City of Sound

I looked for a sound to rise up from these streets

And quench the fire in my head,

Turned corners filled with rhythms

Notes like bees swarming the sky

Ev’ry direction echoing between

My ears, filling the anxious space

With their sweet buzz

Bring me back to here, now

Sun shinin’ through concrete and steel

On the glass tube letters,

On my hair and in my skin.

The fire falls into my bones,

My cadence gets in line and I

Swing through this city

Two three four.

No pain strain rain in my brain

Just mixed up mellifluity

My pulse paced with a bass on

The facing corner

Two steps to the left of drum sticks

On a five-gallon bucket

Ka-thunk, thunk-it

Meowing steel guitar pierces through

Honky-tonk windows to the sidewalk

Crowds sing along to secondhand classics,

And for the space of of five city blocks

My heart too

Sings.

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2019 Word of the Year

Before I reveal my 2019 Word of the Year, let me recap 2018’s word. My word for 2018 was “Free.” You can read all about it here. As for how accurate it was, well…

Halfway through the year I erased the word and scripture from the picture frame where I had written them. I was frustrated. “Why, God?! Isn’t freedom supposed to be my theme this year? Aren’t I supposed to be experiencing new levels of freedom? Why am I feeling bound again under a yoke of slavery?”

Sometimes God doesn’t just hand us a win. We have to fight for it.

Somewhere along the way, Jason told me I should rewrite my word and scripture. He said the year wasn’t over; God is faithful, and our job is to stand firm.

It took eleven months to get there, but I can say that breakthrough happened. I am experiencing a level of freedom today that I have not known my entire Christian life. It has been a learned and earned freedom, for which I am glad to have fought.

As I look ahead to 2019, I am expecting a learning experience. Beyond a theme, I know I am in for testing, growing, and understanding with the topic. And this new word is speaking to me already, convicting me in areas which are the opposite by nature.

The word is “Open.”

I was thinking the other day about the upcoming year, and before I could get the sentence out in my thoughts, this word dropped on me. Often, when Holy Spirit is speaking to me, His voice interrupts my thoughts faster than I could have conjured it up on my own. As always, I set the word on the shelf of my mind to let it wait. I prayed for confirmation or redirection if needed. But the word remained.

I began to do a word study through scripture and found four verses, all from The Psalms, which speak of openness.

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This is my daily prayer: that I will be cognizant of His goodness in everything. I pray my eyes will be fixed on His will and His ways.

“All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭38:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This verse regards an open heart. Nothing in me is hidden from the Lord, even my struggles and heartaches.

“You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭145:16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The Lord is my provider and supplier. If He is generous to me, I must live with open hands to others as well.

“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭51:15‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This verse reminds me that I must rely on real, active praise as both my duty to God and my weapon of spiritual warfare.

Openness does not come easily to me. I am by nature a private, introverted person. But I know God is about to push me out of my comfort zone and teach me things about myself, and about Himself. I am ready.

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study – Day 20

“… but the greatest of these is Love.”

So what is the point, in the end? Have we exhausted the topic? Could we ever?

Love is the point. Love is the reason we were created, and it is the drive of our lives. There are countless calls. There are countless gifts. But the root of them all – the very heart of every purpose in life – is love. If we have everything, and have not love, we are nothing.

At the end of our lives, our thoughts will be consumed with how we loved, and how we were loved. And we will stand before our Maker and He will ask us, “Did you learn to love?”

There is a reason He calls Himself “Love.” Everything He does is by love and through love and for love.

I am sorry if I sound like a broken record. I am just not sure it is possible to say it enough. Love is not a system of rules about being patient and kind; it is a lifestyle of caring deeply about God, about others, and about all of creation. That lifestyle requires a heart change and a spirit that is completely surrendered to God.

Advent Activity: Take another look at that nativity scene this morning. How do each of the participants express love to God? How does that baby go on to live a lifestyle of love? Pray and ask God to reveal ways that you can express love in your every day life, not just on Christmas.

Personal Reflection: If you are finishing this on Christmas day, take a moment to pause and think about what lies ahead for your day. It may be a busy and stressful day, especially if you are a parent. How can you slow down and keep the focus on loving those people around you? How can you honor God today in word and in action?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study- Day 19

These three remain: faith, hope, and love…

The above passage is something of a mystery. What does it mean by “remain”? These three what? Is the author referring to them as qualities only, or does the writer mean them to be our only aspirations? What other qualities were in consideration besides these? Am I over-thinking it all?

The answer to that last one is, probably.

I suppose the sentence is intentionally vague, like a piece of abstract art. Understanding must lie within the mind of the beholder.

Perhaps these three are the trifecta of human spiritual attainment, as though a person characterized by these three qualities attains Jedi status. Like Christian zen, such a person would walk in a heightened level of spirituality and grace.

The problem is that they are intangibles. There is no checklist of good deeds to accomplish. There is no quantity of Prayer wheels to spin, beads to count off, or candles to light. No warm fuzzy feeling signals you that you have faith or hope or love enough to reach your goal. They simply are abstract concepts which pragmatists could disregard as instinctual impulses, deceiving our senses and propagating the species.

That was a bit of stream of consciousness there. My apologies.

Are they in our imaginations, these abstract ideals? Or not? We must pose the existential question to these qualities and prove them in our own lives. For many, until they encounter Jesus, our lives are the only place faith, hope, and love are seen.

Advent Activity: Do some art today. Pick one of the three qualities and paint or draw an expression of it. This would be a great way to talk about color theory or symbolism if you’re feeling extra educational. Have children explain why they did what they did with their creations. Ask, “How do people see the faith, hope, and love in your life?”

Personal Reflection: Feel free to do your own creating today, using the above activity as a jumping off point. Put on your worship music, ask Holy Spirit to give inspiration, and create freely.

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study- Day 18

Love Never Fails

My husband and I have joked through our years in youth ministry that there is the “church” answer to any question in service- Jesus. Just answer Jesus to any question posed by a youth pastor and, odds are, you’re correct!

So, if I sound a little cliche in this article, forgive me. But I have realized something.

Love is the answer. To nearly every conflict, every hurt, every trial, love brings resolution. The expression of love might look different in each circumstance, but love never fails to be the best answer.

And yes, dear scholar, that leads us back to the first premise. Love is the answer. God is love. God is the answer. Ergo, and all that jazz.

Advent Activity: Read The Mine-o-saur. Ask, What can we learn about resolving conflicts from this book? How did the dinosaurs’ kindness change the Mine-o-saur? What did he really want (toys, snacks, or something different)? How can you use love to solve conflicts in your life?

Personal Reflection: Has there been a circumstance in your life that could have been resolved with love? Did you take that route? Why or why not? How can love look different for different circumstances?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study- Day 17

Love Always Perseveres

My parents will be married forty years in 2019. My in-laws are approaching forty-five years married. I am blessed to have learned the secret to staying married– don’t quit.

Simple does not always mean easy, am I right?

But it is simple. You make a choice, day after day, not to give up on a person. Good, bad, richer, poorer, sickness, and health, as long as you both shall live.

Godly love is not just found in marriages, though. In every kind of relationship we have, there should be a level of perseverance. There should be some degree of stick-to-it, even when the other person is being terribly un-sticky. Repellent, even.

Because, in all seriousness, real life struggles go beyond someone just being irritating. Sometimes it gets heavy, deep, and dark, and walking away would just be easier.

Love says I will go with you through the darkness.

Advent Activity: Let’s use the metaphor above to teach kids the importance of sticking with someone through the struggles. Create an path from one side of an area to another, placing obstacles to maneuver around throughout. Have one child be blindfolded and travel from one end to another while another child shouts directions from the sidelines. Once that task is complete, have the same children do the same thing, except this time, the child without a blindfold can walk with the blindfolded child. Children can switch up, and you can move obstacles for more fun. Ask which turn was easier and why. Explain that perseverance means sticking with someone, even in difficult times, because two are better than one. Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Personal Reflection: Write about a time when you persevered with love with someone. What was the result? Has there ever been a time when you gave up, or were tempted to? How was the relationship effected?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study – Day 16

Love Always Hopes

I am a believer in the importance of names. Each of my children’s names is significant, and the meanings have proven true to their personalities. Our youngest is Seraphina Hope. Seraphina is the feminine form of seraph, which means “burning one.” We did not decide on her middle name until I was between contractions. I could not get away from Hope. It is such a powerful force, especially in my own life.

I have not always had hope. In fact, for most of my early life, I was hopeless. I have dealt with depression on and off my entire life, and I spent most of my young life feeling worthless and pointless. I looked down every existential avenue for any kind of hope. But all I found was that either there was none, or that I had to obtain it through my own efforts – neither of these options would work for me.

But Jesus. You see, becoming a Christian does not change your brain chemistry, or your circumstances, or your history, or personality, even. It does give you a hope and a future. It says our lives are not in vain. It says there will be good things to come. It says our sufferings are not wasted. It says Someone cares for us.

There are moments when all we have is that hope. Nothing makes sense and nothing seems to change, but we can cling to our hope; that still, small voice calls us to hang on and stay strong.

And, yes, it’s real, because my life has been worthwhile and purposeful, and it will be in the future. I can see the fruit of my hope.

Advent Activity: Plant a seed. Select some seeds for an easy to grow indoor plant (perhaps an herb or flowers for a kitchen window – or even start with a bean). Talk about how a seed does not look like much, but it holds hope. We must do our part to take care of it in the natural, like give it water and sunlight. If we do, it can become something amazing! Just like ourselves, we do what we can in the natural, and we have the hope of becoming something amazing.

Personal Reflection: On a scale of 1-10, what is your current level of hope for the future? Why? Looking back at where God has brought you in life, what reasons do you have to hope? How has God been faithful to give you purpose?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study – Day 15

Love Always Trusts

While we are on a roll with confessions, I have another- I hate team building activities.

This is coming from a former middle school teacher and youth minister. I’ve done (and led) more than my share of team building activities. They all come with the best of intentions, but my social awkwardness mixed with situational awkwardness equals disaster, pressed down and shaken together.

And no other activity says team building disaster quite like the trust fall. Y’all, I feel like the person who came up with this stunt was really just pranking us all. If anything, the trust fall serves to create distrust!

Trust is not built through stunts; it is built through real experiences over time. That is why trust is valuable. It takes effort to create.

I was just talking to my son about the seriousness of a marriage commitment (he asked about wedding rings, I burst through that open door to a conversation!). We talked about how you don’t just marry anyone. You are trusting your life with someone and committing yourself to them for life. Likewise, you do not live like you are married to someone without the commitment because there is no trust without commitment.

Trust is valuable, it is expensive, and it is absolutely necessary to love. There can be no love without trust.

Advent Activity: We won’t call this team building, but maybe trust building – Have your kids work together to form each letter of the alphabet with their bodies (on the floor like on paper works better than in the air). If you want more ideas, check out this link.

First, what does trust mean? Who do you trust most in the world? What can you do to build trust with others? How do you know you can trust God?

Personal Reflection: Same questions for us today – What does trust mean? Who do you trust most in the world? What can you do to build trust with others? How do you know you can trust God?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study – Day 14

Love Always Protects

Steve Harvey says a man loves a woman if he professes it, provides for her, and protects her. I think he makes a good point. It is instinctual to protect the ones you love, both physically and emotionally.

We are human, of course, so our execution is not always ideal. Physical protection is not usually the issue. But in moments of weakness, out of self-preservation or even our own wounds, we take the shield off of our most beloved ones and expose their faults to a ready audience.

We have not only failed to protect them, but we have revealed our own self-centeredness.

Maybe it’s just me and my confessional here tonight.

If I say I love, but I put protecting self over protecting them, my love is not worth much.

Jesus is our good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.

Advent Activity: Read Psalm 23 together. Talk about some of the sheep facts here. If you want, there are some cute extras on the link as well to learn more about sheep. Discuss how our good Shepherd protects us like sheep. How can we protect the people we love?

Personal Reflection: List as many different types of protection as you can think (I mentioned physical and emotional, but there are others). Do you feel lacking in any of these areas with people you love? Is protecting a loved one ever the wrong thing to do? How?

1 Corinthians 13 Advent Study- Day 13

Love Rejoices with the Truth

Let us all take a breath and enjoy being on a positive aspect of love!

Seriously, we have discovered much of what love does not do, but today we jump back into what love does. And it rejoices!

But what does it mean to “rejoice with the truth”?

I can feel this aspect most from my perspective as a parent. When my child does wrong, but tells the truth, I rejoice. When one of my children has a revelation or an “A-ha!” moment, I rejoice. When one of them takes one more step closer to their God-given purpose in life, I rejoice. They have found truth, and truth empowers them.

I find this aspect as a wife, family member, and friend as well. When I can confront difficult truths with my loved ones, clasp hands with them, and face the challenges with them, then we can rejoice in the truth together. Our love gives us the joy to celebrate every accomplishment and the strength to face any adversity.

We open wide the doors to the bare-faced truth because love emboldens us; it casts out all fear.

Advent Activity: Time to play a game! This one is called, “Two Truths and a Lie.” Tell everyone two true things about yourself and one made-up. Mix them up in any order. The more far-fetched or unique, the better. Everyone else’s job is to guess the lie. After the game, ask, “Did you learn something new about the other people? How does it feel to know more about someone? Why do you think it makes us feel good to know and be known by others?”

Personal Reflection: Would you consider yourself an open or closed person? If open, are there times when being more guarded is wise? If closed, do you have a group of people you can open up to? Make a list of your “safe” people. Take time to appreciate them this week.