Monday, April 30, 2012


1 b : something offered; especially : a sacrifice ceremonially offered as a part of worship

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to dance.  When she turned three, she started asking her mom to sign her up for classes.  The mother (who was neither coordinated, nor musically inclined) thought the girl was cute, but going through a phase.  To pacify her daughter, the mother signed her up for a six week class at the Y, hoping that would quell the desire.  After all, the mother didn't even really like ballet.  The parents were snobby, the dancers all had body-image issues, it was an uncomfortable and foreign world. 

Yet the daughter's desire remained.  The mother found a week long ballet camp, thinking that after five days of dancing for 6 hours each day, that would be that.  The camp confirmed the mother's opinion of the ballet world - stand-offish, intimidating and a bit scary - but it did nothing to dampen the daughter's desire to dance.

The mother relented.  She began looking for a place to enroll her daughter in fall classes.  She looked and looked.  And found nothing that was closer than a thirty minute drive across town.  This didn't seem feasible for a mom with a five year old, a four year old and a newborn.  The mom kept looking, but she was losing hope.

Until one Sunday when the mom wanted coffee on her way to church.  She ran into a coffee shop that wasn't her usual spot.  While waiting for her latte, she saw a brochure for a ballet school in her neighborhood.  She picked it up and called the next day.  Classes started that afternoon.  The daughter started that day and has never looked back.

Thus began our days, nights and weekends at Rejoice School of Ballet. Yesterday A (who begged for dance with a relentlessness that could only have come from her Maker) and K danced in Rejoice's production of Coppelia.  I wish I had the words to tell you what an accomplishment this production was for a non-profit with a small budget.  A non-profit that was created to make dance available even to children whose parents can't afford it.  A place where children on free or reduced lunch learn ballet for a mere $10 monthly.  A ballet school where black and white, middle class, working class and those trapped in poverty dance alongside one another.  A place that has been much more than a dance school for our family.

I wish I had the words to explain how Rejoice has given me an outlet for using business skills as a volunteer, how it has transformed A from a little dancer who looked up to the older girls to one of the older girls known by the little dancers, how it has given K the chance to shine onstage and B the chance to try out both ballet and jazz funk.

I wish I had the words or pictures to show you how the dancer that I saw at the first recital has grown from a girl of twelve to a graduating senior.  I wish I should take you there and show you how she worshiped while dancing at that recital long ago - and how that made me think that dance wasn't all bad, after all.

I wish I could let you into my heart and see it soften and change as I saw and understood dance to be not only a gift from God, but a gift God has given to my daughter, a gift she uses well and uses to bless others.

I wish you could travel back in time to A's first or second recital and see the dancer she was then - and see her dance en pointe today.  I wish you could meet her teachers, who have encouraged excellence and seen that encouragement bear fruit.

I wish I could make a financial offering equal to what we have received in friendship, companionship, encouragement and blessing from Rejoice.

I wish A could take dance there forever.  But she can't.  This semester will be her last.  As her parents, our job is to make sure A doesn't close any doors she might want to walk through later.  She may or may not want to dance in college.  She may or may not want to apprentice with a company.  But I don't want to close those doors to her now.

So we are leaving - with both heavy hearts and great anticipation - a place we love.  Over the last few weeks, I have realized all over again how much I love Rejoice.  I've let the organization, the dancers, the director and their mission into my heart.  The hard part of that?  Leaving.  The blessing in that?  Rejoice has shaped and changed us and will, in many ways, go with us.

May these words be a small offering showing my thankfulness and gratitude for that brochure found one Sunday morning - and for all that Rejoice has become to us since then.

Friday, April 27, 2012


1 c : progressive development : evolution

Growth can look very different from one person to the next.  What comes naturally to me might be huge growth for you - and vice versa.

Last Saturday, A danced her first dance en pointe.  She has been taking ballet for six years and has worked hard to be able to do this.  It was amazing to sit there in the audience and watch my child do something so impressive.  I wasn't the only one impressed.  As other parents stopped me to congratulate us, I couldn't help but think that this was nothing to do with me.  I merely drive her around.  She does all of the hard work at the barre and on the dance floor.  She's the one who has grown from a six year in a lamb costume to a twelve year old looking very much like a woman-to-be.

The next day as we sat in the pew preparing to go take communion, A peered around me.  She was checking to see whether her favorite priest was serving on our side of the church or the other side.  I pointed out that he was on the other side and that she could just get in that line and then circle around the rear of the nave to get back to our pew. 

"That's OK," she whispered back to me, "I'll just take it over here with you guys."

"A," I said gently but insistently, "if your heart wants to take communion from Father D, go over there."

She did and I was so proud of her.  Breaking that little unwritten rule about taking communion on the left when you are seated on the left was huge growth for my rule-following firstborn.  It was growth for her because she listened to the desire of her heart and followed - even though it meant stepping a bit outside of the lines.  For A, this step away from conformity is almost bigger growth than dancing en pointe.  Dance comes naturally to her.  Breaking the rules does not.

Earlier this week, I read a blog post that resulted in a light bulb moment for me.  While I subscribe to the blog that had this post, the last two weeks have been so busy for me that I've been skimming most of Jimmie's posts about writing.  For some reason, I took the time to read this one more slowly.  That was surely God's prompting because as I read her assertion that writing with a formula eases the cognitive load of writing, I saw clearly why my daughter B does not like to write.  B detests formulas.  She wants to do everything her own way, putting her own spin on the tried and true.  Yet she is not a fan of hard work.  B is a quick learner and most things come very easily to her, so she resists having to work hard to acquire something.  So we've been trapped in this cycle where B doesn't want to follow a formula for writing (which would make it easier), but she doesn't want to work hard (and do it her own way).

Yesterday, B needed to write an artist's statement for an art show next week.  I saw my chance and I took it. I sat down with B and had her read the blog post.  Then I told her that this post made me understand why she doesn't like writing.  I pointed out to her that there is one area of her life where she is willing to both follow the rules and work hard: piano.  B has been taking piano for 17 months and she will come home from a lesson with a song that is hard to play.  It might sound rough the first few times she plays it through.  But she persists and within 2 or 3 days, she can play it well.  By the time she goes back for her next lesson a week later, we've all heard her not only play the song, but play it fast, slow and with beats in between.  She uses the formula of the composer first and then she does it her way.

"Could you try this with your writing?" I asked.  "Could you try using the formula on this print out and see if it makes your writing come easier?  After you use the formula a few times, you'll be able to change it like you do with your songs."

Amazingly, she agreed.  She's written two paragraphs so far and they've come easier and been better quality than her writing has been of late.

As you read this, do you see how growth for these two daughters of mine is completely different?  A needs encouragement to listen to her heart and break the rules occasionally.  B knows her own heart and mind so well that she needs to see the value of rules as a way for training us and equipping us.

I love this.  I love seeing them grow and I love that it doesn't look at all the same.  I don't love that the world (and often the church) will tell you that B needs to grow, but that A is on the right track.  Because they both need growth.  A is sometimes easier to parent because she does follow the rules, but she does so without understanding or questioning the rules.  So what happens when she is faced with a system of rules that are not set up to help her, but to harm her?  She must learn to think for herself.  B needs growth as well, but not because she's a rule-questioner.  She needs growth because all people need growth.

Where do you fall on this spectrum?  What safety zone do you stand within that the world might tell you is just the place to be, but that is keeping you from embracing the great freedom available to you if you grow?

It is my hope and prayer that A is not going to turn into an anarchist, nor B a conformist.  I feel certain that it is ballet's structure and rules that make A enjoy it and thrive.  B will be a better musician if she continues to listen with her heart and not just her ears.  I hope they will continue to be who God made them to be - but I believe he made them to be more than just a rule-follower and a rule-breaker.  He made them to be a bit of both - and to learn from each other's way of doing things.

This spring, during a season replete with growth, look for ways to stretch and grow towards freedom.

Monday, April 16, 2012


1 a : a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand

Saturday evening I met with a group of friends to discuss a book that could have been magical and mysterious, but wasn't.  The book was called Faery Tale and it recounted a young woman's attempt to prove the existence of faeries.  We talked about why the book fell short - why it's subtitle (One Woman's Search for Enchantment in a Modern World) was better than the entire content within its pages, how this was surely a book sold based on an idea, not a manuscript and how the author confused using this trip to grieve her father versus using this trip to flee her grief. 

And then our talk turned to the author's skepticism that she never fully moved past.  She wanted oh so badly to believe there was more than the eye could see, but as the reader I never felt like she truly opened herself up to mystery.  We talked about our own experiences that transcend rational explanation - ghosts appearing bedside, dreams with verbal warnings, impressions of danger for family members, inexplicable images associated with a friend that become clear later.  There is clearly mystery in this world and we are far too ready to explain it away with rationality.

Concurrent with reading this book, I started Richard Rohr's new book Falling Upward.  In this book, he talks about two halves of life.  The first is spent strengthening and building the ego.  During this phase, we learn our strengths, use them to build safety and security for ourselves and spend time and energy on the structure, successes and accomplishments of our lives.  Yet this phase is meant to point us to the second half of life.  Because during the second half of life, we see that the first half of life was necessary, but simplified.  We see that our strengths, our accomplishments, our possessions are worth less than the intangible things in life.  During the second half of life, we worry less about our relative importance and more about living in a space that makes room for contradictions, complexities and mystery.

I haven't finished the book.  Partly because I had to stop reading it in order to finish Faery Tale for book club.  Partly because I found myself struck by the fact that I've not lived my first half of life in the way Rohr outlines.  Where does that leave me?  If I didn't devote energy to building the ego, must I go back to do that before living fully in the second half of life?  Because I do long to get there.  I long to embrace mystery, to hold it and ponder it, to grasp what I can and let go of the rest.  I long to be someone who shares her experiences without regard to whether doing so will advance my own efforts or build me up in the eyes of someone else.  I long to look at others with compassion for who they are, rather than fear of what they might think of me.

My 7 year is an avid reader of mysteries right now.  Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins and Encyclopedia Brown are her constant companions.  When her sisters or I suggest a new book, K will ask us, "Is it a mystery?  Because I like mysteries."  I think she might be on to something.  I think there's something about seeking to explain the inexplicable that appeals to our very nature.  And while the books she reads try to solve the mysteries encountered, K's 7 year old mind is perfectly content to let some things be unsolved mysteries.  She is happy to let magic seep into her life, her heart and her mind.

I think I could learn something from my daughter.  I could learn to solve the mysteries that are meant to be clear and learn to not just accept, but revel in, the parts of life that will always be shrouded in mystery.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


1 : one of two or more individuals having one common parent

Today I visited another world: the world of my brother.  It was a world both eerily similar and oddly dissimilar to my own. The terrain was much like my own - rolling hills, wooded areas, large swaths of grass.  The people as varied as those in my own neighborhood - black, white, Latino, Asian.  The streets were paved - the vehicles driving them a range of style, color and value.  Yet the buildings populating this terrain were uniform in color and style.  The people were all dressed alike, right down to their toes.  The vehicles a mix of trucks, cars and sand colored humvees.

My brother is a captain in the US Army and our trip to his command change ceremony at Fort Campbell was a bit like stepping into an alternate reality.  In his world, you must get permission to drive your car on the streets, you wear what you are told to wear and go where you are told to go (even across the world to dangerous places).  It is his world that makes it possible for my world to be as safe and predictable as it is.

As A, B and I waited for the ceremony to begin, B was wandering around, reading the plaques adorning sculptures.  The company my brother now commands has served this country for more than six decades.  There was plenty to read about.  Yet B was most interested in the raised concrete wall surrounding the sign bearing the name of the company. 

"Can I climb that?" she asked. 

"No."  I replied definitively.  "The army is very particular about walking where you are supposed to walk. Stay on the sidewalk."

"Okay," she replied with resignation.

The ceremony brought more questions:  Why do they wear their hair so short?  Why did that soldier pass out?  What is an FRG?  What are those flags for?  I answered as best I could, but sometimes resorted to saying, "You'll have to ask your Uncle Dave."  Which she did.  As soon as possible.

This was my daughters' first visit to an army base and my first visit in more than a decade.  I realized as I drove along the streets marked with signs prohibiting vehicles during the PT hours of 0630 and 0800 that I've only visited an army base stateside once before - and that was nearly twenty years ago when my brother was just beginning his training and I was still in college.  This base that stretches across the Tennessee/Kentucky border was the equivalent of a small town - much larger than the European Army bases I'd visited courtesy of my brother and aunt.

Visiting this base brought back memories of other trips. Of a visit to a PX during my junior year abroad, where I found, (much to my delight) Oreos.  I not only bought the Oreos, but shared them with a Swiss toddler on a ferry ride to Interlochen.  But I saw today that I was a child back in college.  It didn't cross my mind then that these bases existed for a very real purpose: the safety and security of all that I know.

Today my eyes were open.  And my ears.  We could hear machine gun practice on a range nearby.  My brother explained that they practice shooting in rounds of three to five, in order to keep their shot area tighter.  This was not a game they were playing.

As I drove past a lot filled with sand colored vehicles, I wondered when the color changed from green to tan and whether the lighter color had in fact saved the lives of some of the soldiers driving around this base.  As I washed my hands in the restroom and read the sign saying Absolutely No Outside Trash, I wondered whether this was a safety issue.  And as I drove back to Nashville, I pondered how different siblings can be.  I could envision B visiting A backstage one day in the future and marveling at the world of silence in the wings, thick stage makeup applied in the dressing room and leg warmers and sweaters shed immediately prior to heading onstage for a solo that took weeks to learn and takes minutes to dance.  Siblings are different and sometimes those differences lead us to end up living in different worlds.

My brother may have the same mother and father I do, but while he thrives in the world I visited today, I would not.  I am terrible at following directions I don't understand.  I don't have proper respect for the chain of command.  I was acutely aware today of just how much I did not fit in.  I was not in uniform.  I was not welcomed into the circle of officers' wives at the ceremony or reception following.  I was an outsider.  But none of that really mattered to me because I was there to see my brother take on a hefty responsibility - not only to the soldiers under his command, but to their families.  My brother may live part of his life in a different world, but he and his peers make it possible for me and my family to live the way we do.

And for that I could not be more grateful.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


1 a : serving as a standard of excellence : of recognized value

I love books.  I love to read.  I love Goodreads - both because it helps me keep track of what I've read and because it has encouraged me to read more critically as I think ahead to reviewing a book.  But I also love reading what I want to read.  I clearly remember the moment I realized I could quit a book if I wasn't enjoying it. 

I was lying in bed, slogging through a book when I thought to myself, "You know, no one is going to test you on this book.  You're not going to have to write a paper on it."  At that point, I created a personal rule: if a book doesn't have my interest by page 50, I stop reading it.  I created the 50 page rule because I think some books don't jump up and grab me.  I need to get to know the characters, see where the plot might take me, get a feel for the writing and the setting.  But honestly?  That has to happen in 50 pages or I'm not wasting my time.  (This started as the 100 page rule, but 100 pages of Little Women was enough to change that.)  Life is too short to read boring books.

I like the freedom to choose what I'm going to read.  There's nothing better than the right book at the right time - and nothing worse than the right book at the wrong time.  That (along with my busy schedule) is why I limit my book club participation - I don't want to read what someone else says to read.  But without providing myself some structure, I can get into a reading rut.  So I decided this year I should be a bit more targeted in some of my reading.

My first thought was that I should read one classic per month.  Then I decided that was too ambitious.  I settled on one per quarter instead.  Then March rolled around and I realized I hadn't even started a classic, much less finished one.  So I grabbed Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham and started it.  I'd found it back in January at the used book store and thought it sounded interesting.  And who doesn't want to read a book by an author with a name as cool as Somerset Maugham?  That alone was enough to make me attempt it.

If a classic serves as a standard of excellence, I can see why this book is a classic.  The writing?  Excellent.  The themes?  Broad, lasting, well-addressed.  The time it took to read the book?  Substantial - and not just because the book was 680 pages long.  The book was so packed that I could only read bits at a time before taking a mental breather.  Was the book worth my time?  Yes, but I'd love for my next classic to be a bit easier to read.

That's where you come in.  What's your favorite classic and why?  It is easy to read?  A book you still think about?  Does it have characters that you love?

Give me all your thoughts.

And should you be looking for your next great book, my favorite book of all time is The Book Thief.  I can't say enough good things about it.  If you haven't read it, read it.  But first leave me a comment telling me your favorite classic!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


: a feast that commemorates Christ's resurrection and is observed with variations of date due to different calendars on the first Sunday after the paschal full moon

Today is the first day of Easter.  The first of fifty days that are about living out the lessons learned during Lent.  It's a mental adjustment for me to see Easter as a season and not a day.  It's more natural for me to see Lent or Advent as seasons, largely because they coincide with cultural or environmental seasons.  But the longer I participate in a church that follows a liturgical calendar, the more I feel the rightness and value of this deep within me. 

For Advent, Epiphany and Lent, I made journals to commemorate each season.  By the end of each season, I was sad for the season to end, sad to say goodbye to my current journal.  Yet each season has offered discrete and unique lessons.  Lessons that are held, documented and remembered in those journals.  Yesterday morning I created an Easter journal.  I'm sure by the time Pentecost arrives, I'll be sad to close this journal for the final time.

As I sat at our Maundy Thursday service, I had the thought that Easter is for listening.  I even contemplated putting that on the cover of the journal.  I pondered this for a few days as I picked the colors and papers for my journal.  As I planned the journal, I continued to think about listening.  Perhaps Lent was for listening, not Easter.  Then on Saturday morning I read this passage in Celtic Daily Prayer:

Let us do what our Lord did and rise early in the morning, whilst everything is at rest in silence and darkness, when sleep envelops everything in torpor, in profound quiet.  Let us rise and watch with God, lifting our hearts to Him, laying our souls at His feet, and at this early hour when intercourse is so secret and so sweet let us fall at His feet and enjoy converse with our Creator.  How good He is to let us come to His feet whilst all is sleeping.  Whilst all is sleeping in silence and shadow, let us begin both our day and our prayers.  Before our working day begins let us pass long hours praying at the feet of our Lord.

Yes, I think my Lent was for listening.  It would, in fact, make perfect sense for me to discover the meaning of Lent on the very last day of the season.  If there's one thing I've learned in my few years of observing Lent, it's that the season is rarely about what I think it's about on Ash Wednesday.  This year's Lenten vow of walking or running every morning was so far out of left field that I had no idea what it might be about.  As I told my counselor about it, she remarked, "I love that you don't see this as a way to lose weight.  That's not even on your radar as you approach this."  That continued to be the case throughout Lent. 

My morning ambulations were far more about spiritual growth than physical fitness.  I'm not a morning person, yet I found that once I was out of bed and on my way, walking was the perfect way to start my day.  I was able to be awake and alone for thirty or forty-five minutes without ever speaking aloud.  My mind was able to be quiet and receptive.  It was almost like I dreamed conversations with God on those morning walks.

Lent was about listening - and not only listening to God, but to my body and my soul.  I found out what clothing I like best on cool mornings, what to wear when it rains and that I need a new pair of shoes.  I found that quiet wakefulness can be more restful than a few minutes of extra sleep in the morning.

What will Easter be about?  Right now I'm not very sure.  I would like for Easter to be more active on my part than Lent has been.  I'd like to not just receive, but give.  I'd like to not just listen, but talk.  But I've been incredibly overwhelmed by life over the last ten days, so I'm not sure I'm in the position to offer much on my own.  In fact, that's another lesson I learned this Lent: I can do very little in my own power.  I can't even see my own sin without help, much less change and make myself more whole.  So whatever Easter is about, it will have to be about doing it in the resurrection power of Jesus, not the barely-holding-it together power of Shannon.

I've read that we Christians are Easter people.  It's what we celebrate on Easter morning, not Christmas morning, that sets us apart from others.  It's what was missing from that grave all those years ago that makes us able to live out of a power and peace that is not our own.  It's the fact that someone fully God and fully human once loved (and still loves) us enough to let that love take his life from him, but not defeat him in death.

I want to be an Easter person.  I want this season of my life to be one that sees me face life's uncertainties, challenges, joys, disappointments and surprises with peace, grace, humility and strength.  I want to be an Easter person.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


1 : the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit : loveliness

Last Wednesday evening I was on my way to a gathering of moms.  We meet twice monthly to pray, share some silence and encourage one another.  This particular evening was a lovely one.  The weather was nice.  I was driving J's car, so I had the sun roof open and the windows rolled down.  Even though I knew it would make me a few minutes late, I couldn't bring myself to get on the interstate.  Instead, I took the slower, but more enjoyable, ride.  When I explained my late arrival to my friends, one of them said, "You are so aware of aesthetics - even on something like a car ride!"  I had never thought of it that way, but she's right.  I appreciate beauty, in all its various forms.

This weekend, we traveled to East Tennessee for some time away from home.  It was good for my soul, not the least because of the beautiful surroundings.  I marveled at the lush greens,

the budding pine cones,

the side-of-the-road wildflowers,

the soaring mountains,

the roaring rivers.

As we were sitting riverside having a picnic, B pondered aloud, "I wonder what Nashville would look like without roads, without people, without buildings.  I wonder what it looked like before all of that.

That's worth thinking about, isn't it?  What would this world look like without all of our roads, buildings, businesses, power lines and on and on?  Because I can tell you that I think left unchecked, nature tends towards beauty.

God's world, His creation - all of that rushes headlong towards loveliness.  The stuff of man?  Not so much.  In sharp contrast to the natural world, our efforts to make our lives easier with paved roads, running water and constantly available electricity and technology often serve to rob our lives of beauty instead of adding it.

I'm not a Luddite.  In fact, today I read an article about the low ownership of dishwashers amongst the English and thought, "Well, that's one strike against living in England."  I am fond of creature comforts, but surrounded by evidence that mankind knows little self-restraint.  We keep building and buying when we should stop, look and breathe deeply.

I'm not saying we should all move to shacks in the woods.  I am saying we should make more of an effort to find and embrace beauty in our everyday lives.  Because our souls long for it, whether we hear them or not.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


2 : from this or that place

There is something to be said for getting away.  For leaving behind your daily life.  For breaking up the carefully ordered routine that gets your family through each day.

I say this having just spent four nights away with my family for a Spring Break weekend.  We left Friday afternoon and headed for the mountains - to a simple cabin that was no frills, no wi-fi, no pressure.  There wasn't laundry waiting to be done when I arrived.  There weren't children's shoes scattered about the living room floor.  The only books in the house were on a bookshelf.

Going away to vacation is always more relaxing than being at home (even if I do love having time off at home to visit our favorite hometown places).  It's a combination of physically leaving your known surroundings, whether by car or plane, and a mentally leaving behind the responsibilities that surround you in your home environment.  I think this is especially true for a stay at home mom (and perhaps even more so for a homeschooling mom).  There is always something I can be doing if I'm at home.  This doesn't mean I'm doing it - I may be reading a book instead - but you can be certain there is always cleaning, organizing or planning to be done.

But in a cabin in the mountains?  There was no cleaning.  There was minimal cooking.  Accompanied by lots of reading, a movie every night for the girls and the completion of a book I've been reading for weeks.  There were family walks, visits to a national park, riding roller coasters at a theme park, celebrating Palm Sunday at a tiny but picturesque church, picnicking riverside and wading in a river.  This last was done only by my daughters.  After putting my feet in and finding out the river felt like ice water, I opted to watch them play instead of play with them.

We didn't spend a long time away.  With Spring Break and Holy Week coinciding, I was willing to miss Palm Sunday at our church, but wanted to be back for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.  Yet this short trip was fun, rejuvenating and as restful as a vacation with three daughters can be.

On our second night at the cabin, I prayed with the girls all together instead of individually.  Each daughter prayed about her thankfulness for time away.  12 year old A mentioned being thankful for getting to see a new place.  10 year old B was thankful for the mountains.  7 year old K was thankful for a cabin with a lamp by her bed (the poor child clearly needs a bedside table and lamp).

I am thankful, too.  For time to see a new and different part of our state.  For time to explore our world together.  For glimpses of nature's beauty and how varied and vibrant it is.  For a few days to sleep in and read more.  I'm thankful to have had some time away.

(I have some lovely pictures of everything from the view from our cabin to a mama black bear with her cubs.  I will post them when I find the camera...)