Category Archives: Little Observations

all things new

I suffer from stage fright. I have for as long as I can remember–well, at least back to my days of violin lessons. One of the objectives of Suzuki method is to get children used to performing by frequent recitals starting at young ages. Since I started at age 9, maybe it was already too late for me. Playing in groups was fine, quartets, great, no problem. Duets…well, uncomfortable. But solo, even with accompaniment, was difficult. As I’ve gotten older, it’s only gotten harder, probably simply because the opportunities are not as great.

This past Sunday I served on our music team at church. This is not unusual; I serve as a vocalist every 4-8 weeks. I enjoy it immensely. I love to harmonize and see myself more as a vocal instrumentalist than a song leader. I don’t think this is how our worship leader has seen me. The past few times I’ve served, he has designated that I should sing X part on X song and asked me to work out with the other female vocalist who will lead a given song. I have always practiced my part and deferred to the other female vocalist. Then came the email for last Sunday. First off, I was the only experienced female on the team. The other woman is completely new. I knew I was going to have to take more of a front seat singing.  Next, there were 3 brand new songs–lots to learn and become competent on. Then came the note attached to the brand new song, “All Things New: “Lisa, I would like you to take the lead on this song.” Bam. Bye-bye peace of mind, hello turmoil.

I applied myself to learning the new music, and Nicol Sponberg’s song especially. All Things New turned out to be an unexpected gift to my preparations. The chorus goes:

So we watch and we wait and we hope and we pray
You will come and make all things new
And we won’t be afraid as we long for the day
You will come and make all things new
Come and make all things new*

As I practiced it began to dawn on me that stage fright is not something God wants me suffer from. I certainly have a lot of responsibility in this area–I need to prepare my voice, learn the music, be able to sing my part when other voices and instruments are assaulting my ears. Then what? I need to rest in the preparations that have been made and ask God to deal with the unnecessary anxiety.

On Sunday, I warmed up my voice, listened to the new music again, drank decaffeinated tea with lemon and honey and prayed “Lord, I’ve done all I can. Please honor my preparations.” During the service, the Lord brought together how I had prepared, His truth about who I am and how pleasing my sacrifice of praise is to Him, and his gracious presence.

At the offertory, I began singing “All Things New.” After a nerve-wracking start (those first two phrases are low!), the truth of Nicol’s words connected with the Lord’s presence within me. Suddenly I had confidence–confidence made possible by my preparations, but coming from Christ’s glorious presence causing me to proclaim the truth of who he is in the offertory song.

Gracious God, thank you for making ME new today. Thank you that your mercies are new every morning. Let me continually seek the newness of your abundant life in this twisted life here on earth, even as it is perfectly manifested in heaven. Amen.

*

this won’t hurt a bit

29764552_sI returned a couple of hours ago from a 3 hour dentist appointment. You can imagine why it took that long. It’s been over 2 years since my last appointment and since I was told then I had a couple of teeth on cavity watch, it’s hardly surprising that between the xrays, gum check, oral cancer exam, cleaning and polishing, that there were some cavities. 3 of them, to be exact. (On the bright side, my gums and teeth are in good condition.)

Given the particularly nasty cavity that had formed in a crack in my tooth (did you you know your teeth can crack?) I opted to stick around until the dentist could fill it on the spot. As I was waiting, I took mental stock of how I as doing and discovered the answer was “not bad,” which surprised me. My last visit to the dentist was really stressful. I was berated for not flossing–repeatedly–the dentist kept ordering exams I wasn’t expecting, driving up the cost, shunting me between different rooms, different hygienists, and wearing me down to the point of getting a tooth repair I didn’t really want.

This time, it is true that I knew better what to expect–my pre-move old-fashioned dentist had not done particular things that these young dentists do as a matter of course. And it is true I was harassed a lot less about flossing. And since I had 2 teeth on cavity watch going in, yes, I expected to find that I did now have cavities. Knowing what to expect always helps diminish fear.

Given all that, as I sat today with my mouth getting number and number, I remembered having to listen to music at my old beloved dentist’s office when getting a filling, in order to distract myself from what was coming. At my last dentist’s, I practically cried myself home I was so stressed out when I left. Today I was resigned, but relaxed. The dental hygienist offered to turn the TV on for me while I waited, but that didn’t appeal.

What changed? “You have,” surfaced inside me as I sat. It’s true, I realized. Having a tooth filled is not going to ruin my day, and having to pay for it is not going to ruin my month. The anticipation of pain wasn’t making me anxious. In fact, I wasn’t even anticipating pain! I was not enjoying my numb face, but it was a thorough indicator that this filling was not going to hurt at all. My new dentist was taking care of me and I could trust in that, even rest in it, because he is clearly competent and has no wish to cause pain. I thanked God for this as I sat there and did my best to remain in that place of rest.

For a 3 hour dental visit, I think things went well. And now that I have the headache that usually comes after having my jaw propped open, and can now feel my ear and upper lip (the bottom one is still out of commission) my assessment is that the visit was unpleasant and tiring, but otherwise fine. I could go back again, and in fact I will, in December. I have 2 more teeth to get filled.

When was the last time you were able relax in a doctor’s office, not simply because you believed in the competence of the doctor, but also in Christ’s competent presence? What was it that made that possible?

You may be asking “To what does Lisa attribute this internal change?” Let me direct you to Immanuel Prayer (external link) and the practice of Gratitude.


Roxie Pockets on her best behavior, smiling for the cameraLast week I was buzzing through my local Piggly Wiggly; it’s one of those stores that’s kind of old and worn out, but small enough that everything is easy to find and fast to check out of. I was chugging through the aisles, my head full of ideas for my new business, grabbing my groceries, moving quickly but feeling mellow.

As I checked out, I made some small talk with the cashier, saying I don’t remember what. As I picked up my shopping bag and headed for the exit, I heard a voice say “Ma’am?” from the customer service desk. Not sure I was being addressed, I looked up and saw a PW worker looking at me. I smiled at her, to indicate I was ready to listen, and she said, “Thanks for smiling.” I was surprised, laughed a little, stammered ‘thank you.’ She continued, “Not a lot of people smile anymore. It’s really good to see someone smile.” I thanked her again, a bit more graciously and continued walking to the parking lot.

It’s surprising to me that this was noticed and commented on, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. I live in a former manufacturing town. The car companies went bankrupt or moved their plants elsewhere and the jobs went with them. This city has never recovered. Life is hard for many people here. Many are in survival mode. Many have never recovered–and I can relate.

Why was I smiling? Partly because I was excited because of my new business, but that was because I had hope. I feel more hopeful about my life than I have in a long time. That might not sound very spiritual, but was this woman simply responding to my smile? I think she spoke up because she saw beyond the smile to the hope that the smile sprang from. And that means she was responding to Christ in me, the hope of glory.

You never know when you are being a minister of the Gospel. But you minister more and more the more you can carry Christ’s presence with you into the world.

what the heck is NaBloPoMo?

NaBloPoMo_1114_465x287_NOVIt’s November and that means NaBloPoMo! What is it, aside from a tongue-twisting acronym? It stands for National Blog Post Posting Month. It was begun by blogger Eden Kennedy in 2011, and has basically been running ever since—like, monthly! However, since November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) NaBloPoMo tends to blow up in November as well.

I’ve decided to participate this year for a few reasons, but the biggest reason is a big change: Starting in January, I’ll be launching an official web design business! I’m really excited to be working with beloved designer John Traylor on a logo and look for my business site. But since I hope to spread the word in a grassroots way by building an email list, social media and blogging—I figured now was a good time to cultivate the habit of creating good content.

In addition, I’m going to use this blog as a test platform. So you’ll not only be seeing new blogposts from me, but I’m building a whole new site for this blog! This will be a way for me to testdrive the platform I’ll be steering my web design clients to and practice what I’ll be preaching in terms of building your audience and extending my reach.

In the next month, you should expect a lot of change here. Those of you who get an email whenever I post…well, you’ll be getting a lot of emails. (You can always change your email preferences by clicking the “manage” hyperlink in the sidebar where it says “You are following this blog.”) At some point, you’ll get a message directing you to the new site. I will probably also blog more about my new business and ask you for feedback—after all, my business focus will be on small churches and I know many of you are active members of small churches. You’ll undoubtedly have good ideas for me. And I’m sure, when I’m really stuck for things to write, you’ll receive posts that are not as amazing as what you’re used to, or stream-of-consciousness, or just plain weird. I hope you can hang in there with me through the ups and downs.

On the plus side, if there was ever a topic you wished I’d blogged about, just ask! Is there a spiritual discipline you’ve tried to practice but it just doesn’t make sense to you? Is there a bad spiritual habit you’d like help breaking? Want to guest-post on my blog? Just ask.

And I will keep writing devotions, reflections, and spiritual discipline posts. Promise.

Let’s see where all this goes. Happy November!


foliagehatThose of you who are my friends on Facebook will recognize some of the images in this post. As September and the end of summer approached, I decided to do something I’m really bad at–namely, finish some projects.

I’m not sure why I’m so bad at completing things. When I was in college, I came across a Charlie Peacock song called “Finishing Mood.” He describes my attitude exactly:

All my good ideas are so grand and complicated.
Maybe they have no endings
Only beginnings
I’m not in a finishing mood, no, no, no, no
I’m not in a finishing mood.*

Deadlines help me to finish things, so things without a deadline languish. There’s a quilt whose squares I completed but never got any farther with it. I gave them to my mother, an avid quilter and as far as I know, she’s never completed it either.

This must be a symptom of being a person who lives too much in their head. Envision a thing complete and you already have the satisfaction of it being done, without the work. So, my challenge to myself these past few weeks has been to complete things and find satisfaction in their completion. After all, there are benefits to completing things: A comfortable place to sit on your front porch. A gift for a friend. The pleasure of the feel of a thing. Complements!

Spiritual discipline? Maybe not, but definitely a growth edge for me, and important for some reason I can’t yet name.


*Read more:
LetsSingIt – Your favorite Music Community

Slowing down

15716662_sI am driving down the interstate 94 between Deerfield and Kenosha. Cars are passing to the left of me and on the right. I am driving at a leisurely 65mph for two reasons; the first is that I have Wisconsin plates now, and as a former resident of Illinois I know that anyone speeding with out-of-state plates is more likely to be pulled over for speeding than an Illinois resident. But there’s another reason I’m driving so slowly; it’s that my pace of life has changed.

I used to live here. I know these roads and I used to hurl myself along them at the fastest speed I thought I could get away with. I’m not sure why, but there’s something about being here, being in the hectic pace that catches you up into it, even without realizing it. There’s no question that the pace of life in the Chicago suburbs is frenetic, hectic. To live here is to be busy, to be moving, always be late, always having something more to do, more to cram in before your day is through.

I am no longer constantly immersed in this chaos. I now live in Wisconsin, in Kenosha, just over the state line from Illinois. That makes all the difference–crossing that invisible line from the Illinois hyperlife to the culture of Wisconsin was what I needed to move from stressed to measured.

I have embraced the pace of life in Wisconsin. It is more forgiving, more human. It allows me time to listen, to reflect, to be present to the people around me. The change didn’t happen overnight, but the recognition was there immediately. (All you need to do is drive through the streets of Kenosha and rush hour and it suddenly hits you that no one is tailgating you.) For the settling to come, I had to let go of the internal drive I brought with me from Illinois. It is only recently that I have fully adjusted. I can move slowly when I get up in the morning, I can pace my work, I can respect the limits my body imposes on me. I can switch from a hard task to an easier one when I’m tired, and yes, as you might expect, I can slow down and listen to myself, others and most importantly, God, with a greater sense of calm and quiet.

I haven’t “heard more” from the Lord in Wisconsin, but I can be more attentive, embracing the quiet and the calm, the doable, the attainable, the walk rather than the run. This is building into me a kind of spiritual endurance that I haven’t experienced before. In the quiet, God is there. If he is silent, we both enjoy the silence. I am learning that even silence speaks when we have the luxury of listening to it.

Today I attended a meeting in the western suburbs of Chicago and my host was practically vibrating with excitement at the conclusion. It was a great meeting! I enjoyed it immensely, but my gladness is more in keeping with my own internal clock: regular, sustained, full. My excitement hasn’t come from winding itself up, but looks more like the hiker, who, knowing the distance that must be traveled, sets off at a measured pace, ready to alternately rest and walk, marveling at the sights along the way.

I am on my way home now. Cars are passing on my left, and cars are passing to my right. And I continue at my sedate 65mph, glad to have visited, looking forward to home, but not impatient to get there.

the cure of the falls


Take a look at the people in this photo. How do they strike you? What can you tell from the expression on their faces?

This photo was taken at Niagara Falls just last week. It was a strange place to be! It was crowded, people were, well, not exactly shoving, but “close,” moving quickly, not bothered about each other, impatient to get on with their sightseeing. Not only was the atmosphere thick with people, but there were also many languages and nationalities represented. I heard more Japanese, Korean and Chinese than I think I’ve heard anywhere but San Francisco’s Chinatown. I heard Arabic, German and (much lower down on the list) Spanish. The diversity of nationalities were as dense as the people. It wasn’t a melting pot so much as a chafing dish and chock full of different “ingredients.” How could this mass of people and breadth of language be appealing to anyone? How did it become a positive description of what it means to be a United States citizen?

As John & I rode the Maid of the Mist–the cruise near the falls–all of us on the ship were united in awe, looking first at the American Falls, then riding into the center of the Horseshoe Falls, pointing, taking pictures, fleeing the sudden spray when the wind changed, laughing.

This was nothing compared to the Cave of the Winds tour. We got up close and personal with the Bridal Veil Falls, trudging up and down the stairs, admiring the little falls and protected areas beneath the rubble and then at last reaching the Hurricane Deck where, in the top
corner of the deck, the Bridal Veil Falls lash out at you with the force only tons of falling water can have…and you feel exhilarated by the forces of nature, amazed by the feel, the smell, the sight, the taste. You laugh out loud. You feel joy.

Take a look at the photo again. This was taken just to the side of the Hurricane Deck. Do these people appear full of cares? Disturbed? Worried? They aren’t. These are the faces of people who have tasted joy due to awe-inspiring and fully experienced beauty.

If I had any doubts about the ability of all humans to be able to worship God with their entire beings, it was cured by a day at Niagara Falls.