Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 15th

Been reminiscing lately about a pretty incredible day one year ago....
Those of you who have heard the story in person know that it can be a long - but great - story. Here's the Cliff Notes version:

Josh told me he had plans for Saturday AM (our dating anniversary)
He said he wanted to surprise me - and I said I'd let him
Sat AM he picked me up at 4:45am and it's snowing
He drives me to the airport (!)
Says - Merry Christmas, we're going to Chicago for the day
Me - Wooooow. YAY! I can't believe we're flying there!
We fly to Chicago (despite nasty snowy weather)
We land and he says - we have to RUN
Run where?
Run to our next gate (!)
While running, I find out we're going to NYC (!)
I start freaking out - because I HAVE to be at church on Sunday AM
We make the flight, and he starts explaining.
He worked it out (for me to miss church - which is a big deal), we have a place to stay (mission house where I'd been before in Brooklyn), and we have show tickets (Mamma Mia).
Merry Christmas!
I was - VERY surprised.

We got dressed up (he had my best friend pack me a bag)
We ate an amazing Italian dinner
We walked around midtown Manhattan (which was AWESOME)
We saw Mamma Mia
And we went to Rockefeller Center, where he proposed in front of the BIG tree
(I figured that might happen once I found out about NYC - but it was great.)
It was really amazing and surreal.
We ate dessert, called our families, and rode the Subway back to Brooklyn.

It's been really fun this year seeing the BIG TREE on TV and remembering being there. Even though it was a whirlwind of a day, I have so many really vivid memories -
  • the way my heart sped up when I realized we were going to the airport
  • the travel bag (w/ magazines and notes of reassurance from work)

  • having to wait for 2 flights from O'Hare to get our bags in NYC

  • how fun it was to not know the plan - but to keep being surprised

  • seeing the skyline from the cab (holy cow we're in New York today!)

  • getting dressed up at the mission house

  • the energy of the city - and both of our excitement (and Josh's nerves)

  • leaving the theater and the beginnings of light snow (Josh: "perfect")

  • the MASS OF HUMANITY in midtown Manhattan

  • the jewelry box with a light in it

  • the excitement of our families (over the phone) and the congratulations from strangers in the restaurant

  • the subway ride back to Brooklyn where we got to talk and make plans for BIG stuff

  • being exhausted - but totally unable to sleep

  • the church team from Mayberry, NC who were staying at the mission house - they were SO excited for us that over breakfast they each gave us a piece of marriage advice and prayed for us.

  • loving every minute of being together

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Internet Ramblings

Just a few things I've run across lately that I thought were worth sharing/processing:

This article on CNN about a highly successful music producer made me sad. Pop music is a guilty pleasure of mine - and it's not a surprise that it's more of a science of figuring out what sells vs. making music. It maybe just surprises me to have someone be that transparent/self-aware about their intentions ($) and desire for control (rather than collaboration).

I'm almost done with my Christmas mix. If you want one, let me know. Fortunately for everyone, I found a new instrumental album this year (that I didn't have when I did my Christmas Music of 08 review) - Jingle All the Way - Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. If you combine banjo, bass, reeds, and throat-singing (!!!) together with Christmas music - you get the most unique holiday album ever. I've only had it a few days - but I like how creative it is. You can listen to clips on the website. If you're welcome!

For other worship planners that might read this blog, I've found a couple more blogs/places to see what other churches do in their services. I always enjoy getting away to worship other places - just to see another church family, to be able to be a part of the congregation (vs. being up front), and to get ideas. Thanks to the internet, I can do some of that in my office. So here are some of my new worship feeds:
Just as it's fun to see what other people are doing - I also want to be excited about what is happening in my church family. Every community is unique - and that's a good thing.
A few videos that we've made for services - including all of the In Plain English series are now on the WSCCMedia YouTube channel. My personal favorite is Esther In Plain English. I'm also excited about Feed500. If you're a WS-er, don't forget to bring food this week!

And thus ends my random internet ramblings...for today.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Feels Like Home

I didn't blog much about the dating, engagement, wedding, excitement, etc. I didn't want to overshare on personal stuff - especially on a place like the internet. But on the other side of it all, I am starting to realize how incredibly blessed I am to be here.

I have a home. And I don't just mean a house. I have a place where I'm safe - where I'm known - and where I can (hopefully) bless others. I don't ever want to take it for granted.

It's been a crazy few months. We had lots of stuff to sort through (since both of us have had our own places for several years), lots of new stuff to find a home for (because people were very generous with us), and have been trying to settle into a routine.

We had 2 peach trees in our backyard that resulted in a LOT of work for Josh. They also resulted in homemade peach, not all bad.

We've established which sides of the couch we sit on in the evenings (with our laptops) and have learned more about each others' TV preferences.

More recently, we brought the biggest upright piano I've ever seen into our dining room. There was a minor incident with the wood floors in the entryway, but now we have a piano for Josh to play (which he LOVES).

And now we're decorating for our first Christmas together. It's a sentimental time for us - our dating milestones and then engagement all happened in December.

But more than anything, I think it's unbelievably amazing that at the end of any given day - I get to go home to my best friend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm not a movie person...

But one of my favorite bloggers tagged me this past summer - and I wanted to follow-through on the challenge. Plus I've been a blog-slacker.

So the challenge:
1. List your top ten favorite films in no particular order.
2. If you’re tagged, post your list and tag 3-5 other people.
3. Link back to the person who tagged you.
4. Give a hat tip (HT) to Dan.

I appreciate good movies - but I don't get into them as much as some people. I always feel pressure when someone asks me what my favorite movie is. I wonder if they'll judge me for some of my more shallow choices (I'm talking to you, Jim Halpert). I do like good, thought-provoking art - but I also like light entertainment. I suspect my list will reflect that.

  • The Princess Bride - This is my standard answer to the favorite movie question. It's one that my family (especially my dad) has always loved. The humor - and the grandfather/grandson commentary on the love story - are classic.
  • Ratatouille - This is a more recent favorite, and I think I blogged about why it moved me so deeply. I don't know that it works all that well as a kids movie strangely enough - I think it's a movie about being an artist. The animation itself is gorgeous. But the parts where Remy is enjoying combining flavors (and how they illustrate that), where the critic character is reminded of his "first love" of food, and his reflections on criticism are really great. So many people who love art are prone to the critical spirit - but this movie reminded me about all of the great things about art.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - This is another favorite of my parents - so it's one that I have good childhood memories of watching and laughing together. Which is appropriate since this is the movie with the father/son dynamic. "He chose....poorly."
  • Tommy Boy - This movie cracks me up. I have a hard time passing it by when it's on TV. There are other movies in the stupid humor category that I could include on this list - but this ranks as one of my very favorites. The duo of Farley/Spade is great - and my favorite scene is when they're listening to the radio in the car. The cheesy song comes on the radio, but no one wants to change it. Cut to them both singing it at the top of their lungs, bawling. LOVE IT.
  • In Good Company - I rented this with my roommate expecting it to be a predictable romantic comedy (guy falls in love with his older employee's daughter/awkwardness ensues). Instead, it's this movie that really honestly portrays the weird dynamic that happens in the workplace between generations. The relationship between Dennis Quaid's character and Topher Grace's character is just so real - and the transformation over the course of the story is great.
  • Luther - This is undoubtedly a nerdy pick. I understand it's not a totally historically accurate movie, but it did give me a deeper appreciation for a really important person in church history who was a real person who really loved God, Scripture, and the church.
  • Singin in the Rain - It's a classic. It's totally more about the dancing/showmanship than the story - but the title scene alone is enough to put this one my list. Good stuff. And I'm surprised at how often I have to defend this choice as a favorite movie - it frequently appears on critics' top lists as well.
  • The Wedding Singer - I like standard "chick flicks" - and there are lots that could go here (While You Were Sleeping, Miss Congeniality, Legally Blonde). This is my favorite Adam Sandler. It's awesomely 80's - and in the end is a sweet love story.
  • The Sound of Music - This movie is my childhood favorite. I watched it every time I was sick. I wanted to grow up to be Julie Andrews (and Amy Grant, but that's neither here nor there). It is also part of where my strong desire to visit Europe comes from.
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - I almost put Elf here instead, but this one is a favorite of Josh's - and has become as close to a Christmas classic as I can think of. It's better on TV - or I also enjoy hearing my husband quote the entire thing word-for word.

Okay, that was actually difficult to come up with 10! I should watch more movies...

I will tag Brandy, Chris, and Kara.

Christmas is coming - the goose is getting fat

I know many people frown upon premature Christmasy activities - but here's the thing. I love Christmas music. It's too good to put limitations on. Also - I am vocationally required to plan services far enough in advance that I can't follow the "wait til after Thanksgiving" rule. (Not that I mind breaking it...)

I've been checking out new Christmas music releases and listening to old mixes and albums. I had considered an official review of the ones I've listened to so far - but I generally agree with ChristianityToday's 2008 Christmas album reviews.
Here's my short version:
  • Sixpence None the Richer - The Dawn of Grace is my favorite whole album. Great song choices, good arrangements, and cohesive feel. Favorite songs: "Riu, Riu, Chiu" and "The Last Christmas" (which makes me think of Baby Sandel)
  • DO NOT LIKE Casting Crowns' Peace on Earth. They're not my favorite anyways - but I bought it b/c they tend to have a few gems on each album that connect well with people (and are usable in services). But I can't find any on this album. Meh.
  • I also found Shane & Shane's Glory in the Highest rather disappointing. It's too mellow and unthoughtful - and I don't mean good mellow.
  • There are 2 albums that I'd say are pretty good - but I really wanted them to be amazing: Sara Groves' O Holy Night and Fernando Ortega's Christmas Songs. Both albums have some GREAT songs on them (which will definitely be making my 2008 Xmas mix) - but I had maybe unrealistic expectations on them as whole albums. Sara Groves does too many new, unmemorable tunes to familiar carol texts. But I LOVE "It's True" - which I first heard her do live at an Andrew Peterson concert last year. And the Fernando one is a little too straightforward and really too short for my liking. I'd like to hear some lesser known carols from him since he's such a good arranger.
I am working on my 2008 Christmas mix - should finish it soon (and I'll definitely post a track list).

And finally - I just saw that my friend Chris designed some gift certificates for projects through CMF in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. This was a BIG part of our church's Christmas celebration last year; it's amazing what an impact small amounts of money can have in other parts of the world.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spooky Fall Mix

We are officially in one of my favorite parts of my favorite season. (It's Halloween week - which is right before Birthday week. I know that makes me a bit of a kid. Whatever.)

I was in iTunes last week listening to my "spooky" mix - a bunch of classical music with dark/Halloween-like themes. I'd been a delinquint in my summer mix CD circle - so I decided to make a holiday mix. Not the "coolest" mix ever, but I've been enjoying it quite a bit as a driving mix. Goes well with the scenery.

Here it is - with commentary:
  • Thriller - Marching Illini
    Marching band=fall. I'm not the biggest marching nerd ever (I was only in the MI one year in college) - but it is fun. And this is a really fun song. We did a Halloween show the year I marched; this song involved a "monster step."
  • Prologue - Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (John Williams)
    I'm bummed about the Harry Potter movie getting bumped til 2009. The books are awesome - but I do enjoy the movies (they were my first introduction to Harry).
  • Double Trouble - Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban (John Williams)
    Josh's junior high choir is singing this right now... It also reminds me of my senior year of high school when we made a movie of this scene from MacBeth (it involved me trying to say the lines, "Double double toil and trouble" while trying to shoot pool). Good times.
  • Great Pumpkin Waltz - Charlie Brown (Vince Guarldi Trio)
    I don't know this Charlie Brown holiday flick as well as the Christmas one - but good music.
  • Dies Irae - Mozart Requiem
    Two years ago this November I got to sing the Mozart Requiem with a local symphony chorus and professional orchestra. The music - and the context (Mozart's last work before he died, a requiem) - is definitely spooky.
  • Lacrymosa - Mozart Requiem
  • Turn! Turn! Turn! - The Byrds
  • I Put a Spell on You - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
    This one is just bizarre. But it works on the mix.
  • Autumn Leaves - Eva Cassidy
    Eva Cassidy's voice has a really calming effect on me. She takes her time on every song - I love it.
  • Shadowfeet - Brooke Fraser
    This one maybe isn't necessarily fall-ish and definitely isn't spooky. But it's one of my top songs of the year - and I still love love love it.
  • Autumn in New York - Harry Connick Jr.
    I should go to New York in the fall sometime.
  • Time Warp - Marching Illini
    A cover from the Rocky Horror Picture Shop (which I've only ever seen clips from) - more marching band.
  • In the Hall of the Mountain King - Grieg
    This one has lots of sentimental value. I have memories of listening to this in my kindergarten music class. I tried to pass it on to future generations a while back, with humorous results. ("I saw Mike Myers - and he was CHASIN' me!")
  • Defying Gravity - Wicked
    I love Wicked. And this is my favorite song. I may look weird singing at the top of my lungs in my car - but I don't care one bit.
  • Imperial March - Marching Illini
  • What is Hip? - Marching Illini
    This maybe takes me into gratuitous marching band territory. It's not spooky - it's just one of my favorites.
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Dukas - Philadelphia Orchestra
    This is the longest piece on the mix - it's probably familiar to most as the music from the Disney movie, "Fantasia." We played it in college - and it was so so so much fun.

It may be one of those mixes that has more personal attachments to me than to other people.

(Josh and I have been re-listening to the previous years' Christmas mixes - and I've already started on this year's. Very exciting, the mix CDs.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

You both comfort me and disturb my complacency

Great prayer from today's Midday Office:

O God, you both comfort me and disturb my complacency through your Spirit. May I recognize the blind, the lame and the prisoner in the circumstances of my life, and understand my call to proclaim the good news to the poor. I ask this through Jesus who is my way, my truth and my life. Amen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Willow Wrap-Up

This morning we attended the concluding 2 sessions of the Arts Conference. It was an awesome morning. Our whole team was a little sleepy throughout the day, but the 2 speakers today were some of the best of the conference (I think).

  • Kendall Payne did a short conference. I haven't heard much from her recently, but really enjoyed her songs. She did bust out "Supermodels" - which was fun. I think my favorite song was one called, "Prayer." I need to look up the lyrics/look for it on iTunes.

  • Dr. Richard Allen Farmer spoke and gave a tour inside the artist's brain. He quoted Harold Best's book "Unceasing Worship" twice - which is one of my favorite books on worship. He challenged artists to be craftsmen/women with words. As he concluded, he challenged us to let serious theological thought inform our art. Really great.

  • The final session had another worship set led by the Willow team. Then Francis Chan spoke. It was my personal highlight of the conference.

(Edit: I'm posting this even though I never really finished my thoughts.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Willow Day #2

Another good day at Willow - this one started and finished strong (with some extreme randomness in the middle). It was breakout day - which is always a little scary. I try to go into it with low expectations - only because my experience at most conferences (including Willow) is that breakout sessions are hit and miss. That...was the case today.

Some notes from the "hits" -

Breakout #1: "A Biblical Model for Worship and the Arts" - Ross Parsley

Even though Daniel teased me about attending this class (something about already having a degree in that area) - I am glad I went to this one. I'd heard Ross Parsley at a conference last summer, and I really appreciated his approach to ministry. I think I'd also written something on previous arts conference evaluations about needing something like this; they made it a main breakout, so I felt like it would be a good one to support. I was not disappointed.

While it is not easy to cover such a big topic in one workshop, I thought his big ideas were really solid and challenging. His first big idea is that God is the initiator - and we respond. That overarching idea will shape the way we approach worship. It won't be something that we feel like we control - but rather, as worship leaders, we'll strive to be usable by God in the action that He is ultimately responsible for. (Sidenote to myself: I think that also affects the content of what we plan for corporate worship - if we present God's Word, God's action - people have something to respond to.)

He issued a challenge to evaluate how we spend our time preparing to lead worship with our teams. Rehearsal/developing skill is important, but without a biblical foundation of why we're doing what we're doing - it's not balanced.

He described a worship ministry pyramid - one that many ministries have upside down.

This was his suggested structure -




Musical Style

Organizational Structure

Ministry Philosophy

Biblical Principles

While I don't know about all the order of the middle of the pyramid, it's hard to argue with the foundation. His recommendation was to look at the team prep time for a worship service - and to spend half the time in rehearsal and half in training about biblical principles. "If we're not careful, we can communicate that skills, songs, etc. are the important thing."

He issued a challenge to teach people stories/Biblical examples of sacrificial praise.,,and to challenge ourselves and them to a sacrificial view of worship.

There was lots more here, but those were my highlights. Good stuff.

I'm going to skip the middle breakouts, and jump to...

Breakout #4: Creativity in Action - Willow Creek Community Church

This session involved viewing a handful of recent creative pieces from Willow. They had 2 programming people talk about their process. I really appreciated the combination of excellent creativity paired with spiritual content. It was refreshing.

They talked about how they have intentionally moved away from fictionalized drama to incorporate more real-life stories/testimonies. I believe their phrase was "the democratization of services." I have seen this to be really effective in our services. I appreciated someone in the class who asked them how they find stories in the congregation to tell. Their answer sounded a lot like what we've had to do: ask the people who naturally connect with people and are likely to have heard peoples' stories.

Another concept in their brainstorming process is "the third choice" (which came from improv comedy). Often the first idea that comes to your mind is the most obvious; the second will be slightly better; however, if you push yourself to pause and think a little bit more, often the next idea will be even better - and more unexpected.

One final tidbit - one of their writers shared how the more detail you put into a story, the more people resonate with it. She phrased it: "universality in specificity."

Tonight we stayed for the Film Festival - which showcased a variety of videos made by churches around the country. Hard to describe it all - but some really cool ideas. I was not surprised to see the humor videos from CCC win big. The grand prize was "Serving Back" - their spoof of a Justin Timberlake song about random acts of kindness. If you've never seen it, here's your chance.

Maybe later I'll have some time to articulate some of the other thoughts that have been brewing today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Willow Arts Conference

I'm a person who gets excited by traditions. It helps me to have things to look foward to and gives a sense of rhythm to life.

Right now I'm in the middle of my mid-June tradition: attending the Willow Creek Arts Conference (it's #6 in a row for me - crazy). I look forward to being able to worship not up front, see new creative ideas, to be challenged, and to spend extra time with the people I serve alongside.

We just completed day 1 of the conference. It was my goal to blog while here; I think I'm going to do bullet points today (I am sick. again. and medicated.).

  • The first session opened with a drumline - loved their high energy.
  • The opening worship & teaching session was nourishing to my soul. The worship leaders led us really well - very authentic and just a great chance to focus on Who God is and what he's done for us. I loved how expressively Scripture was incorporated. Nancy Beach walked us through Psalm 40 devotionally. Most challenging quote: "If we're not careful, we will do ministry more from memory than from imagination." She also briefly addressed the changes Willow's making to their worship services (re-vamping Wednesday nights and then making Sunday morning seeker-friendly, but a worship service for all stages of believers/seekers). It made me want to hear more about that - because that? Is a pretty big deal.
  • I had my standard Willow conference snack break of Diet Pepsi and Cheez-its. Stellar.
  • Session 2 wins the random award. Opened with a 14-year-old violinist who was incredible. Then Eric Bramlett from CCC and another guy hosted a Rock Band competition. It was entertaining, though - random. Then Nancy Beach interviewed one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil. One of our team members mentioned that they would have liked to hear more from him; it was a rather short interview. The last question asked of him was, "why are the arts important?" He responded along the lines that humans are unique from other animals in their desire to create and imagine. I couldn't help but connect that to the idea that we're made in God's image - and God is the ultimate Creator.
  • The afternoon session featured the Robbie Seay Band leading worship. It was cool to hear them live - I have both albums of theirs. I enjoyed them, though I will confess, I closed my eyes and rested for part of it.
  • As soon as I heard Brian McLaren was speaking, I was anticipating that I would be challenged/stretched/etc. I expected some challenging of traditional theological concepts and models of church. He spoke mostly from his most recent book, "Everything Must Change" - about how the church needs to address the biggest needs in the world. It ended up being less controversial than I anticipated, but rather a good reminder of the concept of holistic spirituality. There were several cool stories/creative ideas woven into that session that I appreciated. This session probably had the most information to chew on/things that challenged me. They had a few people who are involved in fair trade speak - it's pretty challenging to think about the impact of our spending choices on people around the world.
  • Our team shared a lovely evening of PF Changs, a big mall (with a Cubs store that made Josh very excited), and causing a rucus playing the telephone story game at La Quinta.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Family Near & Far

It is unmistakeably summer - it's warm, muggy, and the summer events are officially underway! 2008 holds an exceptionally high number of significant events and cool opportunities for people in my family (immediate & extended).

My sister, Rebekah, is doing an internship in Manhattan with a church plant (aka "living the dream"). She's been there a couple weeks now, and she is blogging at She's an awesome woman with a big heart for God and what He's doing around the world, she's a talented artist, and I'm super proud of her.

Also, my cousin Tim and his wife, Alicia, are spending 2 months working with the urban poor in Nairobi, Kenya (with the organization that our church has been working with over the last year and a half). They're also blogging -

I'm amazed at how the internet allows us to keep up with what's happening all over the world!

Up next: my grandparent's 60th anniversary party next weekend. Sneak preview: some slideshows that the Sandels put together with pictures from their life together. It is humbling to see their example of faithfulness and love.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Worth Capturing

A couple photos from the past weekend - rather random, but they were interesting enough for me to want to document photographically:

Josh and I went to Monticello to meet Jeremy for engagement pictures. It was a really nice day, and I'll be excited to see how they turned out! After the pictures, we figured we were too close to Champaign-Urbana to pass up some of our favorite places to eat.

We had some Mexican food at Dos Reales - and Josh was apparently feeling the Illini spirit from being back in the land of our alma mater:

On Sunday night, we were able to have my brother Josh and his fiance Jenna over to our new house. Jenna got the tour - and being the good hosts we are - we offered some generic soda to our guests. Unfortunately, the 3 liter had been dropped and none of us were able to open it. However, Josh and Jenna are not the type to walk away in the face of a challenge.

After several attempts to open it by force, they decided to try a knife:

(Spear is in the background - either encouraging the use of a knife to open a bottle of soda - or enjoying his bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. You decide.)

After much effort, the soda was able to be enjoyed. It did have to be poured by squeezing it through a coin-sized slot in the top of the lid. Josh & Jenna:1, Generic Soda: 0

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Wonder of the Internets

I love the internets. Don't you? What would like be like without it?

Here are some things I have appreciated lately about the world wide web:
  • Last weekend, we moved all of Josh's stuff into the new house - and the really large items from my apartment moved as well. We had great help from friends, so it was not as intense as it could have been (says the person who did not carry anything heavy).
    I tried to do my best to get everything ready for people to move them. I waited on the washer/dryer, however, because we wanted to do a few last loads before it left. So, on Saturday morning, I realized I had never unhooked a washer/dryer. Nice boys set it up for me, and they were not there to tell me what to do.
    Guess who was there for me? You got it. Google. (On my little Palm Centro!) With the help of the internets, I was able to unhook the washer with only minimal water in my basement. I know I was impressed.
  • In my job, I have to find lots and lots of ideas/songs/readings/videos/creative things. Every week. The longer I plan worship services, the fewer original ideas I have, and the less I feel bad about looking around for ideas from other churches. There are a couple church blogs that post things from their worship services that I have found really helpful lately. (Quick disclaimer: I always want to plan our worship services with a sensitive, pastoral understanding of our local body. Just because something works somewhere else doesn't mean it should automatically be plugged in here. All I'm saying is that seeing other worship planners' creative process is usually a good thing for my creative brain.)
    Here are a couple cool sites and cool ideas I've found from worship blogs (most of which are linked in my sidebar):
    -Dangerous Women Creed - from Willow's Arts Blog
    -A recap of some Easter video- from North Point's Blog
    -Baggage Video from CCC (which was the inspiration for a piece we did during the Recycled series) - from the Multi-Site Arts page

What about you? Any internet finds?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Psalm 40

In the midst of my blog browsing this morning, I saw Nancy Beach's post recommending a close read of Psalm 40. (She said she's using this as a basis for her talk at the upcoming Arts Conference.) Lately I've been reading more from the New Living Translation (my eyes and ears are so familiar with the NIV that I'll occasionally gloss over things, so new translations are good for me). When I read this chapter in the NLT today - I was just in awe of what an honest and rich prayer/song this is.

Psalm 40
For the choir director: A psalm of David.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
3 He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.

4 Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
who have no confidence in the proud
or in those who worship idols.
5 O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
I would never come to the end of them.

6 You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
7 Then I said, “Look, I have come.
As is written about me in the Scriptures:
8 I take joy in doing your will, my God,
for your instructions are written on my heart.”

9 I have told all your people about your justice.
I have not been afraid to speak out,
as you, O Lord, well know.
10 I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart;
I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power.
I have told everyone in the great assembly
of your unfailing love and faithfulness.

11 Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.
Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles surround me—
too many to count!
My sins pile up so high
I can’t see my way out.
They outnumber the hairs on my head.
I have lost all courage.

13 Please, Lord, rescue me!
Come quickly, Lord, and help me.
14 May those who try to destroy me
be humiliated and put to shame.
May those who take delight in my trouble
be turned back in disgrace.
15 Let them be horrified by their shame,
for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!”

16 But may all who search for you
be filled with joy and gladness in you.
May those who love your salvation
repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!”
17 As for me, since I am poor and needy,
let the Lord keep me in his thoughts.
You are my helper and my savior.
O my God, do not delay.

I so relate to the highs and lows that are expressed in this one chapter! Often when I read through the Psalms, I'll try to grab onto one or two phrases that really jump out/resontate/challenge me. Today - it's these:
  • He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
    Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
  • I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart;
    I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power.
    I have told everyone in the great assembly
    of your unfailing love and faithfulness.
What jumps out at you?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Photo Observations

I got a sweet camera last year for my birthday - and I'm trying to remember to use it more. I want to document fun memories, I want to try to use it to stretch my creativity, and I want to notice the beautiful things around me. Stretch my artistic abilities...that type of thing...

So I thought I'd share some of my recent shots:

If you can't see the license plate, it says "WYND N GO." I don't really get why you would do this to your car. UNLESS it's an alternative fuel method, in which case, it is GENIUS!

Josh LOVES generic cereal names. It's a favorite activity at the grocery store. Some past favorite finds include: Marshmallow Mateys, Freaky Fruits (which had me laughing hysterically in Schnucks), Cinnamon Toasters, Frosted Mini Spooners, and Crispy Hexagons. Here he is with 2 new finds, Happy Shapes and Tootie Fruities.

And finally, I leave you with my favorite artistic gem:

I think that speaks for itself.
Maybe I should take a photography class....

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Signs of spring

We've been listening to the end of the Cubs game on the radio for several hours,
I've incorrectly guessed what inning it is twice,
and Spear just broke out the rally cap.

Ahhhhh, baseball season....

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Album Review: In Christ Alone - Modern Hymns of Worship - Bethany Dillon & Matt Hammitt

I mentioned this album a few posts back, but I'd like to give it a quick review.

In Christ Alone - Modern Hymns of Worship by Bethany Dillon & Matt Hammitt
This is an interesting project - it's a worship project where 2 artists (Bethany Dillon and Matt Hammit, of Sanctus Real) cover worship songs written by other musicians. What drew my attention was their choice of songs - a number of the modern hymns that have been written by the likes of Stuart Townend, Tim Hughes, and Matt Maher. They're some really solid worship fact, I'd argue that they have some of the richest lyrics of the worship songs being written today. So why re-record them? Some songs, like "In Christ Alone" have been very widely sung by congregations and covered by lots of artists. However, the majority of the songs on this album are not as widely-known or sung.

Two things stand out when I listen to this album: first, the powerful lyricism/excellent song-writing and second, creative musical production. It's a great combination. Not all of the arrangements were done with congregational singing in mind...but that doesn't diminish my appreciation for the album. It has already been one that I've worshipped with in my car.

Stand-out tracks for me:
  • "Clinging to the Cross"
  • "Jesus is Lord"
  • "The Wonder of the Cross"
(I will say that a few songs fall short - the children's chorus in "God of Justice" and "Adoration")

It's probably not an album for everyone, but if you're interested in worship music that sounds a bit different that most recent albums, I recommend giving this one a listen. (I'm not going to lie - having some worship music in a female vocal range is one of my favorite things. Self-centered as it may be, it's true.)

Other recent albums I've been listening to:

Monday, March 31, 2008

Things that make me smile this Monday

My mood has resembled the weather lately (gloomy)...but I have much to be grateful for. An assorted (but not all-inclusive) sampling:

  1. I don't often blog about church stuff here. However. We had a great kickoff to our church's series (Recycled) yesterday. I get really excited about the idea that the same power that brought Jesus back from the dead can work to put people's lives back together (Romans 8). We started a blog for people to share their Recycled stories throughout the series - and I'm already encouraged to hear stories from people in our church who have experienced God's transforming power in their lives. Amazing.
  2. Josh was mentioning that I should blog about him more. I am always grateful for him....but today, I have to say I'm thankful for how he loves my family. Yesterday my grandparents came to see his school's production of The Wizard of Oz. He found seats for them early (so Granny could sit down) and took great care of them. My grandparents also may like him more than they like me. He can sing the French national anthem with Granny and play Rhapsody in Blue for Gramps. How can I compete with that??
    (Oh, and since today is opening day, Go Cubbies! This is our year!)
  3. I had some really fun horn lessons tonight. I've taught lessons for a long time now, and sometimes it's fun - sometimes it's work. All of my students tonight were really excited about playing - and they're doing really well. My 4th grade student made me a picture (it says "I :heart: french horn" with a picture of a horn. My 8th grade student brought me Starbucks. Horn lessons rock!
  4. I am in need of new music (which is really just an ongoing need in my life). Fortunately tonight, I just found a Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot fame) EP, Spring...and I really like it. Any other springtime music recommendations for me?

Friday, March 28, 2008


Dear Comcast,

I am not a customer of yours, and yet you are messing with me. Why? You bought out Insight; congratulations. However, now 80% of my email contacts are changing their addresses. I receive an estimated 4.7 emails every day from people changing their address. It's most definitely NOT comcastic.

My More-Full-than-Normal Inbox

Dear Reeses,

You know how much I love the peanut butter and chocolate combination. Every fall I am excited when I see the peanut butter pumpkins appear in my local Walgreens aisles. The yummy treats have a higher peanut butter to chocolate ratio than your average cup and are basically heavenly. (Scientific analysis is available here.) In the months that follow I can find Reese's trees, Reese's hearts, and Reese's eggs. However, now that all of the candy holidays have passed, I am left with a Reese's shaped hole in my life. It's no wonder the church calendar calls this "ordinary time." I'm left wandering the Walgreens aisles alone and wanting to petition for Reese's flowers, Reese's flags...SOMETHING for the months of May through August. My waist-line thanks you for the break, but my heart will always be true to you.

See You in September,
Weight Watcher in Withdrawl

Thursday, March 20, 2008

from this morning's hours...

I'm not super-disciplined in praying the hours - but I wanted to make a point of trying more during Holy Week. This morning's was pretty are some selections and thoughts...

Maundy Thursday - The Morning Office

The Refrain
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me.

This Psalm is one that reminds me of how God's people throughout thousands of years have made telling the important stories a high priority - and it reminds me of what we do during Holy Week as Christians.

The Morning Psalm
Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
That which we have heard and known, and what our forefathers have told us, we will not hide from their children.
We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD, and the wonderful works he has done.
He gave his decrees to Jacob and established a law for Israel, which he commanded them to teach their children;
That the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn; that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
So that they might put their trust in God, and not forget the deeds of God, but keep his commandments;
And not be like their forefathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, and whose apirit was not faithful to God.
Psalm 78:1-8

The Refrain
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me.

I don't know if Jesus prayed the Lord's Prayer with his disciples in the upper room or when he was praying in the garden - but in that context, the words from that prayer are striking.

The Lord's Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your Name.
May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;
for yours are the kingdom and the power and the glory
forever and ever. Amen.

The Refrain
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that I, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

may i never lose the wonder

Found this song today - and it's kicking my butt. (I downloaded 2 versions - both are good. One's from an album by Bethany Dillon and Matt Hammitt; I ordered the album - and may do a review when it comes. The other's by the author, Vicky Beeching.)

It is so so so easy to get familiar with the story of Christ and treat it casually. I didn't intend to post song lyrics 2 days in a row, but this is SO my prayer today (except it's more articulate than I could be).

O precious sight, my Savior stands,
Dying for me with outstretched hands.
O precious sight, I love to gaze,
Remembering salvation’s day,
Remembering salvation’s day.
Though my eyes linger on this scene,
May passing time and years not steal
The power with which it impacts me,
The freshness of its mystery,
The freshness of its mystery.

May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross.
May I see it like the first time
Standing as a sinner lost,
Undone by mercy and left speechless,
Watching wide eyed at the cost.
May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross.

Behold the God-man crucified,
The perfect sinless sacrifice.
As blood ran down those nails and wood,
History was split in two, yes,
History was split in two.

Behold the empty wooden tree,
His body gone, alive and free.
We sing with everlasting joy,
For sin and death have been destroyed, yes,
Sin and death have been destroyed.

May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross.
May I see it like the first time
Standing as a sinner lost,
Undone by mercy and left speechless,
Watching wide eyed at the cost.
May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross.

May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross.
May I see it like the first time
Standing as a sinner lost,
Undone by mercy and left speechless,
Watching wide eyed at the cost.
May I never lose the wonder,
The wonder of the cross.
- Vicky Beeching

Monday, March 17, 2008

write me into your story

It's Holy Week (aka the week leading up to Easter) - and I want to try to walk through this week with an active awareness of Christ's final week on earth. I didn't do much with the church calendar growing up...and so I have been rather interested in it over the past few years. While there are some seasons in the church year that are somewhat manufactured (though still valuable), remembering Holy Week seems to be the oldest and most important of Christian calendar traditions.

Seeing life as an interaction between God's Story and my story is a powerful idea to me.

They say You walked upon the water once
When you lived as all men do
Please teach me how to walk the way You did
Because I want to walk with You

They say you taught a lame man how to dance
When he had never stood without a crutch
Well, here am I Lord, holding out my withered hands
And I'm just waiting to be touched

Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I'm Yours

They say You spoke and calmed an angry wave
That was tossed across a stormy sea
Please teach me how to listen, how to obey
'Cause there's a storm inside of me

Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I'm Yours

They drove the cold nails through Your tired hands
And rolled a stone to seal Your grave
Feels like the devil's rolled a stone onto my heart
Can You roll that stone away?
-Rich Mullins

Monday, February 25, 2008

Promises promises

I have a ridiculous sweet tooth. I can pass up lots of salty snacks without much turmoil - but put something sweet in front of me and it's all over.

One of my favorite small treats is Dove dark chocolate. Occasionally I like the dark chocolate covered almonds. But the standard is Dove dark chocolate Promises. They're just the right size to have something small after lunch (just 1! or maybe 2!). My Granny keeps them at her house - and often they can be found at my parents. I like the Dove brand better than Hershey's for sure. However.

The people who make these feel the need to put cute little sayings inside the wrappers (hence the term, promises). At first, I found this fun - like fortune cookies!

I changed my mind however, when I ran across this one several months ago: "Chocolate always loves you back." Are you serious?? There are so many things wrong with someone putting that inside dark chocolate - that I don't know where to start.

If I were a stronger person, I might boycott the product until they improve their sayings. I just don't think I can do that.

Here's a sampling of today's "promises":
  • Listen to your heartbeat and dance.
    That...would be a weird dance. And I'm in my office. No thanks.
  • Flirting is mandatory.
    Says who? Are you going to come make me? And again...I'm at the office. That is not allowed.
  • Get your feet massaged.
    Now you're talking...

(Yeah - so that was 3 pieces. But it's Monday!)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Scene from the Malebox

Earlier this evening at the malebox

Spear: Want to find out your Sawyer nickname?
Me: My what?
Spear: Your Sawyer nickname. Mine is Rerun.
Me: Okay
Spear: It's "Moonbeam"
Me: What? That's dumb. It's a hippy name
Josh Stewart: Or your Native-American name
Me: Try my new (married) name - see if that's any better
Spear: Lots of laughing It's "Short Pants!"
Even more laughter from the boys
Me: No one better call me that.

A few minutes later
Lewis: Well, I'd better go. I'll see you all later. Bye, Short Pants.
Me: DO NOT call me that.
Lewis: You can call me "Quickie"
Me: No. No I will not call you that. Ever.

(Do not call me Short Pants.)

My Choice for Best Picture

I see a decent amount of movies each year - though most of them are the popular/blockbuster ones (rather than critics-choice/artsy types).

I'll admit, I haven't seen any of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture (though I really want to see "Juno"). Actually, now that I look through the full list of nominations, I've only seen 3 of the nominated films. I saw the 3rd "Pirates" movie, "Enchanted," and - my favorite film of 2007
- "Ratatouille."

I was on tonight and saw this article about it - "Was 'Ratatouille' Ripped Off in Oscar Race?" There's no doubt in my mind, this is not a movie made with kids in mind. Don't get me wrong, it's clean - but the main subject matter is a little more nuanced/sophisticated than your average animated movie. I think it was a beautiful film - but more than that, it had amazing things to say about being an artist. I loved it SO MUCH.

Here's a quote from the article (from a NY Times critic):
"a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film"

So the question remains - why isn't one of the highest-grossing AND critically-acclaimed movies of the year up for the big prize?

What do you think? Could an animated film ever win best picture? (And besides "Juno," are there any other Oscar nominated films that I'm missing out on?)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Snow Day!

I'll confess - yesterday I said that all I wanted was for the snow to miss us. (We ended up with ~11 inches)

However, my day inside has been rather nice so far - probably because I have nowhere to go. I made myself CoCo Wheats this morning. (This is a family favorite on cold days - my mom would make it when she was trying to get us out of bed.)

It seems like a good time to catch up on all the things I thought about blogging but haven't gotten around to yet.

  • My friend Chris is now blogging. Chris is a friend, a co-worker, an Illini fan, an artist, a fellow anti-condimentarian, and a junior high minister. I'm looking forward to reading his blog. Check out this video he posted this week - People in Order

  • As Chris mentioned, my Nana turned 100 years old last weekend. She is amazing. We got a chance to celebrate (a few weeks early) in December. She was so happy - and she really enjoyed her cake!

  • This summer is going to be a crazy one for my family. Josh and I are getting married July 12th - and my brother Josh is getting married not too long after that (they haven't set a date yet). Big fun!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Worship Music

Now that Christmas is a distant memory and I have put away the Christmas music for at least a few months, I need some new, fresh worship music.

I will share one quick recommendation - Laura Story (best known for writing "Indescribable") is coming out with an album in March (which I'm very excited about). I got to hear her speak and lead worship at a conference last summer - and it was definitely a highlight. She's a worship leader at a church in Georgia; it's refreshing to see someone who's clearly about leading a church in worship above performing. Anyways, she has an EP on iTunes right now, which includes a song we're going to introduce this Sunday congregationally - "Mighty to Save." Check it out.

So does anyone have any worship music recommendations for me?