Author Archives: jenni

The subway singer

Last night, for some reason, I wound up with a song stuck in my head. It’s actually a pretty well-known Mexican song from the 1940s, Besame Mucho. It’s been recorded by a lot of famous singers over the years, but the version playing in my head was never recorded. I first heard it on a subway platform ~25 years ago, when I was a teenager attending college in NYC.

The singer was a homeless man who’d sing at one particular station I passed through frequently. It wasn’t one of the busy ones downtown, but it was a transfer station where passengers would get off one train and wait (usually at least one song-length) for another train, providing small but captive audiences at regular intervals.

I can still remember his face. He was an African American man with a salt-and-pepper beard and weathered, leathery-looking skin. The whites of his eyes were noticeably yellow.  His huge smile revealed more than a couple bad teeth. He wasn’t much taller than I was. It was obvious that he’d lived a difficult life.

But his voice was amazing. In a way, he sounded like he looked: bluesy, raspy, gritty, real. He’d set his hat on the ground in front of him so passersby could toss in a few coins, and he’d stand there and sing a cappella, probably for hours. He had many songs in his repertoire, but the only one I really remember is Besame Mucho. I didn’t know that song before I heard him sing it, but something about beauty of the melody, the emotion in his voice, and the expressiveness of his face made it unforgettable to me.

I would drop whatever change I had into his hat. I don’t think I ever asked what his name was. I know I never asked him to tell me his story. And now, looking back, I wish I had, because there must have been a story behind a man who could sing such beautiful love songs, but always seemed to be alone.

I wonder if he ever imagined that 20+ years later, someone would still vividly recall his voice singing Besame Mucho, and still consider it one of the best renditions ever sung.

Add New Post

I’ve been to this page on my blog many times over the last few months… only to be stopped cold at that line: Add New Post.

Well, not that line, really… it’s the line right below it, the one with the ghost text prompting me that I need to “Enter title here.” I tentatively enter a few words and then delete them. Then a few more, and backspace again. I’m stuck.

emptypostCrickets.

I want to write something. Anything. I wouldn’t be looking at this page at all unless I had some seed of an idea, some thought that I wanted to get out. And just an inch or so below that irrationally intimidating title line, there’s a big, open, empty, inviting place where I can just write. But my do-things-in-order brain won’t let me skip the title line and dive right into the body.

So I stare. And ponder. Then open another tab and move on to something else.

I like to write. And I hate to write. So today I’m adding a new post. It’s not perfect. It’s not pretty. But it’s here, because I need to write again. And even if all I can write about is the frustration of trying to write… at least it’s a start.

Because you ask not…

Headache health medicine woman pop art retro style

Does she have a headache… or is she trying to blow up your head?

Six weeks ago, at the beginning of October, I had a horrible, painful, concentration-breaking, sleep-depriving, nasty sinus headache. In the grand scheme of things, not really a big deal. I knew I’d get through it soon enough, I was just going to have to “tough it out.”

Unfortunately, it would appear that I’m not really that good at “toughing it out.”

By day three of my headache, I was getting pretty miserable. Over the counter stuff didn’t seem to be helping. I must have looked about as bad as I felt. My pastor (who is also my boss) noticed and asked if he could pray for me. I gladly accepted, but I wouldn’t have requested prayer myself. Pastor Nathan had just gotten back from visiting with several families in local hospitals. My silly little headache was so trivial and insignificant compared to what those folks were facing.

But right there in the front office/reception area, he prayed for me. And just as he was finishing, his next appointment walked in.

Even if the story ended right there, it still would have been a wonderful, positive experience for me. But it got even better, because the congestion and pressure that had been causing my headache broke up and the pain went away. I could breathe again. I could think again! And apparently, I looked a lot better too.

Even now, a month and a half later, I almost hesitate to write this phrase: but I was healed. I hesitate because I’ve been in churches where there’s a whole lot of bad doctrinal baggage around sickness and healing. I hesitate because in so many church circles, that’s a really loaded statement. And I hesitate most of all because I just have this fear that if I come out and say “I was healed” but then the next day I’m sick again… what then?

I’m not talking about a fear of looking bad in front of people. Lord knows I’m perfectly capable of that without any intervention, divine or otherwise! But here’s the thing: if I step out and tell others that I’ve had God answer a prayer, and then it somehow seems to get undone, how do I process that internally? Was I mistaken, perhaps caught up in the moment emotionally? Or did I do something to undo it? Does my failure to be healed (or some future illness) make God look bad to those who heard my story?

It’s easier to just not say it. So I didn’t.

This was my Facebook status from that afternoon:

Sometimes, when so much “big” stuff is going on around me, I almost feel guilty or even petty for bothering God or others with my “small stuff.” But today, I was reminded that God is big enough and cares enough to handle the big stuff AND my small stuff 🙂

The truth is, I hate intentionally vague statuses like that. I shared something significant without sharing anything significant at all! No one outside of my immediate circle had any idea of what I was really talking about.

I intended to blog more about it back then, but then, you know, life happened, and…

Fast forward to the last 10 days or so. The rest of October was a blur, preparing for “Hallelujah Night,” a carnival-themed Halloween Alternative event. It was a lot of work, but a huge success!

And then I got sick… again. A few days after the event, my stomach started giving me trouble. Nothing serious, I figured I had a bug or it was just all the activity of the previous month finally catching up with me. I dealt with it by trying to be careful about what (and when) I ate. Then this past Sunday morning, it was bothering me enough that I had to leave church as soon as worship was over, and I continued to have issues with it this week.

In our Wednesday evening services, we’ve been working through a series called Gospel Shaped Worship. This week’s topic happened to be prayer. Pastor Nathan shared that he had gone through a period where he was praying mostly general prayers instead of praying for very specific things. And while there’s nothing wrong with general prayers, and we do have to be careful to make our prayers more than just a laundry list of needs and wants, Pastor Nathan found himself challenged to pray more specifically again.

Sometimes we avoid praying specific prayers because we’re afraid we’re not going to get the answer we want. There are examples in the Bible of people who prayed fervently and did not receive what they prayed for. King David prayed that his baby would live (2 Samuel 16). Jesus has even prayed prayers that were not answered the first time he prayed them (Mark 8 / John 17).  When we realize that it’s OK to pray for things, even if we don’t get the desired result, that’s a very freeing thing. Prayer is supposed to be conversational, taking real issues to a real Father who really cares, regardless of what His answer is.

Bro. Nathan also used the story of praying for me with my headache in early October as an example of why we shouldn’t be afraid to bring everything, even the seemingly little things, to God. I had almost forgotten about that day. (How quickly we forget!) As he shared the story from his perspective, I was encouraged and convicted at the same time. I had been dealing with these stomach issues for a week and never once asked for prayer.

At the end of the service last night, Bro. Nathan asked everyone present to pray for him for a foot pain issue, then opened it up to anyone else who wanted prayer. More than half of those present asked for prayer, including me. It wasn’t a huge service, many folks were out of town, but I will probably remember it as one of the “biggest” Wednesday Night services of the year in terms of it’s significance. It was “healing” in more ways than one. It was authentic, genuine, laid back, raw, sweet. It was “church” in the truest sense of that word.

So how’s my stomach? I am feeling better today. I’d love to say it was 100% better, but it’s OK that I’m not there yet. It’s not about a result. It’s about a relationship.

Just As I Am

A minister (whom I respect) likes to say that he won’t have his quiet time until he is showered and dressed for the day. While he believes that this is a good practice and encourages it, he doesn’t teach that everyone has to do it that way. He just feels that being showered and dressed is proper and respectful since he is meeting with the King.

Coming from a background that puts a high value on respect and propriety, especially in ways that are externally measurable, I can understand that perspective. But it also kinda bothered me, even though I couldn’t quite articulate why.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized why that idea never really sat right with me.

I don’t shower before my quiet time. I don’t get dressed for the day. I don’t fix my hair, brush my teeth, check myself in the mirror, or do anything to make myself more presentable. Sometimes, I don’t even crawl out of my bed. Part of that is my desire to truly start the day with quiet time. If I do all that other stuff first, it’s too easy for me to get sidetracked by all the other stuff on my to-do list.

But I realized this week that there’s more to it than that.

In every other interaction I have, I need to get up, shower, get dressed, and at least reach some minimum level of “presentability.” I have to put on my shoes, find my keys, and try not to leave the house without my phone or my ID. I have to perform, to follow a protocol, to try to meet or exceed expectations.

When I have a quiet time, I’m not meeting with the King.

I’m meeting with Abba.

And that’s the only relationship in my life where I don’t have to clean up, play a part, or pretend to be OK even when I’m not. I can come just as I am, no matter how I am at that moment. Yes, I’m meeting with the Maker of the Universe, the King of kings… but He’s also my Abba. I can go to Him without fear in my PJs or in my finest, with tears streaming down my face or the biggest smile in the world. After all, it’s not about me. All the preparation in the world could never make me worthy anyway 🙂

Plodding is Underrated

Almost a month ago, my pastor preached a message called “Don’t Waste Your Life.”

It wound up being a pivotal message for our church… and for me.

Pastor Nathan talked about William Carey, a missionary famous for saying “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

Plodding… isn’t fun. It isn’t glamorous. But that’s where I’ve been for a while now: long stretches of plodding, occasionally punctuated by glimmers of passion and moments of encouragement. Because plodding isn’t fun, I think it gets a bad wrap sometimes. You can make great progress just by putting one foot in front of the other even when you don’t particularly feel like moving forward.

Ah yes, one of those other “F” words. “Feel.”

Plodding can have a negative connotation to it, a sense that if you’re plodding, you’re just going through the motions mechanically, mindlessly. As if all action is invalid if not accompanied by heartfelt passion.

But I don’t buy that.

Plodding is a decision. It’s pressing on towards the goal, even without any immediate emotional gratification. It is going through the motions – but not mindlessly; it requires you to be mindful of the pursuit. It’s trusting in the purpose even when the passion isn’t there.

Plodding is underrated. Anyone can give up when things get tough. And anyone can stay the course when it’s easy. So I’m proud to be a plodder!

kcpo-bluecci

Happy New Year

It’s January 1st, and I could’t let the day pass without posting something.

My track record with New Year’s Resolutions is not stellar… and I cringe to review the seemingly reasonable goals that I dutifully set — then unceremoniously failed to achieve — last year at this time. So no resolutions for me this year.

But one thing I am doing that I will share is this: I’ve joined with many others at my church to read a simple daily devotional this year.

I don’t know if I’ll share my responses here on the blog every day, but thought I’d start out by sharing some thoughts from the first day’s reading: Genesis 1:1. It’s just one verse, and a very familiar short one at that, but it’s loaded!

On the one hand, it is encouraging to me to start the year with that reminder that God is the originator of it all. There is comfort in that, in knowing that there is a plan and a purpose to all things.

But it’s also a reminder to me that from the very first verse of the very first chapter, we are living at odds with the world. To stand upon that statement is to stand at odds with much of the scientific community – to embrace something that a significant portion of the modern world considers mythology.

And finally, this verse affirms that God is the original “creative.” And He’s the only perfect creative. I can’t be the creative person I’m called to be apart from Him.

To be honest… I’m not feeling especially creative right now. I want to be excited and full of anticipation for the year ahead… but right now, I’m just tired. I’m coming off of a busy year with a lot of great successes and amazing projects. More than anything else right now, I just want to have some down time… but then I wind up feeling guilty for wanting a rest when there’s so much to be done. So even though it isn’t included in the reading today, Gen 1:1 also reminds me of the rest of the creation story… and the REST that is IN the creation story.

In graphic design, we talk about “negative space.” Negative space is the “white space” in and around a design. The idea is that the “emptiness” can convey just as much as the content. In a world that is go-go-go all the time, “rest” can feel like empty space. But we need it. I need it. And I need to make it a more regular part of my new year. And that’s about as close as I’ll get to making a resolution this year!

So Happy 2015 everyone!

The Night After Runoffs

Twas the night after runoffs
And all through the town
Not a single campaign ad
On TV was found

No more calls from pollsters
No pleas for my vote
No ads on my facebook
Or emails they wrote

My mailbox now spared
From political flyers
Sent out by faux “PACs”
Created by liars

It will not last long tho
I realize with dread
A major election
Is looming ahead

So enjoy while you can
This time in between
It will surely be worse
Come 2016!

“Jesus Loves Me*”

Chris Tomlin has a new song called “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s not the children’s song- but the message is the same. It’s been on the radio a lot recently, and honestly, it didn’t really stand out to me at first. I thought it was “nice,” but it took a long ride home after a few very demanding weeks for the song to really sink in for me.

Here’s an acoustic version of the song:

It happened on road trip to Dallas to attend (and volunteer at) a conference. I was already worn out from an intense month with several big (at least, for us) events, the largest of which had just taken place in the days leading up to the conference. I arrived early and served as scheduled for the first day. I was thrilled when some of the staff & other volunteers remembered me by name! And I was floored when some of the attendees even remembered me from the year before. That first day went well, despite the busy-ness and little hiccups you encounter along the way, and I couldn’t help but feel good about it all afterwards. It was an encouraging start to what promised to be a wonderful few days.

Except for one thing. As the evening progressed, I realized that I wasn’t feeling good. I was coming down with a pretty nasty cold. I started to lose my voice. I was coughing and congested.

I was sick. But that was quickly becoming an understatement. I was miserable 🙁

I was miserable enough that the next morning I decided to leave early. I hate letting folks down, and I felt bad for backing out of my commitment. I even still felt that twinge of guilt for not being healed. I had also been looking forward to sitting in on some of the sessions and hearing certain speakers, and I was disappointed that I’d be missing out. Feeling a bit defeated, I turned on the radio and began the 5 hour drive back to Pineville.

Chris Tomlin’s “Jesus Loves Me” song was played four times during that drive — on different Christian radio stations as I passed through different cities along the way. The first time, it kinda annoyed me. Yeah, of course I know Jesus loves me. Everyone knows that. How many times do we have to sing that phrase? 

If you asked me if I believed that Jesus loved me, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say “Yes.” But what did that mean, really? In my mind, it was an absolute truth… but in a very generic, impersonal, “God so loved the world” way. It was “Jesus love me*” with an asterisk – a loaded footnote full of qualifications and terms and conditions and legalese fine print.

I believed that He loved me in the sense that he didn’t totally hate me. It wasn’t a warm fuzzy love… it was more of a distant love. He mostly tolerated me, though I imagined just barely at times. And on a day when I was driving home sick, run down, and having failed to fulfill my commitment… did Jesus love that? I didn’t think so.

But by the time I was hearing the song for the third time on that drive, the message was (finally) getting through and I was tearing up.

“Jesus, He loves me…” even when I’m sick, worn out, empty, and have nothing left to give.

“He loves ME…” not just what I can do. He doesn’t just love me when I’m accomplishing stuff or doing things right.

“He is for me…” even when I feel discouraged and alone.

“Jesus, How can it be?…” That was the question. How could it be true? How could He love me in my mess? In my failures?

“He loves me…” in a very personal, close-up, genuine, unconditional way. With no asterisks.

“He is for me…” even more than I could ever possibly comprehend…

Panic

I’ve been fighting what folks around here unaffectionately call “the crud” — a cough / congestion thing that’s making the rounds — for over a week now. Today it didn’t seem quite so bad, so I decided to run to the store to pick up a few things (mistake #1). And instead of going to the huge Walmart that I’m very familiar with, I decided to try a smaller grocery store that I hardly knew (mistake #2).

I hadn’t even been in the store for 5 minutes when it hit without warning: a coughing fit. Not a polite cough. Not even a short burst of typical “sick person” coughing. This was a feel-like-I-just-inhaled-an-entire-bottle-of-cinnamon-with-a-fire-ant-chaser out-of-control register-on-the-Richter-scale coughing. My eyes watered. I could hardly catch my breath. My chest hurt and I was afraid I might pass out or throw up because I was coughing so hard. I couldn’t stop. I tried to find an empty aisle to hide in but it was nearly lunch time and the store was busy. I tried to calm down and stifle the coughs but that only made it worse.

I just wanted to disappear. But a woman coughing up a lung in the middle of an otherwise tranquil grocery store will inevitably attract some attention. Which makes me try even harder (and with even less success) to control the coughing. I could feel my face burning, a result of both the coughing fit and the panic that rising in me from finding myself in a public place involuntarily “making a scene.”

I wound up hastily getting into the checkout line with my last tattered kleenex clamped over my mouth and less than half of my list in the cart. At least I didn’t have to worry about anyone hovering too close to me in the line this time! And I was relieved to finally get through the line and back to my car.

This is the closest I’ve come to having a panic attack in public in a couple of years now. Once I got back in my car the panic subsided, but the coughing fit continued even after I made it back home. So. Not. Fun.

And one of the items I didn’t manage to pick up on this trip? Yeah. Cough drops.

And No, I’m not going back out there.

UPDATE: Not long after I first posted this, there was an unexpected knock at my door. Thank God for local friends who read my blog & have pity on me!

halls