Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Nudge

You know the feeling. You're going about your business, walking from your car to a store for an errand, waiting in line at the carpool for your child, just sitting on the front porch and thinking and people watching. And suddenly, you're aware that you aren't alone in the world. That there are other people going about their business and that maybe, just maybe, you're supposed to be involved for a second. Or a minute or two. The nudge, I call it.

Yesterday, as I was driving home from an appointment, I stopped to grab a few things from Whole Foods. I try to stock up when I go there because the aisles are so stinkin' narrow that it drives me crazy to shop there and I try to make the visits as rarely as possible. I was not in a huge rush to get home and pulled into a parking spot. I saw a man across the parking lot fumbling under his open car hood. Being the obvious genius that I am, I deduced he was likely not choosing to do car work in the middle of the Whole Foods parking lot and that he probably had some car trouble.  Internal conversation follows:

Me: Oh,  that guy's car must be broken. That's no fun.
Other me: Go to Whole Foods, it's not your problem.
Me:  He looks hot and frustrated.
Other me: You know nothing about cars, go into the store. He hasn't even seen you.
Me: I wonder if it's easily fixable?
Other me: Surely someone else who knows something about cars will help him. And besides, you're exhausted. GO TO THE STORE.
Me: I guess I'll just go the the store and see if he's still here when I get out. 
Other me: Ha!
Me: Wait, I'm no car genius but it's worth an ask.  If I can't help, I can't help.

So, I walk determinedly toward this guy who seems about my age and who is clearly enjoying being under his car hood on a 92 degree day in Durham. I ask him if his car is having trouble (duh?!) and he says he thinks he needs a jump. Do you need jumper cables, I ask? Nope, I've got them.  I've just been waiting for someone to offer a car. Right. I've got one of those.

Three minutes later, he was closing the hood of his now running car and I was making my way towards the produce section. Three minutes, four if you count my internal argument prior to helping. That's all it took. Now, I'm sure someone would've come along and helped him. But why not me? And why did it take me a minute of internal arguing to even think it could be me? Why is it so hard to see the people around me sometimes? Why am I so fixated on my day that I can justify letting it only be about me, my schedule, my plans, my own family and friends?  Why can I walk across campus and only think about my destination and ignore the potential stopping points along the way?  Why can I argue with myself about whether it's worth it to offer help?

The nudge. God's attempt to pull me outside of my own little narrow understanding of daily life and put me in the path of someone new.  That guy might have felt thankful for my help, I don't know. But, I'm feeling more thankful today for that tiny little wake-up call. I may be in Rockbridge camp recovery and understandably a little self-focused as I rest up, but that's never an excuse to only see myself.  I know that I get more nudges than I ever even notice and am adept at ignoring them.  My hope is that I'll hear more and more of them and that the self-arguments will become shorter and shorter until the reflex action is obedience, even when I'm tired and worn out and feel like I have all the excuses in the world to keep walking.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why I Love the Worship Leaders Track

I can still remember my early years of worship leadership. I was totally clueless, nervous, had absolutely no idea how to put together a thoughtful set and just about zero confidence in leading a team.  I played intermittently for my home church, which, unlike most churches I've been a part of, had a serious dearth of any musical gifting aside from vocals.  This church was rhythmically-challenged and overwhelmingly thankful for almost any caliber of musical leadership. I had a few opportunities in college to sing and play guitar but remained relatively unskilled. I tended to grab leadership opportunities in any area other than worship leadership. 

Then, one morning I found myself at a church in the inner-city of Richmond. I was clearly a racial minority, I didn't know most of the music and I didn't know anybody there. And as I was singing (read, listening and enjoying) the new music I heard this voice calling out to the audience, "You look like somebody who wants to worship!"  She called this out a number of times until the man next to me finally poked me in the arm and informed me that I was the target of these exhortations.  I looked incredulously at her, shrunk into myself and smiled and then she beckoned me onstage. I shook my head no. She beckoned again. And for reasons that to this day I can still not decipher, I went. I was handed a microphone, invited to sing and, at the end of the service, promptly told that practice would be this coming Thursday at 7:30. Be there.

This was the start of my education. Abrupt, right? Again, against my own understanding, I showed up at this practice and became a member of that church. I spent two years learning at the feet of men and women from very different church, ethnic and worship leading backgrounds. I learned that when someone in the back yells "Saaaang, girl" that he is encouraging you to keep going, not telling you to stop and learn how to sing better. (I learned that one the awkward way, I'm not ashamed to admit.)  Two years that taught me to love gospel music, to ignore any sort of unbending order to each song, to sing from my gut and not my throat, to be sensitive to the fact that some days God might want us to sing one specific song for 20 minutes until we all "get it", to experience the joys of a spontaneous congregational electric slide in the middle of worship and to grow in my understanding of the themes of freedom, deliverance and dependence.  Two years that opened my eyes to a whole other view of God and how he can be worshiped that didn't replace what I knew but broadened and beautified it.

I came on staff after these two years of learning and leading.  I stepped into an evolving worship culture that was longing to grow in the same areas that I was longing for.  A place where lots of mistakes were being made but even in those mistakes, small steps were being taken to move forward.  One of those steps was the development of the Worship Leaders Track, a place where we could train student worship leaders from all over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina each year.  So now, seven years into co-leading the Worship Leaders Track at our annual chapter camp and more than 10 years since that fateful morning I stepped into that church, I am humbled to look back on those early and, often embarrassing, beginnings.  To see how narrow my view of worship and God were and to rejoice in the things He has taught me, graciously, along with the help of new friends and churches and colleagues in my life over those years. 

I leave for camp in just 3 days. I have spent many days of the past year reflecting on camp from last year, tweaking, praying, dreaming with my co-leader, remembering what leading at camp felt like before this track even existed, feeling thankful that our regional director let us take the risk to train students in multiethnic worship.  As I make my final changes to talks and practice the songs that we'll be leading more than 800 students in this year, I think about how much potential this experience has for the students and staff who are coming.  That God might reveal himself in new and potentially broadening and deepening ways.  That my own education would continue, that I would see new facets of this good and beautiful God that I serve and worship.  That I would be humbled again by the incredible gifts that He has given these students in the arts and music and excited as I watch the Spirit grow them in confidence and humility, in skill and dependence.

That's why I love the worship track. In one short week, I see people change. I see their hearts grow in desire for authentic, faith-filled and spirit-driven worship.  I am reminded again that working with college students is a tremendous, life-giving privilege.  And I am humbled anew at the power of God and the beauty of His image reflected in people of every ethnicity and culture. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Mixed Emotions of Good News

This morning I received a wonderfully sensitive email from a dear friend wanting to lovingly, but carefully, inform me of the wonderful news of her pregnancy. I've known a lot of women over the years who, like myself, have struggled for long months and years with infertility. Some have eventually gotten pregnant and some haven't. But each one understands the mixed emotions that a woman in this struggle goes through when the good news happens for someone else. Again. 

On the one hand, and on a good day, I am overwhelmed with excitement for that person, especially if I know it has been a long, prayer and tear-filled struggle.  Before we went through this I had no idea the highs and lows a woman could experience through the course of each 28-day wait. The impatience, the anticipation, the careful and sometimes rather unromantic planning, and the waiting. The never-ending, gut-wrenching, disappointment- anticipating waiting. So, when a friend gets pregnant, I am sometimes overwhelmed by positive emotion for her. The waiting is over! And if she didn't have to wait long, I am thankful for her lack of struggle. Mostly.

On the other hand, and more acutely on a bad day, I am consumed with jealousy.  I am more aware of my empty arms than her full womb. I mourn again the loss of our own precious second baby, lost so early on and never known this side of heaven.  And I wonder anew if this will ever happen for us. I become so inwardly focused and then angry with myself because of it. Nasty cycle, really, because self-loathing only drives me further from community and more into my own self.

I was struck this morning as I sat in deep thankfulness for my friend's sensitivity and good news, while at the same time shedding some tears of my own, at how incredibly the gospel intersects this. The gospel should always be what it is; good news. But on some days and in some moments, I think I have trouble receiving it as such. I would rather be steeped in the mucked-up reality of who I'm struggling or striving to be then let the good news be what it is.  Just as sometimes hearing the joyful news of a new gift of life into the world causes me to see my own lack of a pregnancy, sometimes hearing the gospel does the same thing to my soul. Rather than seeing the deep generosity and fullness of grace and new life that God has given me freely in Christ, I only see the ways I can't measure up, the failures in my life, the ways I want to try to earn my good standing before the Lord.  I'm tempted to reject it for the perception of control I maintain if I am driven and defined by my own abilities and desires. Dependence is hard. Receiving good news and perfect gifts is hard. I want to deserve them. But, that's not how it works.

So, this morning, as I spend some sweet time with my little boy, I want to be able to freely and thankfully receive the gift of who he is and not let his lack of siblings determine my day. I want to fiercely cling to the awesome truth that no matter how junked up my heart might be when I hear good news, that God himself only sees the perfection of Christ and longs for me to let the Spirit transform my own messed up and mixed-emotions into pure joy. I know it is only He, in his love and grace and holiness, who can do this.