess I've made around here.  I took some laundry home from my office, which included the swimsuit I was wearing when I received the ice water last Sunday, but it also included a couple of large napkins I used in a love feast...back on Super Bowl weekend.

It turns out that was fairly typical of the mess.  On the surface it was created in the last three weeks, but when you clean that up you then find more mess that was generated longer ago.  I'm fairly certain if I keep cleaning up I'll find something I used for some program back in 2008.  I probably won't remember what it was used for or why I kept it except that it seemed very important at the time.


I can't stand clutter.  It makes me anxious.  Put me in front of 200 screaming kids, and I'll make them scream even louder.  Stick me on a bus with 45 youth and I'll enjoy the ride.  But fill the floor of my office with lost in found clothing from said 45 youth, a speaker that needs to be installed for CAYA, a TV monitor that we retired from the sanctuary, roller skates, and a nerf gun (all of which are actually currently on my office floor), and I start to get the heebie jeebies.

That's why I really like this week...this opportunity to sort through it all and put it where it goes.  I really want to get it all put away properly so that when I return from the diaspora I start with a clean slate, ready to begin a new year after my sabbath rest.


When I'm cooking I'm a clean-as-you-go kind of cook.  I usually rinse items after use and put them in the washer so there's less to clean up after the meal.  I've sometimes wondered why I can't make that happen in the office.  If I would have kept things picked up as I went along, this week would be a lot easier!

It's because ministry is just...messy.  Can't clean up because as soon as you finish one thing you're on to the next, and it seems like all those moments when you'd normally pick up and put away get filled up by someone walking in to the office (and as it turns out, I'm actually here for them, not to make sure this monitor is put away).  So the monitor sits and sits.  Until one week, near the end of June, I find a few days to sort it all out.

Ministry is messy.  At least it is for me.  Because ministry is working with the lives of people, and the lives of people are messy.  But I think that's exactly what Jesus had in mind, so I'll take it.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go put away some ping pong paddles.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Wrapping Up the Youth Music Mission: Thoughts on Friday

I have mentioned in a previous post that Zak and Owen have always been downstairs in the morning.  Xander has also been a part of that crew.  In fact, he tells me he's usually been down there before them.  Because Tait very graciously untaped the doors each morning, I was never down there first!  I like how Owen photobombed this one...this was not staged.

We went to our final concert of the tour.  We were there in plenty of time, continuing our streak!

And of course the visiting...

Including a visit with Amanda, Vince, Lily, and Vince's parents!  They came to New Orleans just to see us (well, and to spend a weekend, but I choose to believe they came to see us).  You'll note their excellent taste in shirt.  They have been chaperones on tour for a number of years, but had to sit this one out because of that little bundle of joy.  Next year I'll make her a tour onesie and she can come along!

After visiting, the place gave us punch and cookies, which were super yummy.  Then we took a group picture.  I like the layout, but I didn't get one I really liked.  I'm hoping Kelsey got a good one.  By the way, she's responsible for about half the pictures on this blog.

Unfortunately, the punch and cookies, visiting with Vince, Amanda, and Lily, changing, and photo session all combined to make us leave this venue later than we planned.  As a result, we were, for the first time on the tour, running behind.  We opted out of our planned stop in Montgomery and final devotional stop...and still wound up arriving about an hour later than planned...11pm.

We came back with everyone we left with, and with that my 11th tour was in the books.  Between the concerts on tour and the prior local concerts, we sang 10 concerts for several different kinds of audiences including children, seniors, and people with disabilities.  We drove more than 1500 miles.  61 people.  1 choir.  And a whole lot of love.