Tuesday, March 13, 2012

They Take My Breath Away

Tonight, just after sunset, I step outside of my house and am greeted by dazzling Venus and brilliant Jupiter low in the western sky. It is twilight. The street is silent and I am not distracted by cars or kids. Even the birds must be hushed with awe. I sip my chickweed tea and inhale the magnificence of these two planets so close together, brighter than diamonds.

I turn around and face the opposite direction. There is Mars, glowing like a bright, orange star in the east. Mars is so close to earth I can actually see the color of it's surface. One by one other stars come out to play. The sky is deep purple. The constellations begin to peek through and blink at me. Orion burns through the thickening darkness and shows me his broad shoulders and unfaltering stance, and how he  wears his belt with modest consistency. Three stars in a row display a touch of decorum in my winter's sky.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." (Psalm 19: 1-4)

Yes, the heavens declare the glory of God. They speak to me in the silence and I cannot find words to answer them. My heart answers with a sudden gasp for oxygen. I see God's handiwork in Jupiter and Venus and they take my breath away. Tonight that is worship in real life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What Do I Have To Complain about?

I went to UCLA for the third second opinion on how best to fix my ankle. The general consensus is a total fusion. They would consider an ankle replacement, but only if I lose thirty pounds. They will even scope the ankle and clean up bone spurs so I can be more mobile while I am trying to drop the weight. It’s “end stage” arthritis. I had no idea there’s an “end stage” version of arthritis. And, if they do the ankle replacement they will pick the one that is the easiest to convert to a complete fusion. So, I am counting every calorie and working out like a mini-version of the Biggest Loser.
My friend is sitting by her husband as he lies in the hospital. He has lost so much weight he weighs less than his wife, his body is racked with fevers, chills, and his doctors cannot diagnose the problem. People are surrounding them in prayer. It is so hard. They walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. They hold on to Jesus’ hand and they dare not let go. I bet my friend would trade for my ankle fusion if she could restore her husband’s health.
I say rest in the Lord. I say it to myself. I am not a good rester. I want a plan and an objective. I want to know where I am going, when I am leaving, what I am doing, and how I will do it. My problems are plenty real to me, but there is a reality check in my spirit when I see others suffering. I can walk, albeit with a limp and a brace, but I can get from the bed to the bathroom and out to the kitchen. Get it together, Debby. Take your eyes off yourself and be thankful. Praise God for your cane, thank the Lord for your brace. Metaphorically leap for joy that you have a motorized wheelchair. You have solutions. There are options. You have choice.
My friend has no choice except to be and trust. And that is a pretty good choice. She can lean on the Everlasting Arms. She is choosing to trust. I am in awe of her. And that's worship in real life.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Peace in Chaos

Do you ever wish you could simply take a rest? Sit down with your feet up and let the pain in your lower back ease away, or maybe let the tension in your shoulders relax? How about seeing clearly after you’ve been leaning into the computer screen and seeing double? What about a noise free day, or technology free day, or a day when you weren’t expected to do for others no matter how tired you are, or if you have a migraine, or if your feet are killing you?

I’ve dropped hints to my husband for years that the best Christmas gift I could get is a week at a silent retreat somewhere near the ocean. I think it makes him suspicious, or at least a tad jealous – he knows he would be the one with everything on him while I was off retreating. And truthfully, he takes the lion’s share of what we do. Me with my wheelchair accidents and joint surgeries means I cannot take care of others as well as he can.

The Christmas season comes with a lot of expectations on our time and energy. Somehow I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure everybody has a good holiday. Each person should have something to open. The food should be extra delicious and presented beautifully. We need enough emphasis on spirituality to keep the season focused on the advent of our Lord, but enough generalized fun to include everybody, no matter what religious background they have. So we have puzzles, and smores, and caroling mixed with Broadway tunes and Chanukah songs.

I went shopping for the first time today when I realized time was running short to get gifts to where they need to go. Church activities switch into overdrive, and charities depend on end of year gifts. What if you were laid off and money is tight? The pressure can create the noise of expectation in your head. It does in mine.

Where is that rest? Where is that place of retreat? It doesn’t look like I’ll be arriving at my pseudo-monastic experience anytime soon. I HAVE to figure out how to rest while I am under pressure, and to have interior silence even while I wrangle squabbling relatives with challenging personalities. Jesus said to come to Him when we are weary and heavy-laden and He would give us rest. Let’s stop figuring out how to do that and simply begin with coming to Him, and thanking Him for the rest. Let the shoulders down. Breathe. Speak in love. Have peace in the middle of the chaos. Take Jesus up on His offer. That’s me preaching to me. And that’s worship in real life. Merry Christmas everyone.

For music and DVDs to help kids grow up to love the Lord, visit www.psalty.com to see the things we have from bedtime stories (The Sleepytime Helpers), to DVDs featuring Psalty with real kids, to our new CD, "Faith It! God Loves Me." 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hitting the Wall

My electric wheelchair has been a huge help to me, especially for the last six months. I zoom down the hallway at full speed (five mph), often startling my family. The wheelchair is due to joint problems that are a side effect of taking prednisone for asthma. Both shoulders and my left hip are replaced and both feet had extensive surgery to fuse joints and repair ruptured tendons. For what seems like ages, it was very painful for me to walk due to bone spurs in my hip – kind of like a wild animal was chewing on mewww.psalty.com with every step. So, my doctor scheduled surgery to fix this for August 11th, right after I returned from a writing retreat with my husband, Ernie, who is also known as Psalty the Singing Songbook.

We stayed on the lush, north shore of Kauai, Hawaii, where we rented a little house and were spoiled with a view of seven waterfalls cascading down the green mountains. Paradise? Yes, most of the time. We were there to write our first Psalty album in fifteen years. Kids (now parents) who grew up with our music wanted more. The only thing we knew was the title, “Faith It! God Loves Me.”

Before we could proceed we had to learn to write together again. It’s not like riding a bike! Fresh off of my doctorate, I was all about goals and objectives. Ernie writes from the right side of his brain – creative, wacky, sensitive, and laugh-‘til-your-sides-hurt-funny. We hit some bumps in the road as we merged our writing styles. We planned to begin recording the last week in August so we smoothed out the bumps, laughed together, and sought the Lord for how to best present what He put in our hearts.

We wrote about worshiping God with our whole selves, as we are urged to do in Romans 12:1; to be holy, living offerings to the Lord with everything we say, do and think. This takes faith, for when times get tough we can despair or we can choose to trust God. It takes faith to trust God for salvation, to believe God speaks to us through the Bible, and to see hardship as a time when faith grows. Along with Romans 12:1, we chose Jeremiah 29:11, (about God’s good plans for us) and Proverbs 3:5-6, (trust the Lord with all our heats) to be the anchor verses for the album. We wrote songs that flowed almost like gifts and brought us to tears as we thought how the scriptures would impact people’s lives. Other songs were like delivering a baby after a lengthy and difficult labor. The biggest challenge was putting this into kid talk. It had to be simple, and it had to be fun. We finished most of the writing before my hip surgery on August 11th.

The hip operation was more complicated than I originally planned. They cut across tendons to relieve the stress and irritation on the joint so I am using the wheelchair much longer than I expected. We recorded the album in an upstairs studio. I went upstairs on my backside, a combination of comic relief and determination. After two months I was able to walk with the cane from the car into the house, but that was about it. I was eager to be out of the wheelchair, and even more eager to see our new album released.

On November 2nd we picked up, “Faith It! God Loves Me,” from the CD manufacturer and we uploaded the album to digital stores like iTunes. I was really happy with the result of a remarkable cast of kids, wonderful arrangements, and my husband as Psaalty the Singing Songbook. This album was from our hearts. We wrote, “Faith It! God Loves Me,” to kids and families of today. So many of us are struggling. It’s a time for faith, to know God is with us, and the Spirit of God is working in our hearts so we can grow.

I got an injection of Synvisc in my ankle (the latest joint to act up) two days ago. My electric wheelchair was a relief when I got home from the doctor. I zipped around at a relatively slow speed as I maneuvered the chair through our bedroom. Suddenly the chair lurched forward as a wheel caught my robe and pulled it taut against the controller. I smashed into the wall at full speed and was screaming in pain and frustration. Ernie scooped me up (after backing my feet out of the wall) and took me to the ER. My big toe is broken and there is a lot of soft tissue damage. I can’t walk at all now. Disappointment hurt almost as much as the pain in my feet. Then I had to laugh. It’s pretty funny, really. Me, with my goals and objectives riding a runaway wheelchair smack into the wall.

A verse from the song on the new album titled, “Faith Is Believing,” goes:
Faith’s when I stand up, when I begin to fall
When I keep going even though I’ve hit the wall
When things are tough He gives me strength to carry on
With God nothing’s impossible.

When I wrote that I did not know I would literally hit the wall. Wait a minute, this is supposed to be poignant, but I’m cracking myself up as I read this. So what now? I’ve already lived the verse. It must be time to live the chorus:

So I’ll sing to the Lord as long as I live
I’ll sing praise to my God while I’m alive
I will wait on the Lord as His Spirit works in me
And together we’ll move mountains to the sea

And that’s worship in real life.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Being a Minister, Love, Friendship, and Apricots

My husband and I are in love and we are best friends. It is easy for us to become insular and feel complete with just the two of us. As I began to think about the ramifications of this, the benefits of friendship got clearer in my mind. The truth is, I wondered how many people would come to my funeral if I died. I could only come up with eleven people and that sounded pitiful. I started going to a ladies Bible Study at my church to develop more relationships. When I went to seminary I made life-long friends. Being on staff at Saddleback opened the door for me to build wonderful relationships with other staff, but also allowed me to make friends in the congregation as we shared life together. When I cry it is over these people. It’s not like I am moving, but it’s not the same.

I have had remarkable kindnesses shown to me since I was laid off. A close friend who is terribly busy with her own work and ministry just picked up an armful of clothes to alter for me. Alterations are expensive and take time. For her to do that is a blessing.

The man who takes care of the graphics in our Traditions Venue read posts I wrote on Facebook about the apricot tree in our backyard. At church on Sunday he handed me a bag of apricots he bought for me. That gesture spoke volumes. What love we share!

Many members of my worship leader training class and members of the Worship Musicians Association gave me a get-together where we sang, played, and worshiped together. They expressed their appreciation to me. I think it gave them some closure, and assured them of how God is leading in this situation.

The reactions to Facebook posts and this blog have been remarkable. It is like a giant hug that comes from all over the world. Universally, they speak of the plans God has for me.

The Holy Spirit empowered me to make a difference in their lives. I sowed, by the grace of God, the Spirit watered, and the fruit is beautiful. When I first started at Saddleback I was not a true “people person.” Actually, I am an introvert. Given the choice of going out to a group party or staying home and reading, I would pick reading most of the time. I asked God to help me become a “people person.” I wanted to be aware of those around me and to pick up cues about their needs. Through my mentor and through feedback I received while I was getting my doctorate, I was more aware of my weaknesses as I related to others. I tried to respond positively and make changes to be used more effectively by God. Really, it was more about recognizing that it’s not about me, and that a minister serves others. Often, all I had to do was listen and offer a hug.

I love my husband with every fiber of my being. I am in awe that in the surplus of his unconditional love for me I became a minister. And that's worship in real life.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Thankful" on the Longest Day of the Year

June 21st, the longest day of the year. I stood outside tonight in the deepening twilight and waited for the first star to appear. At 8:32 PM a bright star burned through the violet sky and I smiled as I said, “Thank you, Lord.” I wanted to thank God for my husband, and pray for his strength and creativity, and I wanted to praise God for today. But, it seemed like too many words and I settled for a simple, “Thank you.”

Today I cleaned out the last of my things at my office at Saddleback Church. My volunteer assistant was an expert at packing everything up and fitting it into my car. The office looked plain, devoid of personality. The only thing that was left to remind me of what I did in there was the list of the names of worship leaders I worked with, many of whom I mentored and personally trained. Their names were inscribed on the white board. That was fitting. The names of the worship leaders were left. That was my investment in Saddleback and that remained.

I am doing all right. Well, in fact. I am over the worst of the crying and I am finally sleeping through the night. My relationships at church are in good shape. This was the right decision, for them and for me. What I am is grateful. So, “Thank you, Lord,” for my husband who cooked chicken kabobs tonight, and “Thank you, Lord,” for my grandson, who is entering his senior year and sat with us talking after dinner, and “Thank you, Lord,” for what you did in me while I was on staff at Saddleback, and “Thank you, Lord,” for what you are doing in me and have planned for me.

June 21st, the longest day of the year. That first star at the end of the longest day was hopeful. I am too. And that’s worship in real life.