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Makes everything else seem so small

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

As I lay in my bed last night, sweltering and un-asleep, my thoughts bounced back and forth from the mundane to the life-and-death.

“I need a pedicure.”
“It’s so hot.”
“I hope those journalists are released.”
“What if there’s a nuclear war?”
“I can’t forget to buy toothpaste.”
“Cancer is so evil.”
“Who will take care of Wendolyn?”
“Ugh, I hate gnats.”

How can I have the capacity for such a spectrum of considerations?  To swing from orphans and illness to weight loss and shoes?  I mean, when I am made explicitly aware of issues like poverty and starvation and war and death, how can I spare a thought for something as diminutive as the trailer for “New Moon”?  When I think of American women being detained in North Korea, or little Haitians with no one to love them, or a dear friend who is battling a horrific lung cancer, how can I think about vacations and dating and music?

And yet, here I am.  Caught between the temporary and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual – spinning my wheels wondering if I am pursuing the “right” (often selfish) things when I know, deep down, that life is only meaningful if given away.  Carrie Underwood sure got it right: “When you figure out love is all that matters after all, it sure makes everything else seem so small.”

I guess that Jesus said something along those lines, too.

So simple.  So radical.

Right now

Monday, May 18th, 2009

On Friday night, I attended a memorial service of a dear friend in Seattle.  While there in the church pew, celebrating the life of and grieving the loss of this amazing woman, another friend took my hand and placed it on her pregnant belly to feel the baby kick.

One friend is giddy about a new love interest in her world.  Another is dreading the inevitable breakup she will soon have to initiate.

And after a gorgeous spring day – the kind that confirms that Seattle is the most beautiful city on the planet, and nudges my spirit saying, “Remember what it’s like to smile?” and in which I got sunburned cheeks from being outside at Green Lake and along the waterfront of Shilshole – I spent the evening with, and felt the incomprehensible sadness of, my sweet friend who is living in the ruins of having lost a child.

Death and life, the end and the beginning, profound joy and severe pain; contrasting events juxtaposed in the most poignant way.  It made me feel so small.

And I was re-reminded: the only way to find life is to live in the present.  To be emotionally gutsy enough to feel whatever we need to feel, come what may.  To attempt to live in gratitude, no matter the disappointments or frustrations or non-ideal circumstances.  To find the gift in the “right now” – because life, ready or not, is going to hold a vast spectrum of events, emotions, stages, chapters, seasons.

We have to be present.  We have to.  Because in this life, longing is inescapable – but to be available right now is to be open to hope right now.

Good for the soul

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

There is only one thing that would be enticing enough to make me skip “Lost” and pay $36 to go on a date with myself, by myself.

I mean, barring an NSYNC reunion tour.  Obviously.

Last night, I came home from work and changed my clothes.  I reapplied makeup.  I fluffed my hair, and wore my cute shoes, and took myself down to the Belcourt Theater.  I ordered a glass of wine, found a seat toward the middle, and proceeded to wait for the show to start.

If I’m going to take myself on a date, I am definitely going to be punctual.  Excessively punctual.  BECAUSE I’M WORTH IT!  (I might have been an hour early.)

But the show was worth the wait.  Matraca Berg (wrote a little ditty called “Strawberry Wine”), Gretchen Peters (wrote a little something called “Independence Day”), and Suzy Bogguss (looks as good today as she did in 1995) played a round.  Matraca is coming out with her first album in 10 years, and she played some of her new material; it was heart-stopping.  Suzy’s voice was effortless, strong, and true.  And Gretchen… well, in recent days, Gretchen has been my favorite writer (a position continually jockeyed for between Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna and Matraca and Gretchen).  When she sang “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” I couldn’t breathe – and didn’t realize it until the end when I finally exhaled.

Songs like these are my heart and soul – moments of definition in my often nebulous life.  Per Heather’s recommendation, I watched this fascinating piece, and loved hearing that “the mind of God is music resonating” (“…through 10-dimensional hyperspace,” but let’s not pretend that I know what that means).

It reminded me of this, which I had totally forgotten that I ever wrote.

I hope that you can do something that you love today.


Monday, April 20th, 2009

Back in March, I went to Kansas to sort through my childhood things and help my parents get their house ready to sell.  While I was there, I found an old jewelry box full of various plastic beaded bracelets, butterfly rings, earrings with no mates, and many, many necklaces whose thin gold chains were knotted and tangled into a solid mass.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not get those knots untangled.  There was no way to decipher where the problem began, and with every link that I would tug, the knot would get tighter.  The mess would get worse.

Sometimes, I feel like those gold chains.

Sometimes, I feel like such a complicated jumble, there could never be hope for a solution.  I cannot see where certain issues end, and where others begin.  I am confused by my emotions, by my tendencies – and have no more understanding of myself than I do the infinite galaxies.

Last night in church, I found myself praying, “God, forgive me for… just… all that I am.”  I didn’t even know where to begin, because I cannot pinpoint a beginning.  All that I know is that a lot of the time, I’m a tangled, muddled mess – and I don’t know why.

Will it ever be resolved?  Will I ever be resolved?

But then, I felt God press on my heart: “I know what you’re made of, and it is good.”

I see the mess.  He sees the gold.

I see the knot.  He sees a straight line.

I see the confusion.  He sees the solution.

One day, the chains will fall loose.  Everything will make sense.  Everything will be made right.  I believe it.

Because if I can be victorious in untangling a mass of gold necklaces using olive oil and a needle, then surely the God of the universe has a creative solution for the complexities of you and me.


Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

I might always run a little late in the mornings. I might always love Whitney Houston key changes. I might always color-code my closet. I might always get annoyed when people open a new box of crackers / gallon of milk / bottle of mustard before they’ve finished the old one. I might always hate my legs. I might always be self-critical. I might always fall behind on returning phone calls. I might always be a little bit particular. I might always withdraw when I feel overwhelmed. I might always smudge my nail polish. I might always feel a tiny bit sad. I might always crave peanut M&M’s. I might always be afraid of swimming. I might always feel like people who drive stick shifts are superior. I might always hate the summertime. I might always be tempted to roll my eyes at girls who I am actually envious of. I might always be tempted to roll my eyes at guys who actually have hurt me. I might always wonder a little bit. I might always worry a little bit.

These things may never change.

And it’s okay.

And those things about you that have been there from the beginning – the things that you are continually calling into question – the things that you feel like you should change and you’re wondering why you can’t? They might never change either.

And that’s okay, too.

Claiming my heritage

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Today, I’m wearing all black. My high heels are caked with mud from my front yard. I feel significantly un-cute. I’m in a bad place financially – but this is no one’s fault but mine. I haven’t gotten enough sleep. I’ve made some really terrible decisions. I’ve slacked on my running schedule this week, and over-achieved at consuming calories. I forgot to take an allergy pill this morning. My to-do list feels overwhelming, and my brain feels like a wimpy, deflated balloon.

I am in jeopardy.

I am so tired.

And when I get tired, my mind starts playing tricks on me. It starts trying to convince me that I am a total loser, and that everything is falling apart. And everything just MIGHT be falling apart – but I am not a loser. Even when I act like one. I’m not.

I’m a child of the King. So I refuse to act like an orphan.

Watching and waiting

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

On Saturday, it was my immense honor and privilege to take part in little Ben’s memorial service in Seattle. The entire service was perfect – every aspect, every detail, was so Ben – from the “Finding Nemo” medley played by the small ensemble, to the many references to the movie “Cars,” to his Aunt Kristen’s fabulous purple heels (Ben’s favorite color). The sight of his gorgeous face on the front of the program literally stole my breath – this was a stunning, remarkable child.

How did it come to this?

Sitting in the front row during the service, I could feel the wave of grief from the thousands of people behind me – the sorrow was palpable, thick. And as I stood onstage alongside my beautiful friends Catherine, Sue, and Robyn to sing, I saw the brokenness in the faces of the community, of the family, of Jeff and Carin. So many had hoped, so many had prayed, so many had pleaded with God to be merciful.

What do we do with our unanswered prayers?

It would be impossible for any child to be loved more than Ben, I am sure of it. And in his absence, there is a void, an ache, a sense that nothing will ever be right again.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. -Revelation 21:1-5

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

V is for Vacate, and Vote

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Tonight, I am moving out of my sweet little Music Row apartment – the one that has held me for my first year in Nashville. When I moved in, I had a chair and a dresser; I slept on the hardwood floor in a sleeping bag, and drank my morning coffee wrapped in a blanket on a tiny rug I bought at T.J. Maxx. I cried a lot of nights, I cried a lot of mornings – and I stole an internet signal from the neighbors to frantically reach out to my far-away friends, desperate for any kind of connection. I was jobless, and relatively friendless, and in my most honest moments, absolutely hopeless.

I now look back on that time with nostalgia and sentimentality – those first few months were some of the most emotionally raw and honest I have ever experienced – but the truth of the matter is, I was terrified. I have never felt so alone. Every part of me wanted to run away – to go back to Seattle where I would be safe and loved.

Last night, as I looked around the now fully-furnished living room, piled high with boxes, my heart snuck up into my throat. I’m leaving what has become my HOME – the place where Christina sent a housewarming gift of stemless wine glasses, and then came to use them in person. The place where Greta and I got ready for the Opry, and talked until I cried. The place where I wrote some songs, and got brave enough to share them. The place where Mary and I were evangelized to by a homeless man. The place where Miranda and I accidentally split an entire jumbo bottle of chardonnay. The place where I baked for the ex-cons across the street. The place where my mom and I rehearsed for one of my shows. The place where Julie and I talked about breakups, and Miranda and I talked about breakups, and Meg and I talked about breakups. The place where I cut off my hair, and felt awesome… and then felt remorse. The place where Paul and Josh and I played Scrabble at 1am on Halloween. The place where Annie picked me up for the 5K. The place where my dad hung curtain rods, and the Handy Graham hung pictures. The place where I killed cockroaches. The place where the inaugural Running Club was held. The place where I realized that it’s a good thing that I moved to Nashville. The place where I realized that I’m pretty happy.

The place where I realized that God can take anything – an empty apartment, a broken heart, a lonely soul – and fill it to overflowing.

Tonight, a handful of friends will show up at my door, grab my boxes and bags and couch and bed and table and chairs, and move me to a new house – a house with two roommates and a front porch swing and a back deck and a fireplace. I could not be more thrilled – to be moving in with Julie and Melissa. To actually have furniture to be moved. To know friends who are so willing to help.

God is faithful. Here’s to signing on for another year of the Nashville unknown.

– – – – – – – –

And now, for a VOTE.

My new bathroom is painted my least favorite color in the universe… baby blue. Not a warm, robin egg blue… but cold and sharp. I have two options: take the time and effort to paint the walls a more neutral color so I can still use my terracotta paisley shower curtain, or to buy a new, somewhat-tolerable shower curtain that will match the color of my anti-dreams.

The walls would be tricky to paint – weird angles and a large possibility of drippage. It’s possible that I could find a shower curtain that I would like – I’m a big fan of turquoise, or brown, or the right shade of green. But it would have to be a good enough shower curtain to distract from the heinous color of the walls.

O is for Our Father

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

When your spirit feels stripped, when your foundation is rocked, when you watch your friend’s lives being torn in half like a giant bed sheet, you begin to wonder about this God – the one that you have never not known, the one that you have sung about since you can remember, the one that you have prayed to as naturally as breathing. And when the doubts and questions and anger start creeping in, it’s hard to think straight. It’s hard to remember what you know to be true. It’s hard to believe.

Over the past few days, I have seen everything – everything – through the lens of Ben Towne. Every conversation, every observation, every thought and attempt at prayer – everything has been colored by this bulldozer called cancer. How are we supposed to pray? What are we supposed to ask for? What is really true? What do I believe?

And in this dark and rocky time, I have fallen back on one prayer – the only prayer that I currently know to pray, the one that I’ve never had to memorize because I’ve always known it.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Over and over, like a mantra, this prayer has been pumping through my veins. This is a prayer straight from Jesus’ lips – the way that he taught us to pray – and at this point, it’s the only thing I know. As my friends are living their absolute worst nightmare, I am offering this prayer with every breath.

Thy will be done. But also, deliver us from evil.

I am praying for both. And I don’t know what else to pray for – except for time. As much time as God will give them.

I believe that God is love. I believe that this world is broken. I believe that we were not made for pain and death – and that’s why it hurts so badly. I believe that there will come a day when creation is restored and renewed and redeemed. I believe that, in the grand scheme of eternity, our lives are a flash in the pan. I believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And I believe that God loves Ben, and God loves the Towne family, and that he sees them and has not abandoned them, and that none of this is a mystery to him. I have to believe that.

Because I need this reminder today

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Sometimes, life feels really hard. Whether it’s tedious or tumultuous, uneventful or unrelenting, it’s difficult to keep focused on what I know to be true. I become distracted by my circumstances, and let whatever way I currently feel dictate my beliefs.

I give up.
I give in.
I lose hope.
I lay down.
I stop trying.

I once heard someone say that if the devil can’t have our salvation, he’ll settle for our lives. Ain’t that the truth.

But so often, I believe the flip-side to be true, as well: that if God can’t have our lives, he’ll simply settle for our salvation. This is a lie. God does not “settle” when it comes to his children – he doesn’t give up on us, he doesn’t lose hope, and he never, ever stops pursuing us.