Tag: faith!

Four years and forever

A few lifetimes ago, in the fall of 2008, Rod and I were parents of four kids – two in high school, two in diapers, we would count.1924028_107157033521_2892837_n

Based on prompting from friends, our environment, and the Holy Spirit, we decided to have another baby. We named it Branson; short for Branson Gospel Music Convention.

During three and a half years of learning something new every day, many wins and losses, meeting all kinds of people (from pianist and cake-maker extraordinaire Dino to the Oak Ridge Boys, from Branson innkeepers who liked us to gospel bloggers who didn’t), working our tails off, and chasing with all our energy the dreams we felt God had given us, we were the proud parents of something that felt groundbreaking: a Spirit-led southern-ish gospel event that sought to unite and encourage artists and minister to the audience.

It felt like the world to us. And then all of a sudden, it was over.

The third convention, renamed “Revival” and moved to a perfect location, was a peak in several ways. We left that week feeling victorious and energized and grateful.

But it also come on the throes of Rod and I moving our family to Myrtle Beach, SC for what we though would be a “Branson every day” kind of experience that never actually came to be. So not long after, those feelings were replaced by fear, confusion, and defeat.

Rod hasn’t “had a concert” per se since that year. Our bus is gone. Currently, the only events we promote are dinners and holidays at our house. Life sure changed quickly.

Even with the ease of Facebook, we lost touch even with some of our closest of friends. While logic and embroidered pillows and memes tell us that “Friends come into your life for a season, a reason, or a lifetime,” without so many people’s voices in my circle, I just felt alone.

And also, forgotten.

When we put our whole selves into obeying God, because we are human, we also have expectations. Part of me expected that once we started down the path of full time ministry/concert promotion/working in the music industry, we would remain there. It gave me a severe case of whiplash and then probably depression when I realized we did not. We were not. And we don’t know if we will go “back.”

But thanks to our loving Father, there are markers. There are monuments. There are reasons to believe that those three and a half years of toil and investment were not in vain.

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If you are reading this, you are likely a reason.

– Because some people met their future spouses at Branson GMR.
– Some people made true, lifelong friends.
– Some people made business connections and therefore gained bookings, studio dates, and invitations.
– Some people were ministered to in such a way that the very direction of their lives changed – and the funny part of this is that most of those occurrences didn’t happen on stage, but behind it, in the exhibit hall, or in the parking lot.
– Some people were called into ministry, were set free from addictions, guilt, or oppression, or were healed.

This past week, as we mark 4 years since our last Branson GMR or even since we stepped foot in the town we loved, God has seen fit to remind me very tangibly about our time there and what it meant and what it means.

Every once in awhile, I feel so sad that it’s over. And I wonder if it mattered.

And just like the loving Father He is, God reminds me: it wasn’t about fortune (LOL!), fame (haha!), or anything fleeting. It was about uniting a family for a season and sending them back out…

It means the same things we dreamed about before we ever got to Branson, the same things we talked about in interviews and from the stage and in those hallways, and the same thing we still strive for now:

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Connection with other people, encouraging one another in the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ.

Thank you to the people who have remained in our lives, whether for a season, a reason, or a lifetime. Thank you to the ones who share where you are and who you are with, because there are days, without you knowing, that you bless me because I look and say, “They met in Branson.” Thank you for those who encourage the Burton family as we still chase after God in a variety of ways, by raising our babies, working in our local church, opening our home as a safe haven of fellowship, and constantly asking Him, “What is next?”

Thank You, Lord, for the opportunity of a lifetime that, in spite of all odds, existed in Branson from 2009-2011.

May the spotlight continue to shine on that message. Amen.

 

So, what are you guys doing now?

We used to do this all the time.

Get up early and drive. Be dressed just so. Have a set list. Prepare a short, mental list of goals. Buck up. Settle the children. Smile and act naturally. Respond to the canned questions and comments with canned answers.

singingWe called it ministry. We usually did it 3 weekends out of four. But this kind of ministry… a “singing” at a church on a Sunday morning… well, it’s been two years since the last time.

We were glad for the opportunity; it was for a friend, it was local, it would be fun. And simply put: there is a difference in doing ministry like YOUR life depends on it as opposed to doing it like perhaps someone else’s life does. We didn’t need a minimum or even a morale boost. It was simply, “We get to visit a church and Rod’s gonna sing and hopefully lead some people to worship in a new way. Cool!”

We have friends who still do this travel-and-minister thing because they are called. Our calling for it left us without much ado in a season when God pretty much stripped us of all our creature comforts, even our work. IMG_4162It was strange to wake up and realize, “Hmmm…. We don’t do that anymore,” without there being a press release or any dramatic show of it. In the mean time, He’d replaced our calling with something new. At first, I thought it was smaller: because it mostly takes place within our local church (our beloved, spectacularly awesome local church). And lately, I realize it’s bigger.

See, with a message of grace and a method of integrity, and an “Event” that didn’t ask permission or strive to stroke egos or be fancy, we had a specific goal… I’m not sure we reached it, but I know we forged new relationships that have lasted and had impact and meaning, and that’s probably even better.

We were seeking to change an industry.

Now, we simply seek to change the world.

I could cower from that and decide it’s too arrogant to write. But I don’t think so.

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Not when a friend of mine who started a magazine out of her kitchen last year will be seeing it on the shelves of Barnes and Noble this year. Not when my friend retired from an illustrious and exhausting career as a teacher and found his second act in Habitat for Humanity.

And then there are the life changers I see every day around me: the ones who drop everything and pray for their bankers and doctors… the ones who take meals to strangers who have sickness in the family… the ones who stay with their friend’s mother so their friend can go to church or out to dinner… the ones who give away couches and TVs and beds to people they’ve never met… the ones who move a farick guatemala copymily in the pouring rain just because someone asked… the ones who look at people who are hurting, lost, confused, or lonely and call them by name, and aren’t afraid to hug them, and show them that people still care about people.

Yeah. That’s how we change the world.

I don’t know what my/our “next act” is. Sometimes I still get restless. I love hearing my husband sing more than just about everything. And I love new opportunities to share my writing with others. And make no mistake… I do get that temporary high off of a success, off of recognition. But that is not where I live anymore. Are we doing something of value? Are we helping people get what they need? Are we loving like Jesus? Those are the questions that guide our ministry… and that ministry starts with our own family, our marriage, our kids, our parents, before it works its way outward.

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We did not step down or step back or retire. We did not accept a lesser position. We did not leave the ‘limelight’ for the local church. We still sing for Jesus. We still sacrifice to reach out. We still strive to keep the spotlight on the message. We’re still here… following Him. He is leading in places different than we expected. He is surrounding us with people who stayed or came along the way. He is here… every time one of us commits an act of love in His name.

Jesus, help me to love my neighbor even if I don’t understand or agree with her. Help me to find as much satisfaction in cleaning the office toilets as I do in great conversation. Help me to listen more than talk when I pray. Help me to sing my own song with You as my audience. Help me to be kind and patient and helpful and sincere, and not just waiting for my turn. Help me to follow Your lead, whether it leads me to a big stage, a small corner, or something I haven’t even imagined yet. Help me to let go of the past and the people who stayed there and appreciate what and who is in my life right now. Help me to be more like You! Amen.

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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 click the banner to see the trailer

comfort and courage

I have a short confession to make:

I am comfortable. In my life right now, where I am, who is around me, what is going on…I like it. I enjoy it.

And then I see something like this:

comfort vs courage

…and I think, “Oh NOES! I need to stop being comfortable or something is going to happen to pull me right out of my comfort zone.”

Is that true?
I don’t know.

Is comfort with personal circumstances as opposed to all circumstances really a barrier to growth?
I’ll let you know…

After seasons of stress and turmoil, is it “ok” to have a season of ease?
That seems like a legalistic approach. Pretty sure God just wants us to pursue Him and He’ll give us what we need in all seasons (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…)

Is happiness a fleeting feeling I should let go of in the pursuit of true, deep down, God-given joy?
Heck YES.

I’m not sure if these questions make sense to anyone but me right now. I’ve been having fun mini-blogging #bestsummerever on my Facebook, enjoying the whole hammock-and-popscicles kind of life previously unimaginable in adulthood. But as always, that doesn’t reflect all my life. We still have stuff – you know: quandaries, issues, struggles, decisions. I still have hurdles – questions about where to go from “here” in various relationships and pursuits. In all that, though, I don’t want to apologize for finding peace. I don’t want to feel guilty for embracing joy. And I don’t want to worry that comfort – in my own skin – is a roadblock to growth as a leader.

So, I hope what the above means is “don’t be satisfied.” In my eternal quest to decipher whether my “drive” is God-led ambition or ego-fueled pursuit, I know that there is rarely a time when I am “all good” with staying exactly where I am. I need to improve my fitness, my parenting, my Bible study, my keeping in touch with people, my focus on The Moment.

Example: My pursuit of relationships lately has been interrupted by my pursuits in ministry. As a leader, I am called and expected to elevate my level of conversation. For me, it has always been easy to crack a joke, make a sarcastic comment, bond through negativity, or be a safe place for people to “be real” because Kelly, she’s been there. And while that last part might be a truth, the rest needs to go out the window. A leader, I am learning, values truth…in gentleness, in love, but over lies and over ease. I am also now just learning (’cause I already knew), but embracing the art of when to shut up! It takes courage for me to stand on this. I always want to be liked and approved of. I run from most conflict. But a leader cannot compromise integrity. So I’m not. And there are results of all kinds…

Comfortable? Well, being comfortable in myself is something I’ve worked on for 3 decades. I won’t be giving that up.

Choosing comfort over courage, or pleasure as an excuse not to grow and lead? Not going to happen.

Boldness and peace in one lifetime? Well, it feels right:

micah 6:8Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
  And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

friendship: it’s what I give.

Women don’t need to learn how to build a shelf or organize a closet. They need friendship.

my new friend Tishala

It is amazing to me sitting here tonight how puzzle pieces come together.

My personal and professional and ministerial (what a word) yearnings seem to be finally lining up, and they go something like this:

Love people. Reach out to people. Serve people. Let people fill you up. And then do it again.

yourfriendFor the last week, I have been visited by friends, you know the kind – the ones who are really family- who know me so well that they can fill me up with a few words, a look, a anecdote, a hug for my babies, a bag of Doritos, a 30 minute walk. I spent the last week getting my “love tank” filled, almost effortlessly. There were simple group dinners and leisurely talks oceanside and one night that will live in infamy when my girls were allowed to get in the hottub, past bedtime, in their clothes, because they wanted some extra minutes of fun with Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Liz. I live off those moments. I savor them.

Because you know, we spend so much of the rest of our lives in the trenches. We spend so much time trying to Figure It Out, Do The Right Things, Be The Best –

“The more I try to be the best, the more I get the worst.” – Amy Grant

– that sometimes, we wear ourselves out trying and never accomplish anything.

Well, you might say – I know I say it – God didn’t give me this skill/talent/gift/motivation to just sit here. I’m supposed to be doing something. How can I change the world if I am just sitting here, folding laundry? How can my voice be heard if I’m just singing in the shower? How can God speak through me if the only thing I ever say is “JUST A MINUTE! Mommy’s hands are FULL!” ?

So we try harder. We pack our schedules. We Pin good ideas and implement a few. We research. (aka “Google stuff”). We discuss. We blog. We comment on other blogs. And we try.

I am not here to tell you to stop trying. I won’t. But what I am saying is, just for a minute: pause.

Do you see it?

Do you hear it?

“It” is what God has for you right now.

For me, today, it was a few very specific women… a few praying in the altar, a few scattered around the sanctuary, a few in seats just feet away. I had nothing profound to offer them. I am not a prophetess, a deaconess, a pastor, or any other Title of Distinction. I don’t pray like a good old saint, and as good as I can be with words some times, emotions often render me tongue-tied.

I am a mom, a wife, a battle-scared girl with a somewhat colorful past. I am an idealist but also a cynic. I do not trust anyone, but I love everyone. I am braver than I’ve ever been, but still afraid of a lot of things. I am a wordsmith… I observe, I read, I write… but none of that is what I have to offer any of the hurting people around me.

I have love. Arms. Tears. Smiles. Friendship. A desire to connect. A desire to know, and to be known. A desire to see, and to be seen. A desire to share what God has done for me, and also to share my latest pop culture obsession (ABC’s Scandal) and gluten-free bread recipe. A kitchen that will always at least have coffee and tea and chairs and a welcome mat. That is what I have to give. That is what I will not run out of. That will not make me tired. That does not involve a formal description, a meeting, a committee, a project plan, a Facebook page, a marketing plan, a weekly report, a group of investors, a hashtag, a logo, or any angst, fear of rejection, suffering by comparison, or even possible failure.

nofearinloveIf I give friendship and get nothing in return, so what? The gift is already mine to give.

Lord, forgive me for spinning my wheels trying to come up with a plan. Forgive me for putting my offering in a box or letting anyone else tell me what it should be. Thank You for opening my eyes to what already is and not just what “could have” been or what “might be.” Help me to love as You do:

the potential-friend sitting alone
the potential-friend whose husband is mean
the potential-friend who lost a child
the potential-friend paralyzed by fear of losing her child
the potential-friend who never feels good enough
the potential-friend who will never love me back
the potential-friend I will never see again
the potential-friend who is way prettier, skinnier, and seemingly better than I am
the potential-friend my other friends won’t like
the potential-friend who won’t accept it
the potential-friend who will abuse it
the potential-friend who will change my life, for better or worse.

I have been blessed with friendship – ones near and far, some who fill me, some who challenge me, some who seem to forget about me but then come back around. I am blessed. I have nothing to lose by loving big. It is what God called me to do from the very beginning.

Ask, “Is the juice worth the squeeze here?” and sometimes it is. – Jen Hatmaker

When the juice involves loving another human being in her need, it will always, always be worth it.

~
for levity’s sake: