la iglesia

...writing in Costa Rica, a poem...

The plaza surrounds the cathedral

With concrete pavers

Boys on skateboards sliding across space and time

Brown-skinned mamas, babies in slings

Trucks and vegetable vendors, holding out dirty nails and strands of garlic

Laughing exchanges between old men

These towns are built from the inside out

Beginning with la iglesia.

Someone told us all pueblos have these three:

Iglesia, Futbol, Cantina

Not sure of the order.

I haven’t yet stepped inside one of these monuments, but I imagine:

Exquisite attention to detail,

Arches and stained glass,

Artfully constructed altars,

Firm pews with straight backs.


Dim light.

Gorgeous fortress.

Humanity is a throng in the plaza on a Sunday afternoon.

What if we open those ancient walls and bring her inside?

Stack the stones out in the sun

Encircle park and babies, chile peppers and people

Until the heavens become an ocean overhead, and the floor a soccer field...

And we are within, and the whole thing in the light,

The only altar a flame,

The gospel of Christ.

And everywhere chairs and basins and towels.

What if we lean against the urge to merely deconstruct

And instead remember -

How to build a family?

How to center a life,

around something you cannot buy

or build

or earn

or find within yourself?

What if we discover there is ample room for skating and singing and spontaneity

Because the church is a living thing with lungs

And not a well-decorated tradition?

What if the church is a throng  in the plaza on a Sunday afternoon,

Moving like a flash mob

Around the center of our hallelujah?

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 Light...

I dread the dark.

Not the eventual setting of sun at long day’s end, but the days, weeks, months, when the sun begins to rise later and later and leave us earlier and earlier until finally, we come to expect a hasty dusk near the same time neighborhood children hop off the school bus.

I battle the shadow of heaviness, sadness during winter months. It’s a weakness, and if I lived further north I might have to invest in one of those “light boxes” that cost a fortune but keep people afloat in extended darkness.

Of course, I’m ready for long pants and campfires and leaves flying. A break from the sauna days of summer. Thankful for an artist God who gives refreshment and delight from one season to the next.

Winter just isn’t my personal favorite.

Mornings may smell like coffee, and we'll curl up cozily for early morning reading. But as hours go by, if the sky stays gray…I miss the light, and my internal brightness fades.

I think again of Sara Groves’ song, “You Are the Sun”—

“I am the moon with no light of my own, still you have made me to shine…and as I glow in this cold, dark night, I know I cannot be a light unless I turn my face to you.”

In May, my doctor told me I was deficient in vitamin D, which our skin absorbs from direct sunlight (primarily).  The body needs to be in the light to be well. And in the summer sun, our skin glows a healthy pink and gold.

Isn’t it also this way with the spirit?

Weren’t we created for spring? Aren’t we citizens of a country where there is NO darkness and everything is illuminated?

Deep down, do we understand that darkness is the absence of light? Darkness means...something is missing.

The other side of this thought-train is that our Creator left us trails and trails of beauty to discover and celebrate during the long months of waiting the return of the sun.

And the very Holy Spirit of God is here in the waiting with us. Our Comforter.

Last night we took our butternut squash soup (tastier than you might think) and candles to the back deck after nightfall. I watched as the faces around the table lit up golden behind the flames. Prayer, laughter, retelling of stories read, filling of stomachs.

And I think: This is how we stay bright during the long night.

We gather together, break bread and always always always keep the candle of Truth lit in the center.

We must always keep the Savior and His love and his sacrifice and forgiveness and faithfulness and His one-day-returning-like-spring right there in the center of our togetherness.

A flashlight isn’t a flame. Positive thinking isn’t a flame. Health is not the flame. Money is no flame. Beautiful acts of kindness are not the flame. Pleasure isn’t the flame. Even community itself is not the flame.

But He who was and is and is to comeis worthy of gathering around.

Every good thing we put in the center of the table in His place will leave us cold.

But HE...will make His face to SHINE upon us and be GRACIOUS to us...through every dark day from now til spring.


* 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 attacks...adult 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...

a day for drumming

Sundays we start early, to worship, to make music, listen and learn, celebrate with a diverse group of friends gathered under one roof.  Once a week.  

I wish I could say my family members and I rise with the song of birds, and the kids rush downstairs saying, "Can we go now, Mother?  We're ready and our shoes are polished."  (Actually, that would be a little scary, I guess.)  


More likely, one daughter is wearing her younger brother's shoes because someone has "stolen" hers. The other daughter probably has forgotten to brush her hair, and the parents don't notice until seated in the sanctuary.  The boys...well, they're easier on the prep side of things, but had better be chewing gum on hand once the sitting still part begins.  

We are that family you regret sitting behind.  :)

So, it's not a Norman Rockwell painting, afterall.  But the setting aside one small portion of our week--adults and children--to gather with other believers, centering our focus together towards something beyond and greater than ourselves, reminding ourselves...that matters.  It's more than a ritual or tradition, though it is also that.  Even in those fidgety moments toward the end of a sermon, we and our kids--we believe--are taking in something that will stay.  Our spirits are being provoked toward a knowledge of purpose and truth and love that surpasses ANYTHING else we will encounter in this world. 

Food.  Necessary spirit food.  

Yesterday afternoon, following church and lunch (and my weekly nap)...we walked down the street to the home of our neighbors (scientist/artist wife & drummer/beekeeper husband), who were hosting a drum circle.  We brought two extra kids and a rather wild assortment of broken percussion instruments and djembes, several years old.  

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Another family was there, too.  We sat on chairs and pillows; baskets of noisemakers passed around. One person set a rhythm, and it fell to the others to listen to the pattern and then join.  We sat in a circle and beat rhythms--which is, by the way, quite therapeutic--until after some time (an hour?), the final and best "song" was beaten out.  

It may seem a strange way to pass the time...something better left to the children.  

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Not so. 

Food...necessary spirit food. 

To gather, circle, and center around something that is bigger than any one of us. Beyond and other than me. More beautiful than my solitary song.