Sorrow's Flower: Masterpiece Project 2014

1167237_529469640453237_88041736_o It's a unique place, but i's not geography.  It's community.  A safe place where teenage artists can practice and wonder and collaborate and worship.

We work hard and laugh a lot and commune in a way that leads to deep, lasting friendships.

It's what I myself didn't have as a young artist living "on the fringes," struggling to find people who understood the way my mind worked & longed to express itself.

Masterpiece is what I wanted but didn't know to want in those days.   We want to feed the souls of young artists & encourage them to be hungry for excellence & truth.  We want to learn together the secret of seeing and how to find cosmos in chaos and what sorrow's flower might look like.

I've written other posts about Masterpiece, so I'll let the images speak here.

Look around you.  Who do you know that might need a place like this for a week this summer?

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The Art of Waiting, or What Are You Waiting For?

We’ve been waiting so long. 

Maybe it’s been long enough.

 Maybe we ought to give up this groaning, this leaning toward a thing we have no way of proving.

Maybe we’ve had it wrong…

God has been quiet for a while now.


During the years between ages 21 and 31, I lived in a frustrated tension between, on one hand, earnestly believing I was made (in part) to make music that would matter in God’s kingdom and, on the other, believing the barriers too great.

So much fear, so little know-how…

Had I been misguided to spend so much time leaning my life into this passion??

I am an unlikely success story.  Maybe I’ve had it wrong…?


I know a man whose soul has been searching the horizon for purpose, struggling against the notion that he waited too long, or that maybe he has no real gift to share.

A young man feels he is floating in a no-man's land between boyhood and manhood.

There is a family who has been put through the furnace to bring home a 16-year-old daughter from Ukraine, so much out of their control.

Another family waits for financial needs to be met so they, too, can adopt a child.

This week I wept over my breakfast for friends hovering alongside their dear mother in the space between her life and her mortal death.

Our country whinnied and scraped hooves on dirt all year as we awaited the election of new leaders.

We watch the news and donate time and money, rage at the injustice and sometimes grow just a little bit cynical because nothing ever really changes, does it?

Even as we count our gifts and celebrate the beauty of the stars, don't we lament the length and depth of night?  Don't we many days abandon the Vision that has turned out, afterall, to be Too Hard, or  Unfair, or Not What I Expected?

I personally want to climb into the nearest escape hatch and head for the Land of Distraction or The Path of Least Resistance.

We have come so far in the developed world.  Arrived at a place where the notion of having to wait for anything (parking spot, dinner, sex, Wi-fi) feels unnecessary, even offensive.  Waiting by choice?  Nonsense.

We are unpracticed. We don’t HOW to wait without being either idle or mindlessly busy.  Are we there yet?   How much longer?  Why can’t we just…

The tension seems unbearable.


I think you know what I’m talking about.  Aren't you tempted to start grabbing up pieces and jamming them together?  Tempted to walk away, abandon the Dream before the Dream abandons you?

Me, too.

But let's not.  Let's not give up faith.  Let's not sit down in the middle of the track and pout.

I want to remember--even as I  await the verdict regarding the possibility of completing the album I've begun--much good happens in the space where “nothing is happening.”

People pull up chairs and wait alongside of you.  They tell funny stories to bring levity.  They climb in the ring and weep with you.  Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they get it wrong, and we learn from that, too.

But the truth is that all this mess that appears methodless, is in fact, under control.   When the Father wants that star to shine, it’s going to shine.   When He wants to enter the story, He will enter the story.  

And we will discover that the timing was exactly as it should be.


May we have our eyes open while we wait with expectant, hopeful, praying hearts.


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

                        who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

            from you shall come forth for me

                        one who is to be ruler in Israel,

            whose coming forth is from of old,

                        from ancient days.

(Micah 5:2 ESV) 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son… (Galatians 4:4 ESV)


 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation… And coming up at that very hour she [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:25-38 ESV)


A fellow fund-raising musician said to me: Isn't this Kickstarter thing hard?  We're going to get gray hair by the time it's over!

And I laughed to myself (not LOL) because it's true it's been time-consuming and forced me WAYYYY out of my comfort zone.  I am historically a bad salesperson. But I'm doing okay.  Really and honestly, this CAN work, but it may not.  Either way, I will keep writing and working toward the album.  And we will celebrate the process either way.  More on that soon!

You'll have to visit Kickstarter for details.  And please do, because we need to raise $7500 in the next 9 days to do this thing!  ;)


far-from-home Christmas...

I’ll admit I wondered.

Can it be Christmas if there is no bread pudding?  Will we feel the awesome joy & delight & anticipation if we have few decorations and no family and neighbor-friends.  If we don’t attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service? If I have no piano?

Without parties and shopping and glowing fireplace, will the “coming” be glorious?

When we decided to arrive in Costa Rica before Christmas, I was up for the adventure, but definitely uncertain what it would mean for the kids and for me as far as our emotions related to this great season of celebration.

Last night we were invited to attend a special Christmas worship service at a small church in Cartago, a city about 20 minutes from where we are staying.  Our new friends, Tony and Anna Grace, graciously drove out of their way to transport us and watched over us the whole night.

They meet in a large, windowed room on the corner of a city block and when we arrived, the folding chairs were quickly filling with people, the tables with dishes of yellow rice & chicken & black beans, and the air with recorded music as the worship team got situated on the stage.

We sat toward the back and waited eagerly.  It’s a very strange experience to be enveloped in words and conversation and music and yet be completely unable to understand any of it.  To be wholly dependent on the kindness and ability of others to translate or attempt your language.

(We haven’t run into many fluent English speakers, which is very good and challenging for us!)

The team of musicians, men and women with shakers and electric keyboard and guitars, led a medley of Christmas songs, almost all familiar tunes, from Silent Night to Grown-Up Christmas List and we listened and swayed and joined an occasional line of harmony.

When the pastor, a tall and gracious gentleman who had come out to greet us at the street, stood to preach, I was all ears, straining hard to understand some little bit.

What I recognized and understood were not the sentences he spoke, but the power of the gospel in his voice.

The Name. Jesus… Jesus… Jesus.  Regalo…

And I listened to the singing and the preaching and thought:

These are His people, too.  I have family here.  And some day there will be no language barrier between us.  One day the only thing that really matters will be the only thing.

Long ago God crossed invisible borders and entered our country speaking a new language called Hope and Rescue, made this language accessible to every human in every land through the power of His Spirit.

It was a glorious coming, and will always be so, whatever country we inhabit and regardless of décor or tradition.

It doesn’t need to be contrived or conjured because it really, truly, actually IS.

There is no fear that Christmas won’t find us when we are far from home (as we all are), because Christmas is not a feeling but a Person, and He found us years ago.

May your last week of waiting be full with the joy and gladness of being found, wherever you are...




* In the interest of full disclosure, most of this post is me reflecting what I gleaned this weekend from the fantastic speakers.  The last portion, in particular, is credited to Josh Harris' talk, "Forgiven to Forgive" available for download soon. (get ready...this might feel like a sermon...)

In a quiet hotel room in Reston, Virginia.  Mid-afternoon and I’m alone and it’s quiet and I have hours before I need to be back downstairs.  I’m grateful for this slice of solitude.

I was asked to come here because of “Weightless.”

There are intersections in life and work that we could not orchestrate if we tried…

For example, after pitching “Weightless” unsuccessfully to other artists, I decided to include it on my “Frame the Clouds” project.  Several of the songs were infused with ideas I had come to understand through study of The Peacemaker (Ken Sande), and in 2008, just before recording, I attended the Peacemaker conference in Florida.  A few months ago, blogger extraordinaire Tim Challies somehow heard the song and posted it on his site, along with a CD giveaway.  As I addressed a package to one of Tim’s winners, I recognized the name of Molly Friesen, a leader at the 2008 conference, and mentioned it in my note to her.  Months later, I received a phone call from Peacemaker Ministries inviting me to come and share “Weightless” and lead worship at the 2010 Peacemaker Conference in Washington D.C

There are things we cannot orchestrate, but God can.

The 550 people who have come together here are ambitious.  Their beliefs are radical.  They have strange visions of mending things long broken, not only so we can sleep at night, but so that GOD will be GLORIFIED through our everyday conflicts and so that the WORLD will notice.

“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…”

Is LOVE what we are known for?

Broken families, marriages, churches, race relations, partnerships, friendships…are we known by love, humility, peace?

Several years ago,  when I began meeting with my pastor and several others, to read and discuss The Peacemaker, we dug deep into biblical reconciliation, and I was shocked by how much I did not know.

What does repentance look like?  What does forgiveness require?  Is it all really necessary?  Isn’t it enough to try to forget what we’ve done, what has been done to us…move on?  Why does “sorry if you felt hurt…” seem to only make things worse?

The stories we’ve heard this week of people who have found the way to forgive heinous crimes and injuries committed against them and their loved ones...parents of murdered children...survivors of terrorist children of violently abusive parents... are astonishing, beautiful--and devastating to the heart that wants to justify bitterness.


What about Joseph, whose brothers literally threw him away, severing him from his childhood, his home, his father…?  What on earth would compel a man to love and provide for the people who tried to destroy him…to release them from his wrath when he had the power to make them pay?

The answer, of course, is: Nothing on earth.

Nothing on earth would compel him to love like that. Nothing on earth would compel me to love like that.  No strength or anything of ourselves will compel us to LOVE LIKE THAT.

It's supernatural…born of God...nonexistent apart from Him.

Many books have been written about forgiveness.  Many words spoken this weekend alone.  I can’t capture it in a blog post.  But I understand now where that journey begins.

Not surprisingly…it begins where ALL life begins.

At the point where our path intersects with a cross on a hilltop, in another time, on the other side of the world...this is where LIFE, our real Life, begins.

At that intersection--where His Son hung by hands and feet, bleeding, ripped, alone and condemned--God reached deep down into a pit of filth reeking of death...

and pulled me out.

pulled you out.

even as His son hung dying...

washed us like a mother does her newborn,

and took us home.

Life begins there.  Our true delivery.  And our forgiveness of others begins there with us revisiting our birthplace, retelling the story:

I was found in filth.

I was found not AFTER I came to him sorry and cleaned up, but before that.

He chose me dirty.

If I'm sorry and cleaned up, it's because he loved me.

When I even start to fathom the enormity of what I’ve received without one iota of merit…then I (as Josh Harris said so much better Thursday night) will be like a buried-in-unrepayable-debt criminal who’s just come from the throne room, having received a pardon she neither expected nor deserved.

At the intersection of guilt & forgiveness, tears of joy and gratitude prevent me from seeing quite so clearly the sins of others and wrongs done to me.

Instead, maybe: “I don’t even care what you’ve done; do you know what just happened to me?!”

It's not the end of the story...your story may read more like the gentleman who told us how he waited years and years to forgive his father for massive childhood abuse, then another 20 for his father to accept his forgiveness on his deathbed...

But unless we begin, we have no idea of the possibilities.

Well, I've carried this a long time

In a well-hidden bundle on my back

But I've realized forgiveness is weightless

So I'll leave my burden on the track...

To see what is really true, and truly real...

We’re on the road, destined for rest by the sea, and we’ve looked forward to this for so long.  In seven hours more (at 2:10 AM, according to our friend GPS) we’ll arrive at a quiet beach spot and one week of splendidly simple choices like:

Flip-flops or bare feet?  Pool or ocean?  Turkey or salami?

No spiritual gift of discernment required.  Life is seldom that way...

*The rest of the story is over here today, with incredible Kat!  I get to guest blog! Come on over?*

Feel that sting?

Little Samuel points to the “boo boo” on his forearm, scrunches up his face and says: It stings, Mom.  Feel it.

I don't understand as he presses his wound against my forearm, holds it there.

His eyes fix upward on mine, searching: “Can you feel that sting, Mom?”

Oh.  I realize.  He believes he can transfer the physical pain, share it by touching skin to skin…

And I so want to say: Yes!  I do feel it exactly!

But even though I know what he is talking about, even though I deeply love and care, even though we share blood…I can only share his suffering so far.

I wish we could fuse minds and hearts…experience each other’s joy, pain, memories.  Sometimes life feels so…solitary.

So much of our lives are experienced apart from other human beings, even the ones in our homes, beds.

Only God knows the exquisitely unique joy you felt when you realized you’d fallen in love for real...or the burn inside your heart, throat, when you were betrayed...the falling feeling when you heard the doctor's prognosis...your insides alight when the lightbulb went on in your mind and loneliness that day I ate my lunch hiding in the bathroom stall in high school.

God knows...

And yet…it is enough.  Creator and Created are in sync.  We are never actually alone, even in our thoughts.  The Created are fully known.  The Created are fully loved.

The Created can touch wounds to our Maker’s heart: Feel that sting?

And He says: Yes. I feel it exactly.

This Old Dress

My favorites are 6-year-old skirts from TJ Maxx, one of which has a gaping hole in the top layer, soft t-shirts, and a dress from Old Navy whose elastic is stretched to the point of irrelevance.

I’d wear them every day if I could get away with it.  (I nearly do.)

The idea is to not feel seams or fabric or cinched waists.  Freedom Fashion.

Aren’t you, like me, tempted to make a whole life out of seamless, worn out threads? Free from irritants, or challenge,  or the discomfort of the untried?

Just think of what we could have avoided already…

trembling, red-faced auditions, failures, and rejections,

friendships that demand  that extra bit of patience or effort,

churches that challenge us to turn our theology, our souls, inside out,

painful conversations, confrontations, confessions…

There are songs we would not have writtem.  And dreams we’d not dream of dreaming.

Because the beauty of stretched skin demands a cost, yes.

But the beauty of stretched skin is a roomy radius of motion that makes the old comfort feel like a paralysis.

We thought we were free when we felt no rub.

But freedom is found in the ability to stretch limbs, reach high,

move joyously without (or through?) fear.

To dance life.

It involves some boundaries and many blisters.

But blisters soften.

And even an old dress was new once.

You're invited...

 Masterpiece Invitation

Masterpiece is incredibly close to my heart. 

I was once a very lonely teenager, despite being in the middle of a large and loving family. Although I didn't yet identify myself as being an "artist," I didn't identify with other established groups at school, either. I didn't play a sport and was pretty shy--didn't volunteer for student council or anything like that. And I had no idea why my music-making should ever really matter beyond my own pleasure. 

If the intimate environment of this week-long summer camp had been available to me then...a place where I could be mentored by adult artists of faith, where I could get to know other young people who were wired towards the arts, and where I could find encouragement as I practiced the various art forms...I cannot begin to tell you what that would have meant to me. 

But if you come to be with us on April 17, some of our students can tell you firsthand. If you are in the Chicago area, please come. I'll be there, along with internationally renowned calligrapher Timothy Bottsand author/art historian Daniel Siedell (God in the Gallery).  

If you aren't able to join us, please watch the video promo I posted last week, and tell a young artist in your life about this tremendous opportunity.


More of what matters...

Yesterday I shared a brand-spanking new song with our church body, Christ Our Hope.  It's called "Everything Moves But You"--I had written about the elusive quality of our dreams and all the things we want more of.  Later in the afternoon, I drove to Durham and had the extreme pleasure of making music with Wade Baynham and Dale Baker for the Emmaus Way worship service.  We sang about love.  

And we sang about the deep Love of Jesus.  

By day's end, I was exhausted and...exhilarated.  It is an enormous privilege to be given opportunities to collaborate and create and share artistically.

About 16 months ago, I was walking on a beach in Jupiter, Florida, thinking about the music I was preparing to share with a precious body of Jesus-followers there.  

I walked alone by the waves and prayed.  And somewhere inside that 20 minutes, I felt a distinct compulsion (for lack of a better word) to record the songs I'd been writing during the previous months. I'd been considering the possibility, but only tentatively.  I was reluctant to ask that kind of sacrifice from my family without any plan or an outside group backing the project.


I addressed God directly, and said, "Well, you're gonna have to tell Toby."  :)

The next afternoon, in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, Toby brought up the idea and said something to the effect of: Yes.  You have to do this.

I had no idea what I would do with the project when it was finished.  (I had done next to nothing with the Rogers/Wells Project in 2006.)  I'd been very comfortably songwriting and not performing (except on occasion) for quite some time.  But I had a sense of God assuring me that I really didn't need to know what was next; I just needed to do this thing.  

That is what "trust" means, afterall?

Well, that was 16 months ago.  The past year since we finished recording "Frame the Clouds" has been an adventure, and I've been forced out of most of my comfort zones, which is, of course, a great way to grow as a human being. ha-- It has stretched me and delighted me, and I believe this is true:

I'm being given more of what matters and must work to cut away that which doesn't.  


More knowledge of my own strengths and weaknesses.  

    More clarity on where I belong, where my songs resonate.

    Newfound comfort in my own skin...with my voice as a singer and writer.

More willingness to risk failure.  More willingness to risk "success."  

    Greater interest in other people and their stories...More gratitude for my family and friends. 

More excitement about music itself and its God-given capacity to provoke change.

    More peace with my own unconventional relationship with the music business.  

    More pleasure in working as an independent artist.

More Awe of God.

    Heightened awareness of inequities on earth and of my own undeserved abundance.


And Less...

I'm sorting, as I'm sure you are, constantly through my inner "mess."  Cutting out the damaged...and the damaging.  Following the questions and uncertainties.  Realizing bad habits, mixed motives, spiritual idols.  Waste.

Isn't that great??

It's important work, this sorting business, and to know I'm not the only one at it really brings me some kind of joy.  

I imagine us sitting on an old front porch after dark.  Warm summer air, stars hung high, and we're shucking corn and singing about our weariness, crying and laughing over the the days behind and the prospect of tomorrow.  Isn't that something?

More community.  More Truth.  More Christ.  

The only thing we can pursue that will. not. move.  

Talking to yourself is a good thing...

Maybe your list isshorter.  The things you have to constantly retrain your mind to believe.

My friend Vaneetha once said to me that we need to stop listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves, which was revolutionary to me and linked arms with two other ideas I’d recently heard: 

I can change the way I feel (gradually) by changing the way I think.

We are fed a load of you-know-what at just about every turn.


In the New Testament book of Romans, it says we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Which means...we have to feed and train our thinking, deliberately, if we want to be changed people. 

A filter of knowledge and understanding will alter the way we see life and God and the world around us.


So here is my list...a handful of the things I talk to myself about fairly often.  I would be very pleased if you’d add to the list.  

Please note:  These are intentionally “you” statements.  I write in 2nd person here, because these are the ideas I feel compelled to share today, not because I do not believe Statement #1.  J  I firmly do.


1.       You are not what life is all about.

2.       You are part of a fantastic story.  You are not the story.

3.       You are never “the only one who…” .

4.       You are more “needy” than you think you are.

5.       You are more “needy” than you want to be.

6.       You are as “needy” as the “neediest” person you know, maybe more.

7.       You are more beautiful than you realize.

8.       You are loved.

9.       You were planned.  Custom-designed even.

10.   You seldom get what you deserve.

11.   You would not want to get what you deserve.

12.    You do not need almost any of the things that you want.

13.    You need one thing that you often don’t want.

14.    You will not reach a plateau of “blissfully content and happy” here in this lifetime.

15.    You will find real joy only when you stop pursuing your own “happiness.”

16.    You will find joy in gratitude and servanthood and in relationship with your Creator.

17.    You were hard-wired to worship.

18.    You are always worshiping some thing, desire, idea, or someone, usually unconsciously.

19.    You can be forgiven.  You have already been forgiven.

20.    You can forgive.

21.    You can have an attitude of forgiveness toward someone who hasn’t asked you to forgive them.

22.    You can choose to love someone who does not love you.

23.    You can choose to love someone who does not love you well.

24.    You can choose to do the work of love even when you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.

25.    You are prone to making wrong assumptions about others and their motives.

26.    You will get old and wrinkled if you stick around long enough.

27.    You will not have great success with anti-aging creams.

28.    You are not perfect.

29.    You’re not fooling anybody by pretending to be perfect.

30.    You will fail often, and it’s good that people see you do it now and then.

31.    You can feel lonely even after you’re married.

32.    You can feel content with very little and discontent with much.

33.    You won’t be as cool as you’d like to be.

34.    You’re better off not trying to be cool.

35.    You do not need the approval of human beings. 

36.    You will not be measured against other people in the end—for better or worse.

37.    You are responsible for your choices.

38.    You can choose many things. 

39.    You have been given MUCH.

40.    You have been given much, so that you may thank God and give generously.   


    Your thoughts?

Imagine the Possibility...

 “All things are possible for those who believe [in Him].” Mark 9:23 

Were you encouraged to imagine the possibilities? Did they hold a mirror to the brilliance of God in you, take you to the window and project onto the night sky the potential impact your particular Creator-infused you-ness would have on this world? 

 Was the story told to you of your true origin? How you were carried by and delivered by mere mortals--those beautiful, hard-trying, broken individuals you call “Mom” and “Dad” or “birthmother” or “birthfather”— yes, this is how you emerged into time and space. 

 But I mean the first part, the real beginning of your story…how you were conceived, thought of, waaaaay before that, by a radiant, immortal, wholly intact, wholly loving, good and just Being… 

Because if you didn’t hear that True story--or if you did but decided it was just too beautiful to survive adulthood--then you might not know that there are enormous Possibilities. 

That your parents might have failed you in countless ways but could not take away the Possibility or Purpose. 

Or…that life will at times be crushing, and you can lose everything, but not quite everything, because Possibility and Purpose stand.

There is no person, no circumstance, no matter how much power they seem to have, that can undo this crucial fact:

You are here because the Creator imagined you 

 and wrote you into the Great Story.

Long before your arrival date, already, he had prepared a work for you. You may find different names for it (the work) as you travel along. You may change your mind and change schools and change disciplines. 

But Possibility walks beside you and waits for you to see. 

Imagine healing...forgiveness...restoration… and generosity. Imagine doing the hard thing in order to find a new way. 

Imagine the Possibility of embracing a story that seemed to good to be true but is actually the only story that makes any sense of the chaos here.

Life yet, and more life to come...

***Please take a minute to visit Tara & Troy Livesay and be invigorated by their marvelous, marvelous work in Haiti.  I promise you will be SO glad you did!


So here I am.  My soul knows there is something golden even in the face of so much sadness, but my hands have to sift through the debris, bleed, and maybe touch death, before I find it.

    It's Haiti, in heaps of rubble and ruin.

    It's my 21-year-old neighbor who slipped from this world yesterday at 10:20am.

    It's the 17-year-old in Indiana whose brother shot him to death last week.

    It's the everyday, ordinary sorrows being suffered right here where I am and there where you are.  

And I can write a thousand songs about a thousand things happening in this one thing...I can believe that and do...and still, I want to shout: 


I'm a prideful beast.  But not too proud to admit that I don't have these answers. "Trust and obey" is easier sung than done and I want to grab God by the hem of His royal robe and demand an explanation, or better yet, an undoing of it all.

I hate hate hate the brokenness here.

And maybe…in such moments, with skin broken and lips parched, that very hatred of all that is wrong and misshapen here is itself…a hope?  Doesn’t our discontent whisper a claim that you and I recognize as true?  

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

                           Hath had elsewhere its setting,

                                 And cometh from afar:

                          Not in entire forgetfulness,

                          And not in utter nakedness,

           But trailing clouds of glory do we come

                          From God, who is our home…”


                                                            --William Wordsworth,

  “Intimations of Immortality”


...that chaos and fragementation were not a part of the original design for this place or for us.  That there is something more, and we were born to remember it. 


But it takes a whole lot of sifting. 


And when, after what must be years of search and recovery, from the bottom of the destruction, our ears discern the muffled cries of life--against all logic and human expectation--our fingers will move feverishly and find that golden, breathing, intact something we had barely dared hope for, but had known all along:


There is life yet, and more life to come.