Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sports Bikes, Wheelies, Jesus and Pianos

"I was popping a wheelie on my sports bike and noticed another rider beside me doing the same thing—on his bike. Suddenly, I found myself transported from the mountain trail to the water and there I was, popping a wheelie while riding on top of the water. This is so cool, I thought, and THEN I saw the mysterious rider popping a wheelie on HIS bike—on top of the water right beside me. I was like, MAN oh MAN, who is that other rider? Look at us...we're riding on top of the water! I looked over and it was Jesus. (Everyone laughed). No kidding! Jesus was riding a sports bike beside me, racing across the surface of the water."

"Dad always has dreams like that," she said to the rest of the group hiking on the trail. "Was I in the dream at all?", said a woman I presumed to be his wife. I chuckled to myself. They didn't know I could hear them.

I'm the worship leader and guest musician for the week here at Spruce Lake Retreat in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, and I was hiking the Spruce Mountain early this morning. When I arrived at the top, a group of people had already beat me there. I guess I'm not the only insane person who rises early and hikes through mountains. It's a hike I always take when I'm here. The scenic overlook at the top is spectacular and the hike is just as exhilarating. This morning I saw an orange salamander and a Baltimore Oriole, but no bear. Probably a good thing, though I'll confess, I really want to see bear cubs. (I published this blog on Wednesday morning and headed up to the top of the mountain for the second day in a row and wouldn't you know, I was looking out over the valley and right below me I heard crackling and popping...and out came a little black bear cub.  I quietly sat down on the rock and watched eagerly. Then, a cinnamon colored bear appeared and started climbing a fallen tree. I sat in amazement...and awe.  I also determined in that moment that I would go back to camp the same way I went up.  If I would have gone down the way I was supposed to, I would have encountered the bears. No need to create issues for myself.)

I contemplated the story I had just heard about Jesus popping wheelies. I love that image. In the past, I've been guilty of  thinking that Jesus would only be found in a lofty cathedral, or a monastery, praying and fasting regularly. I've heard many messages that have tried to convince me that Jesus liked to have fun, play with kids and wasn't all serious and mild. Though I guess they help to chisel away at the myths I've had about Jesus, there's nothing like a dream to dispel the notions of who we think God is and what He's like.

I remember one time I was instructed by a speaker to close my eyes and picture myself in a safe place—a peaceful place. Normally, I dread when people make me do that. I can't seem to still my thoughts long enough to picture any thing, let alone a safe place. But in that moment, my brain went immediately to the piano bench. The piano is a safe place for me. It's peaceful. Playing the ivories feels as natural as breathing and I'm at home when I'm I'm now picturing myself at the piano. Whew...what a relief.

But then the speaker instructed us to picture Jesus in that place. Now that's extra hard for me to do. I don't know just is. I've tried these exercises before and it becomes such a complicated process I freak out and can't do it. If you can't relate to this, I'm sorry. I'm sure there are a few who can. I'm just writing my thoughts here, so you don't have to keep reading if you don't want to. ;-)

Suddenly, I "sensed" Jesus in such a powerful and unusual way, unlike any other time I can recall in my life. He was sitting on the piano bench beside me and as I began to play, He inhabited me and it was as if we were one. I've never had an experience like that before or since. I often think about it when I'm playing the piano.

We, (I was now part of the group), continued down the mountain as my thoughts turned from Jesus popping wheelies in this man's dreams to Jesus residing in me when I play the piano. (I don't even know if residing is the right word). These things are hard to explain in human words. I know that He lives in us, but to experience Him moving from the bench into my being was very unusual.

All I can say is, I believe Jesus was in his dream popping wheelies and I believe Jesus plays the piano through me when I play. It's experiences like these that help break down our ridiculous myths about who Jesus is and what He's like. I welcome them and I was refreshed not only by the crisp morning air, the stream rushing down the mountain slopes, but this man's dream that I happened to hear being shared with his family this morning.

This is the view from the top of the mountain. I copied it from the website of Spruce Lake Retreat.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Compliments are like cash. Everyone could use more.

I was trying to find a way to tell my husband what I needed last fall. (It can get especially stressful during the fall months heading into my Portraits of White show.) I know word pictures can sometimes communicate more clearly what I am feeling so I began pondering how I could describe the deficit I was experiencing. That's when this phrase popped into my head.

Compliments are like cash. Everyone could use more.

A few months ago a young woman (a complete stranger) at the local deli gave me a compliment. It was genuine and I walked away feeling "rich". I put the "cash" in my emotional bank and felt like I could buy the world. I was reminded of how easy it is to make someone feel special, just by taking a moment to notice them and compliment them.

I'm not writing this to ask for compliments. I'm writing it to sort through my feelings as my life becomes more public AND because I think the world would be a better place if we would compliment each other more.

The deli lady started it. I want to continue sharing the gift she gave me. I've started trying to compliment people more often. I've even started writing a few letters...yes, handwritten letters. It feels luxurious.

Why was I feeling the need to find a word picture in the first place? After all, Tom and I are celebrating thirty years of marriage this year and you'd think we'd have this all figured out by now. But pursuing a dream (like Portraits of White) has a way of altering the dreamer and it often affects the people closest to you. Like it or not, everyone living with a dreamer has to learn to navigate unique challenges. I haven't found many who have written about things like this—at least, not yet. So I decided to pull back the curtains and give you a peek.

My husband has always been so supportive of what I do, so the new territory we travel sometimes feels surprising to both of us, which has led to some of the challenges I alluded to earlier.

He often says, "I'm proud of you."

I used to soak that statement in. I didn't need any explanation. It filled up my emotional bank. But in this new stage of life, I want to know specifics. What exactly is he proud of? This can lead to some tension as I try to explain this concept and why I need examples. I don't even know what I need, exactly. So we're working at this together.

I've identified several factors contributing to the rising communication challenges, at least in our home. I'm calling them catalysts for upheaval. If you're a dreamer or you live with one, maybe this will help shed some light on your own path.

Catalysts for Upheaval:

1) Public life increases the need for privacy.

I have carved out a career/ministry by sharing my life with the world through songwriting, concerts, blogging and social media. But doing an annual Christmas show has created some serious upheaval in my soul. As I shared on a podcast episode, the more public my life becomes, the more I crave privacy and solitude.

I love to encourage people by being real, but then I feel the need to retreat. I become fragile inside the walls of my home and in my soul. This unfolding revelation has been a rude awakening. I wasn't expecting this to happen! No one warned me about this.

2) "Feedback is the breakfast of champions."—Ken Blanchard.

Another factor in my changing inner landscape comes from the implications of Blanchard's quote—a quote that I have embraced wholeheartedly.

I love a good "breakfast" and I want to be a champion in everything I do. Therefore, I eat a lot of "breakfast". But I also need a place to be loved and complimented just for who I am, whether I improve or not. I want that place to be in my home and with my family. I guess we all need a safe place.

3) Reality of aging.

Has anyone else noticed that as you age, you receive less compliments? (Goodness, this is being really honest). I mentioned this one day to some friends and they commented (sort of jokingly), "Well what are people supposed to say to an older person? Nice wrinkles?! Nice bags under your eyes? You look good bald!?"

Another person said, "I don't think people realize that YOU still need compliments. You seem so secure and successful."

Oh my...if you only knew. I guess I'm just "out there" enough to try anything! But that doesn't mean I'm above fragility.

So now what?

That's when I came up with this analogy: "Compliments are like cash and everyone can always use more cash." It stuck—at least, in my mind. It gave me a creative way to explain what I need to my husband. And the truth is, we could all use a compliment now and then. I'm trying to be more generous these days.

Maybe this will inspire you to give away some "cash". After all, what could be a greater investment than depositing "cash" in the soul of another human being?

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The In-Between.

"To go TO something, you must go THROUGH something."—Bob Hazlett

It was January 7, 2018 when I heard this phrase from the guest speaker, Bob Hazlett. I could tell that I was going to need my kleenexes when he started to speak. I grabbed my pen and little travel notebook where I write song ideas, shopping lists, to-do lists and inspiring messages from speakers. I couldn't write fast enough, in between blowing my nose. His words stirred my creativity and began to replenish my happy but greatly depleted soul.

January tends to be a month of trying to find ways to fill up my empty soul. It's an In-Between month for meIt used to feel like a "new year" season, but not anymore. No resolutions or goals for the new year. Just recovery and tying up loose ends from my December concert, Portraits of White.

Since I started the concert experience over six years ago, I feel as if I've gone from having a daily routine to "seasonal" routines. The change has been both subtle and surprising and I'm still trying to adapt. The show is over but there are accounting books to finish up, surveys to read and consider, thank you notes to be written to so many people who help make the show a success and next thing you know, it's time to start planning the show again and I wonder how I'm ever going to do it again. Eventually, new ideas present themselves. Until then, it's a lot of waiting.

It was in this state of mind that I sat in my seat absorbing every word from the speaker. The thoughts I share here are not Bob's words exactly, but the essence of what he shared and how my soul received them. He spoke them over a year ago but I could tell even then that they were for me—somewhere down the road. As is often the case with "words" I hear, they might not be for the current moment but are futuristic. In this case, one year later, they are exactly what I needed for this month, this year.

There are three potential things we experience in the In-Between stages and it seems we often have to go THROUGH these to get TO the next thing.

1) Uncertainty
  • Certainty of the last season is taken away. Now you have a choice; experience fear or hope. 
2) The Unknown
  • The greatest creativity comes from the place where you have questions you would have never thought to ask.
  • If you want to see a new thing, you have to stop looking at the old—old relationships, old pain. (I would add that there IS a time to look at the old, but only enough to understand, heal and move forward.)
3) The Unfamiliar
  • It's more of a feeling than an experience. For example, Peter—the guy who walked on water in the Bible—was used to boats, water and storms, but he had never walked on water before.
A few other random phrases he shared:
  • If you want to see new things, sing a new song. (I've been asking what the "new song" is for this year's show. It might not be literal, but I'm staying open to all possibilities and every now and then an idea twinkles in the darkness.)
  • Voo Ja De - when you see a familiar thing in a new way.
  • You may feel boredom—it's God wanting to move you forward.
  • Think of the In-Between as discovering "old things done in a new way".
  • A helpful prayer during this season would be: "Show me what I need to know about You in this new season."
My record producer, Eric Copeland, wrote a great song years ago that I pull out every now and then to remind me that In-Between isn't always a bad place to be.

So if you're going THROUGH something that's uncertain, unknown or unfamiliar, take comfort that it can potentially lead you TO something new. It's the In-Between stage that can be disconcerting, but it's worth pressing through it.

Click HERE to listen to "In Between Dreams"