Category: reflections

The biggest thing in the world

Originally posted September 10, 2011.

~

10 years ago…

I was working and traveling a lot. I owned a home. I was 24. I was about 30 pounds lighter than I am now. I had red hair.

I had just returned home from a week in Pittsburgh. I had 2 cats and a roommate. I was in love with someone I should not have been.

I was on the way to work, listening to a CD for a change. When we turned the radio on, still miles from work, the second plane had just hit to WTC. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I thought, for a moment, they meant the Sears Tower.

I worked in a cable company, so there were TVs everywhere. We watched the towers fall. I was on a conference call with others who had been working on the software conversion in Pittsburgh. We were all holding our breath to make sure everyone got on, because who knew who was flying where that morning. Some of our colleagues were stuck in different parts of the country.

I knew no one who was personally affected (meaning, killed or related to someone who was) by the 4 planes that were hijacked, the 4 planefuls and 3 locations full of people who were murdered. And with everyone else, I felt guilty, disconnected, and totally connected all at once.

~

That week, I was planning a surprise birthday part for my mom’s 50th birthday. No one felt like celebrating, but it felt good to be together. That week I had lunch with my dad and brother, to plan. It was the first time the 3 of us had ever really done that. While we were out, my dad ran into an old friend. We all talked, in just a few moments, about life, growing, being American, being friends.

People in the stores that week made eye contact. We reached out, even just with our minds, to feel hope.

On the 17th of September, my closest cousin gave birth to her daughter. Her tiny little 5 pound body personified life and hope.

~

Today, I am married to that same man I loved 10 years ago, the one who was with me in the car that morning. His 2 children became mine, and we have 2 more together. Being a mom makes my heart full enough to burst on any given day. Sometimes I feel like the grace given to us is the biggest thing in the world. Sometimes I feel like there can’t possibly be enough grace for all the evil in this world. But I know in my heart, that even in the midst of ugliness and despair and death, God is there. He makes all things new. He redeems all things. And He causes everything – I can’t even grasp it when I think of those towers falling, but everything, to work together for Good.

We lose, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in unfathomably large ways, because we are here, in an imperfect world.

But in the end, God wins. Grace wins. Love wins.

Let there be comfort for those who lost so big that day.

Let there be warmth and kindness returned to all the heroes who stepped up, who still do.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let us bless the Name that gives it to us.

Grace Unplugged: Go ahead. Chase your dreams.

I am cynical about entertainment that is marketed to the mainstream and labeled Christian or faith-based, and there’s a reason for that.

… a lot of it is bad.

Sure, there is the Veggie Tales franchise… fun, educational, and sometimes downright brilliant. And there was The Passion of the Christ, but as excellently done as that was, it was like being beaten over the head (painful and life-changing), so it’s not exactly on my frequently played list. Occasionally we get a gem like The Blind Side or Walk the Line or even Angels and Demons or Constantine (I will be happy to make these arguments some other day), that isn’t overtly Christian in its message, but the message shines through anyway. (I had a hard time coming up with those examples. Surely there are more…!)

But for every one of those, we have a Left Behind…or a Joyful Noise… movies that are so cheesy (the former) or so blatantly cliche or even disrespectful to living a Christian life (the latter) that I’d rather disassociate myself with them than talk about them at all.

I also want to note here that I am talking about mainstream entertainment. I don’t consider movies like Courageous to be mainstream. There might be some crossover, but these movies are mainly going to appeal to churchgoers. 

grace-image7Bring on the email invitation to a screening of Grace Unplugged that was sent to our church staff this week. A free movie? Check. A movie featuring a Taylor Swift-esque teenage girl, original music, and a former rock star Dad? Check. (This upped my intrigue considerably). Along with two other families in our church, we went.

You know how you know in the first few minutes of a movie if you are going to like it, hate it, or tolerate it? That happened. And I knew… I was going to like this movie. What was surprising to me? I identified with, was touched by, and absolutely loved this movie. I have been Grace, I have been Grace’s parents, and I, too, have been touched by the grace that is the thread through them all.

Grace Unplugged is the story of an eighteen year old girl, an only child of a worship pastor who was once a one-hit rock icon. The Dad, Johnny Trey, has distanced himself completely from that past and enjoys a quiet existence with his wife and daughter. Grace and Dad lead worship together at church, but it’s clear from the first scene of the movie (which is cleverly communicated through facial expressions) that they don’t jive musically anymore. He wants to keep things pretty straight-laced, and she wants to set them free.

Enter plenty of teenage angst, nothing new, nothing far removed from Ariel and her dear ol’ preaching daddy in Footloose. Except around this time, Mossy also enters. He is Johnny’s former manager, and through a series of “only in Hollywood” events that are somewhat believable because of our reality show/You Tube age of entertainment, Grace ends up in Los Angeles with a record deal, an AR rep, a sizeable advance, a music video, and plenty of… new angst.

I won’t tell you how it all ends (I will say it is not totally predictable), but because I think this movie is so worth your time, I’m going to tell you why this stands out as a quality movie~

GU__039111. Christians are people, too
How many TV episodes have you watched in which the protestant character was a freak of some kind? Hollywood makes fun of everything from prayer to intentional virginity as though those behaviors are alien or sinister or unheard of. Characters are often portrayed as one-dimensional, as though being a Christian means we exist in a tunnel of our beliefs and nothing else matters to us. Guess what? We dress like normal people. We argue like normal people. We have friendships, dreams, contentions, jobs, and desires like normal people. Grace Unplugged got this right all the way through, and that, simply put, impressed the crap out of me. (Yep. Even my pastors say “crap”).

Of note: the pastor and his wife (played by Chris Ellis and Mary Shaw) were friends of Johnny and Michelle, Grace’s parents. Though they were dressed a bit formally, they were also portrayed as human… warm, gracious, knowing, everyday people, who offered friendship and wisdom to a hurting family without thumping a Bible or quoting a bumper sticker. They were only in the movie for a few scenes, but I loved them.

Another favorite little subplot was Michelle’s struggle out of the spotlight. Her husband was obsessed with their daughter’s career and her rebellion, and though Michelle was quiet and prayerful in her reaction, she was also determined. She wanted her husband’s attention and his love. You go, girl. Get yours. Christian women have needs, too!

2. Christians do not live a life of constant extremes
One of my favorite scenes in the movie was a small one, but it involved Grace LYING to her parents and SKIPPING YOUTH GROUP to go to… the movies, alone. Why did I appreciate this so much? Because pastor’s kids or Christian kids are often portrayed in media and in society as all good or all bad, and that is such an unfair picture. So many other movies would have shown her skipping and going to a bar or meeting up with some skeezy guy, and while that happens sometimes, most of the time, the decisions kids make that go against their parents are more innocent than that. They are striving for independence and identity, not necessarily hellfire and brimstone.

GU__026713. Established actors are capable of playing Christians
It was good to see familiar faces in this movie, James Denton (Johnny) and Kevin Pollack (Mossy) being the most familiar. And while I had personally not heard of AJ Michalka before, she has been around, and her portrayal of Grace was lovely and solid, as were her musical performances. I didn’t once feel like I was being pandered to, or that I was watching someone’s daughter get a chance at her big career. And I’m sorry, but it was nice to have a break from Kirk Cameron. Seriously.

I should also mention here that newish Christian contemporary star Jamie Grace has a small role in the movie as Grace’s BFF. I appreciate the use of Jamie in a small role (it was her first acting role, and she was passable, but not earth-shattering). This allows for some name recognition in the church-going community without putting someone in a starring role who would not have been successful. Kudos to the movie makers here.

4. A good movie stirs conversation
We brought our 5.5 and almost-7 year old daughters to this movie. Our youngest was enthralled by the music, and as she is a fellow blond with a guitar and an attitude, her dad and I could totally see her going the way Grace does. Our 7-year-old leaned up to me at one point and asked, “Who is wrong? The daddy or the girl?” I told her, “They both kind of are… we will talk about it later.” I love that my child was noting the family dynamics at play, and I will have the opportunity to reinforce that parents love our kids a lot, but we don’t always get it right. I appreciate the kind of entertainment that opens up the door for heart checks and heartfelt discussions. In this case, family relationships are forefront. That time of transition from adolescence to adulthood is hard – on kids and their parents. When Johnny looks up and tells God, “She’s yours now,” I was rocked… because I have had to have that conversation with God about ALL my kids, even the little ones.

5. A life of faith permeates our actions, all the time
Perhaps this seems contradictory to points one and two, but it is not. I personally enjoy a relationship with Christ and a relationship with pop culture, but one will always trump the other. When you are a believer in Christ, His teachings and His character affect everything about you… to different degrees because we are in different places on our journeys. I love how this was shown in the nuanced reactions of Grace to things like alcohol, provocative dress, and manipulative relationships. She wasn’t all in or out… she struggled with these complex issues, with trying to balance what her heart knew to be the right thing and what her own intense dreams had convinced her she needed. So she drank a little, and she kinda of liked it, but she didn’t become an alcoholic, she didn’t drink and drive, and she didn’t sign up for AA and Christian counseling after a few weeks of social drinking . Sometimes, we need to calm down and trust that people, even our kids, will figure things out because the Holy Spirit – the voice of the Father – their relationship with Christ (pick your favorite/they’re all the same) IS leading and guiding. Some people listen too late, but most people are not going to listen to finger-pointing and craziness.
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Another fine example of this was the character of Quentin, played by Michael Welch. I admit: I loved him. I loved him in a “I wish I had known him when I was 18/I hope my daughters know him when they are 18” kind of way. He was sincere, helpful, and kind. When he said, “My mom made these cookies for you” and “I’m praying for your song,” it wasn’t hokey… it was sweet. It wasn’t, Grace, you’re supposed to be a Christian. Quit acting like a pagan and get to the altar. It was, I see you’re out of your comfort zone and exploring, and getting close to a dangerous place, and I’m here to point you toward safety, ok?

6. Chasing our dreams/art is not a sin
Rod and I related to this movie on the level of entertainment versus {music} ministry. We have been involved in both. We have followed our own dreams, and we have followed God, and we have tried hard to find the merging of the two, and sometimes we have failed, and by His grace, we have come to a good place. But here’s the deal, folks: God made us. He gives us the talents and drive that we have. I know we can get lost in those things and glorify ourselves, but there is nothing abjectly wrong with a singer singing, a writer writing, an actor acting. We don’t tell football players they should only play on church leagues, and we don’t tell doctors they should only have Christian patients. So why in the world do we give our young people such a hard time about how they use their talents? The main pop song of the movie is called, “Misunderstood.” It made me want to shout just as much as the main Christian song, “All I’ve Ever Needed.” I love music. Music speaks to me. Music made by the Beatles, Tori Amos, Bon Jovi, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Grant, The Isaacs, Johnny Cash, Oak Ridge Boys, Chris Tomlin… it all speaks to me.

I admit, the ending of the movie and how all of this was reconciled in Grace’s life and career was a bit safe, but I do appreciate the idea that you don’t have to stop being yourself where you start serving God. The two co-exist. And that is a message worth repeating:

“Sometimes, chasing your dreams leads you right to where you belong.”

That is a mainstream message of faith!

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some positive, encouraging K-love

Paige asked me for a post. I have so much to say about so many things, because life is being lived fully right now, but I haven’t had time to write. The short update is that Rod is doing better. He is adjusting well to gluten-free eating, putting on a little much-needed weight, and hopefully building up nutrition before his next assessments in early May. I am doing fine with gluten-free eating as well, except the weight is not coming off like I hoped. So, Jesus help me, I am cutting out sugar as much as I can. I even drank a cup of coffee without it today. We used some free minutes tonight to go for a walk, and a friend of mine has inspired me to let my kitchen cleaning wait until the afternoon (what?!) so I can walk in the mornings. I need to.

We are working through a situation with our house in Chicago that hopefully means it will be not-ours soon, preparing for kindergarten registration (KK…it’s a whole other blog), Easter, and our 10th anniversary. We spent the last weekend tied up with Rod as Willie for 2 benefit concerts, and the last 3 weeks working on a new ministry through church (I can’t wait to write more about that)!

And the pollen…holy cow! It needs to be gone. Anyway, that is the surface version of goings on. The rest I cannot summarize now, but I give this feeble attempt at my emotional reaction to so many things around us…

candleBlessed are the friends~

who love up close and those who love from afar.
who love in bold declarations and those who love in quiet prayers.
who love in daily text messages and those who love in annual visits.
who love in tough honesty and those who love in flowery greeting cards.

Blessed are the friends~
who show up at the hospital and those who wish they could.
who bring gluten free snacks or cheese for your chili or their empty stomach to your refrigerator.
who love your children and your parents.
who joke about your failures and celebrate your victories.
who don’t want you to change your 708 phone number even though they have no idea what it is.
who share recipes, request recipes, and alter recipes.
who remember your important details and signature stories.

Blessed are the friends~IMG_1321
you’ve known since grade school
you haven’t seen since high school
you have never met in person
you are just now finally getting to know.

Blessed are the friends~
who give what you need
and who receive what you give.

Blessed are the friends
who love backstage, when you need the encouragement,
who love in the spotlight, because we learn from them,
who love all the time… who are needed, and treasured, more than words can say.
~
The more experiences I have, the more clearly I see the incredible variety of friends and relationships that bless my life. There are people across the states, in both my Illinois and South Carolina homes, in my various stomping grounds, even simply on this blog space. I’m behind in keeping in touch and even answering messages, but know that you are appreciated, and that your words and your continued presence in our lives, matter.

 

fact vs. truth (a summary)

God and I had some moments this weekend.

rainyI helped organized and attended a women’s conference at church, with author & speaker Rhonda Holland, a woman I’d only met briefly, online, but I knew, just KNEW, she was going to have something to say – for me.

I am still digesting what I heard and what I learned, and little things during Friday aligned to let me know that those messages were for me.

Not unlike God, the perspective I was grasping, most excitedly, on Friday night was one I was challenged to apply first thing on Saturday morning.

Because I am still working through, praying through that part, I will share this part:

The truth always trumps the facts.

Hmm. WHAT?

That’s right. Ms. Rhonda said, “The TRUTH always trumps the FACTS.”

And in this, she about summed up the battlefield that is my mind. I will argue to breathlessness with others, myself, and God, that something is true because it is logical, evident, and tested.

But does that make it the ultimate truth?

And lest this become too paradoxal, let me share some of the list I have been making since jotting down that quote:

{this is the easiest one}
Fact is, I was infertile.
Truth is, He gave me 4 children – 2 from my womb, and 2 from my heart.

{this is a constant one}
Fact is, I was left out.

Truth is, I am loved.

{this is, in some ways, the hardest one}
Fact is, I’ve watched several of my dreams shatter and ventures fail.
Truth is, God’s promises are yes and amen…He who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it…No good thing will He withhold from those who do right. “The Bible tells me so.”

Fact is, this is the most it has rained since we moved to Myrtle Beach, and the atmosphere is depressing, and we’ve half-joked about needing to move some place sunnier and warmer… Florida. Arizona. South America…
Truth is: there was a bit of sun today, and there will be again, even when it feels like it’s going to rain forever.

 

do you think I’ll ever get there?

This week, I was waxing nostalgic about 2010.me2010

2010 was a banner year. We met people and had experiences that changed us, forever. We traveled more miles than any other year. If I were speaking superficially, I would say that we were at the top of our game.

Oh sure, there were setbacks. There was a particular situation that left me angry and a little violence-leaning a lot of the time (no violence was committed, just fantasized about. Hey, I’m human, and the weapon was just a folding chair…)

And now, when I get defeated or disappointed or mournful, I think about 2010 and wonder if that was when I “peaked.”

You know, at the ripe age of 33. (I did proclaim it my year of perfect, as at age 33, Jesus completed His ministry on Earth).

Rod tells me this is foolish, stupid thinking. He is probably right.

But sometimes I feel like, even though I believe I was “born to fly” (thank you, Sara Evans), my wings have been clipped… or at the very least, I am living in a box that is nailed to the ground.

Is is delusions of grandeur I have? Or am I really called to, meant for, something other than “this”? …understanding that “this,” my life, my family, my job, my home, it is All Good.

Am I just never satisfied? Or is there more? And if there is more, “How do you wait for Heaven? And who has that much time? And how do you keep your feet on the ground when you know you were born to fly?”