Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Andrew Peterson gems

I got a belated birthday present on Saturday - an Andrew Peterson cd from my sister. I get really excited about new cds - I'm completely NOT a part of the iTunes culture. I need to get a whole cd, sit down with it when I first get it, read all the lyrics, etc. It's like I'm already old-fashioned and I'm still in my twenties. Anyway, this one is everything I'd hoped it would be. Simple melodies, nothing ground-breaking musically, but sweet, God-honoring lyrics that have been a welcome soundtrack in an emotionally challenging week. Some excerpts:

from "Just as I Am" - about God's love:

"All of my life I've held on to this fear
These thistles and vines ensare and entwine
What flowers appeared
It's the fear that I'll fall one too many times
It's the fear that His love is no better than mine"

and from "Silence of God," a song about how hard it is when God seems silent:

"There's a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
in the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He's kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone
All his friends are sleeping and He's weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not"

and from "After the Last Tear Falls," a song that lists off all the many types of tragedy and hardship that will one day come to an end

"And in the end, the end is oceans and oceans of love and love again
We'll see how the tears that have fallen were caught in the palms
of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we'll look back on these tears as old tales..."

Songs like these make me excited about the many miles of driving that my job requires. Looks like today will be another windows-down, belting-it-out kind of day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Same old, same old...

One thing I love about my job is that it allows me to have long breaks in the middle of the day. Last week, I met a friend at my favorite coffee shop here in Ahwatukee. We had a couple hours to talk, and we covered a lot. She, like me, has an interest in doing mission work in Europe, and we could talk for hours on end about different places we've been, what we've experienced, what we hope to experience in the future, what we're learning while we wait, and how God is working through different people and places to accomplish His purposes. So last week we talked about these things and more, and for awhile it didn't seem like I was in the middle of a work day. My mind and heart were in far away places. I stopped by her house briefly before heading to work, and then as I drove away thought about what an interesting challenge it is to refocus on work itself after a few hours of thinking and talking about other things. I still had more than 5 hours of the "same old, same old" to deal with before the work day would end.

So I arrived at the house of my first afternoon kid. And as I walked down the stairs into the basement, where we have his therapy, I was struck by the fact that there really IS no same old, same old in my job. I can walk away from thinking of amazing things like the way that God is at work in people and in nations across the globe, and then I get to walk down the stairs and greet a little boy with Down Syndrome. And he says, "Hi, Krista!" and my heart is warmed. And as he eagerly runs over and sits down next to me at the keyboard, I'm reminded that my job is an incredible gift - that it keeps me thinking of amazing things - how God is at work in this little boy, in 30 other kids that I work with, how I get to be a part of seeing kids learn to talk, to walk, to listen, to express themselves, to interact in a meaningful way with other people. And as much as I long in many ways to move on to a next chapter in my life, this chapter is so, so sweet. My work exhausts me, but it is work that means a great deal, and it is work that reminds me daily of the goodness of my God and His unique workings in little lives.

And on that note, today's coffee break is over - time to get back to work. :-)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

discontent, discipline, and the goodness of God

Last night, my discontent slapped me in the face with such great intensity that I was pretty near being literally paralyzed by it. There were a couple factors that went into that, which I won't discuss publicly, but by about 9:45 I ended up just laying on my bed and staring into space, trying to pray but just feeling so distant, so frustrated. I was frustrated with myself for having put my hope in things other than Christ without having even realized it, AGAIN. And, being a sinner, I was frustrated with God, too, for not doing things in my timing, and for not keeping my heart stayed on Him as I'd asked him to.

I am a person who thrives on schedules. So while it was one of those moods where part of me just wanted to curl up and try to sleep and ignore the world and my regular routine, the larger part of me knew that ignoring my typical routine would only make me feel worse. The last part of my nightly routine is reading part of what I read in my English Bible in the morning, in Romanian. Our small group is going through Hebrews right now, and in the morning I'd read Hebrews 11-12. So I dug out my two Bibles and started to work through the translation of the first few verses of Hebrews 12, then ended up reading the whole chapter in English before I moved on to Romanian. Such a sweet chapter, and I wept as I meditated on the God who disciplines BECAUSE He loves. I was feeling "weary and fainthearted," and was counseled from God's own Word to consider the One who" endured from sinners such hostility against himself." My sin does cling so closely, but I am encouraged to lay it aside, look to Christ, and run this race with endurance.

Having read the chapter through in English, I read it then out loud to myself in Romanian. When I got to v. 6 the tears fell fresh. Something about the Romanian word for love for some reason hit me harder than the English word on this night. In Romanian, the first part of v. 6 reads, "Caci Domnul pedepseste pe cine-l iubeste" (For the Lord disciplines the one he loves). Pe cine-l iubeste - the one he loves. My identity as a sinner was so clear to me in the moments leading up to that one, and when I got there, I was so so sweetly reminded of my identity as a one whom the Lord loves! I don't think I have any Romanians reading my blog, so I'm sure no one else is affected by "pe cine-l iubeste" the way that I was, but let me just assure you that it is immensely sweet. Plus in Romanian this verse is full of rhymes, which makes it prime material for song lyrics or a poem in the near future...

Whether or not God ever sends me back to Romania, I continue to be immensely grateful for the gift of worshipping Him in a language other than my own. I think it's hard for English words to affect my heart rightly sometimes - the word love, after all, is one I use for such trivial things on a normal basis. But God used His Word to me in my beat-up Romanian Bible to touch a calloused heart with the assurance of His proimises. This discipline is fruitful discipline flowing from a God who loves sinful me - and I am able to endure because of the One who endured the cross on my behalf.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Day of Fall

I realized this morning that it was the first day of Fall, and that I hadn't planned for it. No, I don't mean switching out summer clothes for autumn ones or celebrating any kind of seasonal change. But for the last 5 years, I've spent at least a few minutes on the first day of fall at the cemetery, and today that isn't going to happen. Working in Ahwatukee all day and going to small group in Tempe after work doesn't leave any real opportunity to drive to central Mesa. But what I will do is re-post something I posted last fall about my time there and why I usually take that time:

On the first day of fall each year, I go to the city cemetery in my hometown. Nothing to do with the changing weather – it doesn’t change until at least October. But on the first day of fall in 1920, my grandmother was born. And in fall of 2003, she died. And so this is one of several landmarks during the year when I visit her grave, which she shares with my grandpa.
I’m not a person who believes in the mystical power of gravesites, or even in the dead looking down on me, or me having a chance to communicate with them while I’m there. But there is something about a cemetery. This one especially. It’s not well-groomed really- not a manicured lawn dotted with perfectly sculpted monuments. It’s old, and it has weeds sometimes, and it’s right in the middle of a not-so-nice part of town. But I love it. Somehow, ironically, there is life there. People come there and they sit by the graves of their loved ones. Some bring chairs, some bring books, some plan for a whole day. And unless there’s a funeral happening at the time, there isn’t that innate sense that you need to be quiet. And some people put balloons at the graves, not just flowers. And Happy Halloween signs, and birthday cards…
But I digress. When I go to the cemetery, it’s not for a long day of sitting. On this particular fall day, it’s much too hot to stay long anyway. I park my car and wander, nodding my respects to funeral-goers nearby and starting my search for the grave. I always remember that it’s just east of the entrance, and just north of a tree…but there are many trees and I always end up wandering. And then I find it, and I pause. Ingebrigtsen, Marjorie and Leonard. I’m here for both of them, really, it’s just that the birthday is my grandma’s. I make sure the ants won’t be too bothersome, then I tidy up a bit. Other times, I’ve brought flowers, but today I didn’t. I fluff out the fake flowers that someone else has brought before and turn my attention to the gravestone itself. It’s dusty – the lawn has apparently been mowed recently and little grass clippings have settled all around. I brush off the big ones with my hand, but that doesn’t take care of all the little bits that have landed in the engraving. My grandparents loved the Superstition Mountains – even moved here to Arizona because of them. They once had a cabin there that still fills the memories of everyone in the 2 generations above me. And so that was chosen as the design of their stone. A simple sketch of the outline of that dramatic desert mountain range, now filled with the tiniest bits of dead grass. I blow gently on each line to clear it, and then trace the names the same way. Now satisfied, I simply sit and think and pray. Not for a long time – these are thoughts and prayers that aren’t as gut-wrenching now as they once were. Now when I go it is more to remind myself of those times before – of everything that happened in the fall of 2003, of the largely unscarred life I left behind, of the doubts I overcame, of the daily mercy of God sustaining and refreshing my soul, even while I was trying my hardest to walk away from Him. They are things that need to be remembered and cannot be forgotten, things that have shaped me into who I am. And I dare not ever forget that it was hard but that God was there. And that the story’s not over yet and that God still has much to teach me.
I breathe my thanks to the God who was there, to the God who IS there. I breathe also a prayer for the family members who are still here, who still need the mercy of God to capture their hearts. And I pray that I would not grow weary. And I walk back to my car, as I watch the funeral-goers, and the lawn-chair-sitters, and I remember.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Are Miraculous Gifts for Today" quotes

Three favorite quotes from the authors' concluding statements. I really did like what all 4 men had to say, but these quotes in particular stood out to me:

"When God pours out his Spirit in power, believers respond in a variety of
ways. We need to be tolerant of one another rather than judgmental, and we
certainly should not limit God in ways that he has not limited himself. We
all know that the Bible lays down boundaries that we must not cross in the name
of spiritual unity; there can be no compromise, either explicitly by confession
or implicitly through association, on doctrines necessary for salvation.
But in the one true church, there should be a fundamental unity of the Spirit
that transcends all differences." - Douglas Oss

"Unity in the church has many dimensions and coming together around the
Scriptures in search of truth for the sake of God's work cannot help but
increase a sense of oneness, even when final agreement is not reached." - Robert

"We did not agree on all points, but our dialogue helped us to
see that we shared a common heart. This recognition conditioned not only
the content of our dialogue but especially the attitude in which it was
pursued. Getting to know the heart of those with whom we differ and seeing
God's presence at work in them as well as oneself is a boon toward fruitful
dialogue...With all believers, I long for the day when all of God's people are
united. The presence of sin, however, will no doubt delay that reality
until the time of glorification. In the meantime we should all recognize
that divergent views are frequently the result of emphasizing certain aspects of
God's total truth. This emphasis may proceed beyond scriptural bounds to
exaggerated error at times, but it is helpful to recognize that the emphasis was
often initiated in search of a reality that the church needed to hear. In
the case of miraculous spiritual gifts, continuationists continually remind us
of the supernatural power and experiential aspects of our Christian faith.
Cessationists, on the other hand, stress that true Christianity rests on, and is
always to be evaluated by, the once-for-all delivered revelation of the
completed canonical Scripture. The church does not yet perceive the
correct relationship of these elements, but surely both emphases are to be
included in it." - Robert Saucy

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

on miraculous gifts

A few months back, our small group was reading though 1st Corinthians (in the process of reading through the Bible in a couple years)When we got to the familiar section in chapters 12-14 about spiritual gifts, I was ready to dive in and somehow get to the conclusion that I already held about the role (or lack thereof) of certain of these gifts in the church today. But I couldn't do it. I dove in, alright, and I couldn't get past certain verses and come away with an unchanged perspective. When we discussed it in group, we didn't spend a lot of time there, and I wasn't entirely satisfied with how we ended it.

On top of this, for more than a year, I've been attending a Romanian church twice a month or so that, at least on paper, holds beliefs on almost the opposite side of the spectrum as my own church on these issues. Without looking into it much, I had decided that I could enjoy the fellowship and worship at that church without agreeing with every element of their doctrine. I've been thoroughly blessed and encouraged by the style of worship at that church and had never experienced anything there that brought me any significant discomfort, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to let it change my doctrinal stance. But my 1st Corinthians study experience made my already wondering mind realize that I needed to look into this more, and do more than just ask someone to tell me what to think. A friend at church (thx Russ!) recommended a book, endorsed by our church elders, that laid out some of the basic positions on this topic. 4 different Biblical scholars wrote essays explaining/defending their position, and then each responded to each other.

So, several months ago, I began the endeavor of reading this book. Not exactly an easy read -full of incredibly complex lines of thought and words I'd never known before, but what an encouragement! Some of my own reactions:

-At the end of the day, my beliefs are just more moderate than they'd been a few months back. No drastic change, but a significant growth in understanding and well-thought conclusions. And still a certain amount of openness - every one of these men made a very good case.

-I realized how quick I am to judge other Christian beliefs and practices - how quick I am to assume that they are not Biblical simply because they are not what my church believes or does and my church is Biblical. I hadn't left room in my mind for the possibility that other people who love the word of God and cling to it as an absolute standard for church practice and personal holiness have simply come to different conclusions about certain things, and that those conclusions are not based on ignorance or blatant error.

And most of all, I was so very blessed to see the unity demonstrated by these 4 men (plus the editor, Wayne Grudem). At the beginning of the book and at the end, all areas of agreement were laid out. There are many! None believe that any miraculous gift is more important than the miracle of regeneration, when God changes the heart of a sinner and gives new life. None believe that a person must speak in tongues in order to prove that they possess the Holy Spirit. None believe that God has ceased to work miraculously. The list goes on... And ultimately, each man desires to see God worshipped in a way that honors Him and obeys His word.

I have to go back to work, but if time permits, I hope soon to post some sweet quotes from the book that point to this God-honoring unity around the Gospel.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What we Know

Finally able to sit and think and blog at a coffee shop - daily paperwork as done as it can be for now, to-do list virtually empty, and 30 more minutes before going back to work. Seems like it's been forever...

I've been thinking a lot lately about perspective. My thoughts on this sort of sprung from a horrible day of work I had last week. On days when I'm not at my best, I lack a good deal of compassion when the kids are awful. On this particular day, it seemed they'd all conspired ahead of time to try my patience in every way. Just about everyone tantrumed. Several took off their clothes. Grumpiness abounded. And sometimes, when a child looks at me as if their world has been irreparably disrupted by my telling them, "sit in the CHAIR please," "the trampoline is for LATER," or "Let's play the DRUM!", I want to stare right back at them and say, "You don't have ANYTHING to complain about. Your life is easy. Your parents take care of your every need. Your biggest concern is getting what you want in every moment. You don't have bills to pay. You don't have a concept of Future with a capital F. A hard day for you is when you get a snack that isn't your favorite. You have a whole team of professionals whose job it is to help you in every way they can. Please don't scratch me in the face because I'm asking you to sit in a chair."

But then I start to think about how similar we really are. Yeah, I'm not likely to take off my clothes when I don't get what I want. I'm not going to throw myself on the floor and self-abuse because I'd rather be in a different room. But, similarly to these kids, I know what I want and am disappointed when I don't get it. My concerns go a little bit beyond what I want to eat, what I want to be doing in that exact moment, how much longer I'll be in a specific room doing what I'm told. Instead, I'm caught up in thinking about things like paying for a surgery I didn't think I'd have to pay for, how much I desire to be married, how I'm missing certain people and places and times, how I want to be better at my job that I am... My problems FEEL bigger than their problems SEEM to me...but my concept of the world is bigger, so it only makes sense. Surely when your comprehension of the world around you is still limited and developing, problems that seem small to other people seem insurmountable.

But really, it should go beyond that. I'm not just an adult without developmental disabilities, capable of understanding the world at an adult level. I'm a person changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. With an understanding that my sins have been paid for by Christ's finished work on the cross, that He has risen again and reigns in Heaven, that His Spirit indwells me and allows me to live a life that increasingly looks like His, that I will live for eternity in His presence, in the absence of sin, sorrow, and fear...with that understanding, EVERY problem of this life should appear as insignificant as being given a xylophone instead of a drum. And my inner tantrums are really as unreasonable as these kids' outward ones.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jars of Clay, part 3

Ok I hope to finally finish this series today...there have been some seriously bloggable topics in the last few months but I knew I needed to finish this series before moving on...can't leave anything unfinished. With the more recent albums of Jars, I still have loved the music, but more so have enjoyed the way they continue to provide a soundtrack to my life.

In 2005, Jars of Clay released Redemption Songs, an album of old hymns redone in Jars of Clay style. Beautiful. Obviously, the lyrics can't be credited to Jars, but the combination of their excellent musicianship and this treasure trove of beautiful lyrics reflecting on the Savior made for a pretty incredible album. There wasn't anything in particular about 2005 that made this album matter to me; the songs were just a sweet return to basic truths about God and what He has accomplished. One of my favorite memories of this album is listening to it over and over last spring when my Romanian friend Vasi came to visit. We drove to Sedona, Flagstaff, and the Grand Canyon and back, singing sweet truths about our God all the way.

I wasn't a very good fan for a couple years - didn't really keep track of what the band was up to at all. In September 2006, I was driving to New York from Phoenix to start my internship. My dad was with me, and we heard a song on the radio that sounded to me like Jars of Clay but wasn't one I knew. Sure enough, the dj announced that it was a song from their new album, Good Monsters, which was released in stores that day. So my best memories of this album are the ones of trying to find it! Here we are, traveling across the US, and I decided that it was pretty important that I get my hands on this cd. My dad was really great about it - he made it his goal as much as mine, and we would choose cities to pull off in that seemed like they might have a decent music store close to the highway. I forget what city or even what state we finally found it in, but the search was half the fun. And then I was able to listen to this cd during the rest of that long journey and during the difficult months that lay ahead.

Christmas Songs, released in 2007, is not my favorite Jars cd or my favorite Christmas cd - I was a little disappointed at the number of secular songs on what I hoped would be a cd that would bring me to worship during the Christmas season. Still a good cd, though - and I was glad they finally did a Christmas one.

And finally, Long Fall Back to Earth. Just came out in April and I was ready for it. Not ready enough, though, to preorder the cd. I just figured that that morning I would go buy it at a store. I made some sad assumptions though. Apparently it's 2009, and apparently that means that you're primarily encouraged to buy music from iTunes or from amazon. I called around a few actual physical stores that morning with no luck. Finally, I found it at a Best Buy near where I was working that day. I overestimated how long I would be in the store, so once I came out with cd in hand, I sat in the parking lot listening. Then I got to the house of my next kiddo, and sat there listening to it for awhile, foolishly with the ignition off. And battery died. The battery in my 2007, fully maintained, reliable Honda Civic died. Still don't know exactly how this happened, because the Honda guy and my dad both said that just listening to music without the car on for the limited time that I did shouldn't have caused a battery to just die. Honda checked everything out and ran a full test on the battery and the system and all and nothing really explained it. Because they took care of it for free, and because my dad was around to bail me out, and because I didn't even have to miss a session for it, I was able to laugh about the whole thing. Even if it didn't make sense, it seemed my Jars obsession had almost cost me a car battery.

Ok, that concludes my Jars of Clay series...even though I didn't even include lyrics in this part...anyway, from here on out, hopefully I'll blog more often than once every nine weeks...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jars of Clay part 2

So where I left off in the previous post, I was in 2003, in a period of grief and doubt and thankful that Jars of Clay provided a musical background for this season.

Their next album was Who We Are Instead. I think I've recently decided that this is my all-time favorite album of theirs. As I started to come out of the gloom of 2003 and see the way that God was redeeming my pain and my doubts, Jars of Clay provided the soundtrack for this as well. The opening stanza of the 1st song, "Sunny Days," is a prime example:

"Sunny days, keepin' the clouds away

I think we’re coming to a clearing and a brighter day
So far away and still I think they say,

The wait will make the heart grow stronger

or fonder, I can’t quite remember, anyway"

The entire song, "Faith Enough," is full of absolutely beautiful lyrics, including this part,

"Confused enough to know direction

Sun eclipsed enough to shine

Be still enough to finally tremble

See enough to know i'm blind,"

and this sweet line in the chorus:

"It's just enough to be strong in the broken places."

I could see already how God was using my brokenness from the previous months to strengthen me in a really beautiful way that only He could accomplish. The song, "I'm In the Way," was a sweet declaration that Christ wasn't letting me go. Had it been up to me in November of 2003, I would have abandoned my faith entirely. But it was clearly NOT up to me, I'd been redeemed, I'd been bought. Christ was in the way of my falling down. Another song on the album simply repeats the line, "Jesus' blood hasn't failed me yet," over and over. Sound boring? Listen to it, it's anything but.

My favorite song on the album, Jealous Kind, talks about when we choose sin over the selfless love of Christ, and how Christ has a jealous love for us when we start to run after things that cannot satisfy. The whole song is incredible; here's an example:

"Tryin' to jump away from rock that keeps on spreading

Solace in the shift of the sinking sand

I'd rather feel the pain all too familiar

Than be broken by a lover I don't understand."

Ok, enough about that album. I almost forgot about Furthermore. This album was mostly live and studio versions of previously released songs, but "The Valley Song," a new one, was incredible. Can't even pick my favorite part of it, but this one's a competitor:

"When death, like a gypsy, comes to steal what I love

I will still look to the heavens, I will still seek Your face

But I fear You aren't listening, because there are no words

Just a stillness and a hunger for a faith that assures"

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Ok so unfortunately, this is now part 2 of 3...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jars of Clay - Part 1

Jars of Clay released their latest album a couple weeks ago,which got me feeling all reminiscent about life (it doesn't take much) as I thought back on my history with Jars of Clay. They've been my favorite band since junior high, and they still hold that title even if I'm not 100% impressed with them all the time anymore. Just about all their albums hold special signifiance for me, and I'm always looking for excuses to share my favorite lyrics w/people. So this post may take awhile and come in more than 1 part, but I want to reflect on each of their albums and maybe some lyrics from each. If no one reads this, I don't mind - it's fun for me anyway...

Much Afraid - the first JOC cd I owned, and one of the first cds i owned, period. This is my favorite album to play on the piano these days, too. One of my favorite stanzas, from "Hymn:"

"Oh gaze of love so melt my pride, that I may in Your house but kneel
And in my brokenness to cry, spring worship unto Thee."

Jars of Clay - their self-titled album came out before I was on the scene. My sister had it and eventually gave it to me because I loved it so much. "Worlds Apart" probably contains some of the best lyrics ever written, like the following,

"I look beyond the empty cross Forgetting what my life has cost
And wipe away the crimson stains And dull the nails that still remain
More and more I need you now, I owe you more each passing hour
The battle between grace and pride I gave up not so long ago,"

but their "Love Song for a Savior" became sort of my theme song for a long time and still may hold the title of one of my favorite songs of all time (sorry for all the superlatives). The line, "Someday he'll call her and she will come running" often made me cry when I thought of my friend Katherine who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a teenager and would never again run in this life. This song was one of the theme songs of the Chrysalis retreat I went on in high school that made the gospel come alive in my heart and life. And, corny as this sounds in comparison, my high school boyfriend had the dj at a church dance play this song when he asked me to dance and to be his girlfriend. ha, the memories...

I really liked If I Left the Zoo but nothing stands out as life-changing with that one...

Enter The Eleventh Hour. When this album first came out, I enjoyed it but it wasn't my favorite. But when my grandparents died the following year and I questioned God in a way I never had before in the weeks and months that followed, this album was sweet medicine to my soul. I saw their concert during the week when my grandma had died, and my grandpa was on his death bed. They spoke about how being a believer is not always a happy, carefree existence - that life is hard and questions are real. This part of "Something Beautiful" still brings tears to my eyes as I reflect on how desperately I wanted to feel God's presence in a real way during that time:

What I get from my reflection isn't what I thought I'd see.
Give me reason to believe you'd never keep me incomplete.
Will you untie this loss of mine, it easily defines me.
Do you see it on my face. That all I can think about is
how long I've been waiting to feel you move me.

I think this is long enough for 1 blog. We'll leave it as part 1 of hopefully 2.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

on the lighter side...

In looking over my last few entries, I realized that I've been super-serious for awhile. Granted, there have been some super-serious events that have shaped what I've written about, and those super-serious events have not stopped. But my life is not all one dramatic life event after another (even if it sometimes feels that way!). So I think today I just want to mention a few random fun things. and i do mean random.

I was proposed to the other day by a 13-year-old boy who can't talk. In the middle of my music therapy session with him, right in the middle of a song, he got on one knee and slipped an imaginary ring on my right index finger. When I asked if he was proposing to me, he signed yes. He later reneacted the scene when I told his mom about it, to which his mom responded that she wasn't sure our relationship was going anywhere...I said no to him a second time, and he took it pretty well. I love my job.

I got to hang out at ASU a couple weeks ago on a Friday night, and it was pretty fantastic. My roommate Amanda and I watched some friends play volleyball, then went walking around campus with some friends of a friend, 2 international students from Libya. They tried to teach us Arabic and we had lots of random conversations about culture. I love hanging out with internationals - I need to do it more often! They didn't know their way around too well, and Amanda didn't go to ASU, so I had fun leading us on a random quest for coffee on campus, even though I was pretty sure there wasn't any available at 10pm on a Friday night.

I talked to my Romanian friend Razvan yesterday - heard his voice for the first time in almost 2 years! He's the one I affectionately refer to as my Romanian gangster friend, although he has corrected me by saying that gangsters are people who kill and he has never killed. Anyway, we had a really great chat yesterday - my headset on my computer finally cooperated so we could talk through yahoo messenger for free. It was so unreal to be able to just talk about life as if we didn't live across the world from each other, as if he didn't almost die last year (long story!), as if it was still 2007 and I'd just come home from Romania.

Ok, like I said, a random selection of happenings...and I'm not even going to round it out with a closing statement - gotta get back to work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Isn't He good?

This past weekend I took my long-awaited trip to Houston for my dear friend Michelle's wedding. As usual, God's timing proved impeccable. The tickets had been bought months earlier, but it was such a relief to be able to go with the job situation temporarily under control back at home. 3 days away from Arizona and from music therapy and from daily life were a welcome respite.

I want to describe every detail of the trip (don't worry, I won't!) but I'll start with 1 thing that was said at the rehearsal dinner on Friday, because it sort of set the theme for the whole weekend. One man (Rob's uncle?), after reflecting on God's sovereign hand in bringing Michelle and Rob together, simply said, "Isn't He good?" And for the rest of the weekend, I had that phrase, complete with the southern accent in which it was said, echoing in my mind. God is indeed good in the way he brought Michelle and Rob together. He is good in having redeemed each of them from their sins and freeing them to love Him first and most. He is good in demonstrating through Christ what it means to sacrifice, to become a servant, and so enabling them to better do that in their shared life together. He is good in having given them so many believing family members, a whole built-in community of lovers-of-God in which they can grow and thrive.

And He is good in having let Katie and me be a part of the weekend. I felt so spoiled the whole time. Michelle had graciously taken care of our lodging - a nice hotel near all of our destinations. We were invited to the rehearsal dinner, despite not being relatives and never having even met the groom or his family. On top of it all, Michelle gave us sweet and encouraging notes complete with Starbucks gift cards, as if she hadn't given us enough already! Her selfless love toward us over the weekend was a sweet reflection of Christ's selfless love toward her, her family, and ourselves.

And everything went incredibly smoothly. On-time flights, our first successful renting of a car, only minimal occurences of getting lost... We enjoyed all 3 of Michelle's favorite coffee shops, 1 each day, as well as some little low-key explorations of parks, monuments, neighborhoods, and the downtown area. We had an amazing time and hardly spent any money at all. I even got a free glass of wine just because the bartender was also from AZ and not-so-subtly covered our drinks. The weather was beyond belief, and Houston was I think at its very best. Everything was green and beautiful. Even the radio was on our side. Actually, the radio was overall pretty ridiculously awful, but there were 3 perfect moments that made it evident the trip was created with me in mind. When we first turned on our rental car, thrilled to be finally in Texas, the song on the radio was "God Bless Texas." We randomly heard John MacArthur preaching on limited atonement after dinner on Friday. And Saturday morning, there was a talk show on the radio about the importance of music in neurological disorders. Unreal.

I want to include pictures but will have to upload those later on so as not to be late to work. So in closing, God is good! He graciously chooses to give good gifts to his children, after already having given them the greatest gift imaginable - a relationship with Him! He is indeed worthy to be praised!

Friday, March 13, 2009

What really matters...

I got another email from my employer last night, this one saying that our rates have returned to their former levels! A lawsuit against the State of Arizona was successful, and while the battle is far from over, the State was forced to immediately restore everything that was cut. They will fight it, of course, and we can't be confident that this is permanent, but it is still a reason to rejoice.

So it looks as though I'll be staying at my job and with the same kids and in my same house for at least another few weeks - praise God! And whether the last month was an isolated season or a taste of what is soon to come, I am genuinely thankful that it happened. Some of the many blessings that came out of it:

- a closer, more intimate walk with God. I've seen so many answered prayers, and have felt God's nearness in so many ways. Even in points of exhaustion, or maybe especially in them, I've been able to rejoice in His goodness

- a stronger belief in my ability to live without the little luxuries. My coffee shop attendance, in particular, has been significantly lower. Seems I'm actually able to stay awake without any caffeine at all!

- a more genuine belief in the value of what I do. How do you walk away from a job where little miracles happen all around you on a regular basis? I've treasured each of my sessions as my potential last with each of my kids, and it's been a pretty amazing journey.

-greather empathy. One roommate and 1 other good friend, among many others I'm aware of, have been jobless for some time. And while every situation is obviously unique, I have a certain understanding now that I couldn't have had before.

- practice in hospitality. I've never been a big fan of eating out, but I do love 1:1 conversations with friends, and in the past those were most often scheduled over a meal out or a coffee date at one of my favorite spots. My sudden financial predicament prompted me to invite people over instead. I actually cooked for people occasionally, had the blessing of other people coming over and cooking in our kitchen, and I finally learned how to make my own mochas for myself and my friends. And I enjoyed it!

-general growing up. I've been making all sorts of difficult decisions - turning down other jobs even while mine is in a sorry state, having to think about things like insurance above things like preference, having very formal conversations that I don't want to have. And God has given me peace in each of these things.

God has been so good. I had to fight to shepherd my heart in this whole situation, but I feel like I didn't even have to fight that hard. His goodness has been so consistently evident, and blessings have been in such abundance. We'll see how the future plays out, but one thing I know is that my God does not change. His faithfulness now will persist through whatever good or bad might come in upcoming weeks, months, and years. What a comfort! What a joy!

Friday, February 27, 2009

not where I thought I'd be...

I got the email from my employer this morning, with the official new rate that I will be payed starting Monday. It is not a 54% cut but a 60% one. It's only a little worse than I expected, but still hard to see a cold, hard number that means that, unless something changes and fast, I need a new job.

This isn't where I thought I'd be. But it's not the first time that things have happened which I didn't expect, and God has faithfully proven in the past that he truly does work all things for my good. Had you asked me as a high schooler what my life would look like at age 25, I would probably have seen myself married with a kid by now. Had you asked me 5 years ago what my biggest passions would become, Romania would not even have been on the radar. Had you asked me 2 years ago what my career plan was, I would have told you that it was almost definitely not music therapy. A year and a half ago, I would have said that I was just going to work as a music therapist for a year at most and then move on.

It's really hard to look at the future right now. It's hard to think that music therapy may have been just a season, and a short one at that. And I still have 31 faces running through my mind - each of the kids that i work with each week. More than that, I have many more faces flashing before me - so many people have brought me to where I am this day, have kindled in me this passion for people with disabilities. I think of the kids at Tungland, where I've worked on and off for almost 7 years now. I think of the kids in the state orphanage in Romania. I think of the people at my internship site. Yesterday I went to a rally at the State Capitol, and I think of the faces of the strangers i saw there - all fighting to keep services that have made such a powerful difference in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. My hope is that if I do need to find a new job, it will still be in working with these people somehow, but I also know I can't be picky in this economy. It might be that this passion for these people will have to somehow be dormant for awhile, and that is a hard thought.

But I want to be able to look at the future with joy - to "laugh at the future" even, as the Proverbs 31 woman does. There are moments in my days when I DO have this outlook. But there are other moments when I weep. And my God is sovereign over my laughter and my tears. I think it is ok - right, even - to mourn the loss of this job, for it was given me by God and He has worked mightily in it to grow me and to serve others. But I love the Giver more than the gift, and I want that to be the truth that shines in my darkness - not only that I love the Giver, but that the Giver loves me (and loved me first!), and that this is reason for perfect peace.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Only by God's grace...still thankful

This has been an intensely hard week. I got word on Saturday night via email that the state of Arizona is cutting the rate at which they pay music therapy providers by 54%. Essentially, this could remove the profession from the state of Arizona, and at the very least, it would make my life immensely more challenging financially and otherwise. The rate change is scheduled to go into effect March 1st.

My week, then, has consisted of trying to keep up a normal schedule while simultaneously doing all that i can to battle for my job. Every day, I provide therapy for a handful of kids whom I treasure more and more each day and dread the strong possibility of losing. After each session, I have an intense conversation with each parent telling them of what's happening and inviting them to join our battle to lessen the cut. Every night, in addition to my usual nightly work, I email out an assortment of attachments to concerned parents, colleagues, etc. I've been crying a lot, of course, and while I feel like I have a peace beyond understanding in my heart and mind most of the time, my body doesn't quite believe me and my immune system sort of went away.

But that's not the point. The point is that God is good! I have so many things to be immensely thankful for!

1) I am not without options - my parents live nearby and are gracious and generous. Moving out of my house and back with them (a very likely happening) will be sad but a real blessing at the same time.

2) I feel like a music therapist and am still happy about it! It's been great to interact more with other music therapists in this battle. And even greater is the fact that I have no regrets about the profession that I'm in - despite having sworn 2 years ago that I would not do it in the first place. If this is the end of this chapter, it has been more than worth it.

3) I have this job NOW. Next week could be the last week. But today is today and I get to be an important part of the lives of 31 kids and their families - and make music all day long!

4) I am valued by many families. The threat of losing my services has caused parents to tell me things that are really sweet to hear about the positive impact I've had, and I've had a huge response from them in joining this battle.

5)God has sustained me. I've been functioning with heightened emotions and responsibilities and diminished health, sleep and caffeine, and I have functioned well. I've only had 1 breakdown at an inappropriate time (during the hello song in a session) and have not felt nearly as exhausted as I would have expected.

6) I DO have peace. God prepared me for this event a few weeks ago, and while that doesn't mean it isn't hard, I am able to look at it rightly and look at God rightly in it. By God's grace, I am usually only sad - not angry, and usually not anxious. And by His grace, I believe in my mind AND my heart that His ways are perfect.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Growing of a Thankful Heart

A few weeks ago, following time spent with some genuinely thankful people from Romania, I commented to some friends that I want a thankful heart like that. I am generally pretty good at knowing I SHOULD be thankful, even at articulating that I am and half-heartedly believing that even when times are hard. But genuine thankfulness...that's not easy to come by.

God is so gracious!! Over the past few weeks, He has gently and graciously shown me areas in my life that I take for granted. Not in a way that leaves me feeling condemned or hopeless, but in a way that generates a true change in my heart that only His grace can accomplish. To minimize rambling, I'll try a list...

1) Monday, January 19th - I had a flat tire. Thankfully, it happened on a day when I work primarily in the clinic (rather than a typical day of driving house-to-house), and I was able to get to a Discount Tire without affecting my work schedule at all. And my forgetful heart remembered that having a car I can depend on is a luxury I haven't always had and that many people don't ever have.

2) Wednesday, January 14th - Sunday, January 25th - I was sick. Thankfully, it was nothing too incapacitating, but a sore throat, occasional headache, and mostly a nagging cough and loss of voice. Hard to sing all day without a voice, and frustrating to meet a bunch of people at my friend's wedding and sound like a smoker. But God used it to (once again) remind me that health is a gift from Him and is not to be taken for granted.

3) Tuesday, January 27th - I thought I might lose my job. This was a big one but kind of too complicated of a story to relay here. Someone in an office somewhere made a mistake, and I misinterpreted the events and wondered if the state was starting to look for excuses to cut services for my kids since the state's out of money. All of a sudden, I realized that while I've said that I'm trusting God with the future of my job (my parents keep asking me if I'm worried about losing it), when push came to shove I got scared. More importantly, though, I realized that I LOVE my job! The thought of losing even one of those kiddos over money made me tear up a little, and I realized just how thankful I am for a job that means so much and for each of those precious people in my life. 2 hours after the initial phone call that scared me, the whole issue was settled, having had nothing to do with money and everything to do with someone in an office messing up. So God taught me in 2 hours a lesson that He could have stretched out over weeks or months, or even through actually taking my job!

4) Thursday, January 29th - I pulled some sort of muscle in my back. Again, nothing debilitating but certainly uncomfortable, and it made sitting on the floor all day and lifting instruments and kids pretty hard. I realized that my agility, too, is something I take for granted - even in working with kids who don't have the physical freedom that I do.

5) Friday, January 30th - I saw Slumdog Millionaire. Sure, just a movie, but it seemed to me a perfect way to end these past few weeks. Movies like that always make me realize just how easy I have it here in my suburban american lifestyle. And, cynical as I am sometimes about the ethnocentrism of America and how many lessons we need to learn, I think I don't often stop and thank God for the blessings that we have here. I'm thankful that I haven't been part of a community pillaged and destroyed, haven't watched my loved ones murdered, haven't had to make horrific choices.

It's so evident that a thankful heart does not just HAPPEN. But God is a faithful and patient teacher, and I am learning.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Great Thou Art

I'm finally have the time and inspiration to write about my very bloggable trip to the Grand Canyon almost 2 weeks ago. I attempted it before and it just didn't flow...

I went just for the day, with a big group of people, all Romanian but 1. My friend Andrei, who lived in Romania until this year and who was a hired translator my first two times there and a kind translating friend in 07, now lives in Kentucky. He got married to an American girl named Samantha at the beginning of the month, and his parents, sisters, and friend were able to get visas less than 2 weeks ahead of time to come out for the wedding in Cali. Andrei and Sam were then accompanied on their honeymoon by this whole slew of loved ones, and I got to join the adventure for the Grand Canyon chapter. They were staying with Doru and Marta, Andrei's friends from home who are also my friends now from the Romanian church I attend every other week or so. So I met them at Doru and Marta's house early Saturday morning and we began our journey north.

my intro was so long that I feel the meat of this blog will be cheated...but here are some things that were amazing about the trip:
  • I was surrounded by Romanians! More so than I've felt since being in Romania, because unlike many of the Romanian Americans I worship with on Sundays, none of these had been in the states for more than a year or so, and for most it was their first time here. Romanian language was all around me, we ate Romanian food, talked about Romanian culture...I even watched Romanian tv and started reading a Romanian book once we returned to the house that night.

  • I found a kindred spirit in Andrei's wife. We'd never met before, but we had in common a love for Christ, and a love for Romania, and this gave us so much to talk about. She first experienced Romania via a short-term mission trip as I did, and has since fallen in love with the people, language, and culture. We both are working hard at learning the language but don't have it down yet, so we got to be confused together at times also.

  • I got to be on vacation. After a busy week of work and before an even busier one began, even 24 hours of vacation seemed heavenly. Our time at the Canyon was short and sweet, and when we got back into town, I was told plainly that I was to spend the night at the house instead of driving home to Tempe. So I got to enjoy a couple more meals with everyone and spend 1 night away from my normal life. I'll take what I can get!

  • I got to enjoy sweet fellowship and worship. Fellowship is such a sweet gift that God in his goodness gives to his children. I was able to connect with all these people I hardly know over our common love for Christ. And worship!... The culminating moment for me was when we got to the "watchtower," one of the viewpoints over the canyon. The whole group began to sing as we overlooked the Canyon (well, Samantha and I mostly listened since we didn't know the Romanian words). They sang "How Great Thou Art," and the only part I sang was the chorus, "Ce Mare Esti." He IS so great. The greatness of the Canyon was a stirring reminder of His eternality, His being so very unlike us, His majesty...the list goes on. And His greatness was that much more apparent as I was able to worship alongside those who had been saved in Romania by the same God that saved me here in Arizona. Truly, all the earth worships Him!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

the best medicine

Yesterday was just one of those days...I was in a mood, having trouble trusting God with my future, have trouble trusting God with the hectic day-to-day, and was basically just exhausted - physically, emotionally, spiritually. I spent my commute to my last session of the day crying my eyes out and just crying out to God.

I walked up to the door of the last house still wiping my eyes and composing myself. When I first set up my weekly schedule upon starting this job a year and a half ago, I purposely scheduled this kid as my last one on Friday. I've known him since long before I was a music therapist. Worked with him in a day program all through college, did respite care for him in the months leading up to moving to New York, and was thrilled to agree to drive a few miles out of my regular work area to welcome him onto my music therapy caseload when that time came. So scheduling him at the end of my work week was basically my reward for getting through a bunch of other sessions that at the time were still so new and difficult for me.

My relationship with this kid (we'll call him K) is so unique. When I met him as a 6-year-old, he was so difficult. He can't talk, and at the time had no formal system of communication except for a couple of signs. My first summer working with him consisted of a lot of him biting, kicking, screaming, hitting, etc. and a lot of me restraining him. But over the months and years, I learned him and he learned me. Seems what he needed most was someone to see that he COULD communicate and to help make that happen. He's 13 now, and we have lengthy conversations - me talking and signing and him signing back and making other gestures to help get his point across. We have inside jokes and lots of memories, and he has been so significant in developing ME as a therapist and just as a person who takes the time and energy to FIND someone.

Ok, back to yesterday. I showed up at K's house determined to hold myself together for the next hour. God had greater things in mind. Music therapy has always been super challenging for K - it's really hard for him to focus and sometimes both of us just wish we could go back to the old days of hanging out, dancing, jumping, watching movies. But yesterday it just worked. I wasn't quite as strict about sticking to a schedule, and his very specific goals were still addressed, but with a good deal of just playing surrounding them. He thinks I'm funny, and I think he's funnier, and we ended up cracking each other up. He actually fell backwards on the floor laughing so hard, and I almost joined him. We played our hearts out, sang our hearts out, and he ended up meeting his goals with more success than usual on top of it. I let him play my guitar on his lap (a privilege he literally begs me for on a regular basis) and he was remarkably gentle with it. This then earned him the privilege of dancing at the end. I cleared everything out of his way while I cleaned up, he chose his favorite beat on the piano keyboard, and he went nuts. His mom and I just enjoyed the show for awhile. I then agreed to jump with him (he loves jumping up and down more than any kid I know) if he would promise not to drive his family insane all night after getting so riled up. He pinky-swore, we jumped up and down a few times, then I eventually gathered my things and left.

Nothing in my circumstances changed between 5:15 and 6:15 yesterday evening, but my heart was 20 pounds lighter. Crazy how once in a while, the therapist receives therapy while trying to provide it. Crazy how in the midst of my sadness, God responded to my cry by providing joy in the simplest way. Something in that laughter, in that reckless music-making, in the fruit of 6 years of friendship, was used to refresh a hurting heart.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I could post a new years blog of sorts, with some kind of reflections or resolutions. But I'm not in the mood. Instead, I'm going to ramble about my latest obsession, the new Metro Light Rail in Phoenix!

I'd been waiting for this day for a few years, lame as that may sound. Now don't get me wrong - I have no expectation that the opening of a new mode of mass transit will suddenly transform suburban, sprawled Phoenix into the thriving urban environment that I so love in NYC. But even bringing a hint of that into my hometown is reason for excitement. Since my job involves driving from home to home in 5 different metro cities with a guitar, keyboard, and basket full of instruments, there won't be any practical advantage to ME with this new rail line, aside from getting downtown for arts events, baseball games, etc. But practicality is not always my primary concern.

On grand opening day, I went and explored the rail with Kendra, Pam, and Katie. We drove a few miles to the nearest stop to our house, parked there, and rode it into Phoenix. Kendra and Pam got off downtown and turned around, but Katie and I continued the adventure. We rode it to a great coffee shop just north of downtown, where we enjoyed coffee and conversation with my roommate Amanda. Then we turned around. We rode it beyond our original stop and into downtown Tempe, so that we could see the coolest part of the ride, the bridge over Tempe Town Lake. Then we turned around again and went back to our car. I've riden the rail again 3 of the last 4 days, again without much practical purpose.

I think my favorite thing about the Metro practically is the easy access to pedestrian-friendly downtown areas that have never been fun to drive and park in. But I love lots of other things about it, including:

-Mass transit for everyone! Phoenicians, particularly those in the middle and upper classes, are well-accustomed to driving private cars everywhere they go. Bus-riding, sadly, is predominantly an activity for those who have no alternative. I'll admit that even I have been too proud in the past to ride a city bus, and too scared to do so in some cases. This new light rail has generated excitement across class and race, and hopefully that will continue. It runs through at least 3 college campuses and to the core of downtown where there are lots of commuting businesspeople. All of a sudden, mass transit is the in thing.

-forced interaction with strangers. I've had so many conversations with random people in the last week. Hopefully, in the future, when the crowds have died down a bit and I'm not pressed up against these people in very awkward physical situations, these conversations can be deeper and can be used to glorify God in a lasting way. For now, I've mostly just enjoyed opportunities to be nice to people in little ways, to answer people's questions (as a valley native, Tempe resident, and Metro enthusiast), to hear people's (brief) stories, and to watch people interact with their kids/parents/grandparents/friends.

-like New York, but different. I actually heard someone say, amid a ridiculously thick crowd on a Bowl Game- bound train yesterday, "New York has nothing on this." It actually WAS busier than any train I remember being on in New York, including a rush hour train into Times Square on a Monday morning and trains heading to the Thanksgiving Day Parade. The system here is of course only a fraction of the system there, and is still a novelty here, and many other factors contribute. But it was fun to feel a little bit of that craziness. And there are 3 things, at least, that I like MORE so far about the Phoenix Metro than about the subways in NYC:

1) I intuitively know my way around. Whereas in New York, I eventually learned certain lines pretty well and could get my bearings pretty quickly, here it takes no thought. Phoenix is clearly THAT way, Mesa is clearly THAT way. Being aboveground and in a city where you can actually see the sky and some mountains is helpful too.

2) the natural world. Again, being aboveground helps. But Phoenix is really great in that we have mountains in the middle of our city. The light rail goes right past a "butte," to be accurate, commonly known as "A Mountain" because of the A for ASU that is proudly displayed partway up. And I mean RIGHT by it. I watched a little bird pecking up dust under a bush there, watched people embarking on the trail up the mountain, etc. Even on the aboveground portions of metro transit in New York, you won't see that. And mountains are clearly visible from almost the whole train ride. A clear view of the sky for the majority of the ride is nice too.

3) People don't yet ignore each other completely. I'll admit, I've found myself tempted to assume the New Yorker attitude of looking straight ahead, exuding (false, at times) confidence, and only smiling when I can't help myself. But, at least right now, that's not the Arizona way. Granted, most of the passengers so far have been tourists, not commuters, and they're on an adventure, not going to work. But I'd like to think that we'll add a little west coast warmth to the east coast mass transit idea.

Ok, when I said rambling, I meant it. I invite any local readers to embrace the light rail...and call me when you do it, because I love it. And if you aren't local and plan on visiting anytime soon, maybe you will find Phoenix just a little more inviting with its new addition.