Hair Gel in the Holy Water

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Last week I sat across a (very short) table in the church nursery from a mother and her son. As the staff member who is tasked with preparing families for baptism, this meeting was unique by virtue of the child’s age: Justus is eleven.

Of course, for many of you, this is not unexpected; but for those who worship in denominational churches like mine – you understand. Most of the time, when the baptismal waters part in our congregations, the candidate for baptism is an infant – presented by faithful parents with a future Confirmation class in mind. Sitting with me at the table, however, was a mischievous middle-schooler with an infectious enthusiasm for life and a smile that cannot easily be described but which most certainly takes place not at the lips, but at the cellular level.

Our “splash class” proceeded as you might expect, with myself and mom doing most of the talking while Justus’ eyes danced with anticipation. We talked about what to expect at the baptism. We discussed our understanding of what “happens” in the water, when the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the deep and resurrection-life springs forth. We wondered out loud about how much of this baptism was a profession of faith by Justus in God, and how much was God’s own pronouncement that Justus belongs to Him.

I described the upcoming event in detail so as to dispel any possible trepidation on the part of either mother or son, but the look Justus gave me when I described how the water would be splashed onto his head made it abundantly clear that this guy wasn’t nervous about baptism day; instead, he seemed ready to take on some water, and something told me that Justus had never met a puddle or swimming pool he didn’t like.

Sunday came, prayers were offered, and water was poured over Justus’ bowed head in triplicate, “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” A candle was lit, a faith chest presented, and the family of God cheered him on.

After the service, I ran into Justus, whose grin betrayed his feelings about the day. Even as I write this now, I’m not sure what I expected to hear when I told him what a great morning it had been. “Yeah,” he chuckled easily, as he reached up with one hand to pat the hair on the top of his head, “and I got hair gel in the holy water!” He was giggling (and so was I) as he turned toward his friends and walked away.

Hair gel in the holy water.

Isn’t it just like God to meet us where we are? For Justus on his baptism day, a holy transaction took place in the water; something human met Someone holy in the process, leaving a swirling residue as proof in the baptismal font. God made His mark on Justus, and the hair gel in the holy water goes to show that God is ready to deal with the consequences of calling imperfect, mischievous, in-progress people to life in the community of His Son; He can handle the messes we make. In fact, He expects them.

Of course, Justus may not have realized all of this at the time, but that doesn’t make it any less so – or any less perfectly beautiful.

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Cajon (new beginnings)

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Cajon07052001

Cajon07052001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cajon is Spanish for box, and it’s also what I got for Christmas a few years back.

Not just a box, mind you, but a box-shaped drum. The mellow accompaniment of this cleverly designed instrument is remarkably well-matched to an acoustic set with guitar and piano. Unlike the potentially overpowering presence of a drum kit (think: drum solo), the cajon is part of the ensemble – a voice in the choir, you might say. Seated upon this quirky box, I am discovering things about music (and myself) that I have never realized before.

For starters, music theory isn’t the same as playing the drum. I know a lot about music from jr. high band and years of piano and voice lessons, but this head knowledge did precious little for me the first time I sat down to play the cajon. I remember tapping out the rhythm of little x’s on a page, but mechanical is the word that comes to mind when I try to play those little x’s on my drum. I may be able to crank out an accurate rendition of little x’s in succession, but there is so much more to artistry than accuracy (can I get an Amen?).

Playing alone is not the same as playing with other instruments. My home-grown drum solos rock my little house, but when I’m playing along with others, they just don’t sound the same. Maybe it’s because on my own, I set the beat. I choose the groove. And I give myself lots of grace because no one else is listening. As part of the band, I have to behave. I have to rock steady. When I let loose, I can’t leave my band members behind.

The real challenge for me, however, is playing the drum on songs that I have been singing for years. You would think that familiarity would make it easier, but it doesn’t. As soon as I start thinking the words or even picturing the lead sheet in my head, I lose the groove I’m in. It’s an entirely different experience to make music atop my cajon than from behind a microphone. Words don’t help – they complicate.

This has been so obvious that the musicians I worship with have started to tease me about my inability to walk and chew gum at the same time, and for a master multi-tasker, this news is almost devastating. What do you mean I can’t sing and keep a beat?! But I can’t. And it’s blowing my mind.

The Apostle Paul says something in Romans 12:2 that makes some sense out of what I’m discovering with my drum.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT)

I’m finding that when I try to think the way I’ve always thought about music – even when I try to put music theory into practice – all of my passion gets lost in the mechanics. My mind has been trained to think in words and notes, but for the cajon to do its work I have to follow and feel. I think this is what Paul is saying, too. It’s one thing to study and think and strive and try to do things God’s way, but it’s something else altogether when God takes hold of me and shifts my thinking – changes my mind!

This kind of transformation – the stuff of new beginnings – isn’t something we have to muddle mechanically through. I can’t make this transformation happen – I can’t force rhythm out of words – but the God who formed me can move me from theory into practice by changing the way I think.

Kevin Costner’s character in the film Bull Durham is asked to coach and train a gifted young pitcher for a career in the majors. This easily distracted youngster has a crazy-powerful arm, but absolutely no focus. It seems that the harder he thinks about placing the ball, the more erratic his pitches become. What advice is he given by his appointed mentor?

“Don’t think, just throw.”

When he follows his instinct and lets the ball fly, it’s a beautiful thing! When I listen to the guitar and piano and allow my hands to join in with the rhythm I find there, well – I just might have a drumming career in my future. Don’t think, Brita – just go with the flow.

For a forty-something to take up something new isn’t always easy. Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? You’re in good company! Embrace your awkward new beginnings, as messy as they may be.

Don’t force it. Just let it flow.

Yielded to the work of the Spirit and open to new ways of thinking, the rhythm that emerges will be worth the investment of your time, energy and effort.

Drum or no drum.

 

My Life as a Piñata

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300px-PIÑATAI grew up in Arizona.

My children have grown up in Arizona.

With this in mind, you’ll understand that when I hear the word broken, I think piñata.

I would argue that until you’ve had your arms elbow-deep in papier mache, you haven’t really experienced creation (or at least the act of creating). I still remember the first piñata that my sister and I made together…

It started with a balloon. It received coat after coat (after coat!) of newspaper dipped in flour-paste. In my youthful impatience (not much has changed there), I probably layered too quickly, not allowing each generous covering to dry completely before slathering another one on. No matter. It was a fine piñata by any 8 year old’s standards.

As an aside, this creative endeavor was inevitably turned into a mouse. After all, what else CAN an inflated balloon be? An egg?

A lot of white paint. Some whiskers. An opening cut. A LOT of candy stuffed inside. Resealing the hatch. Attaching a string. Hanging from the front yard Palo Verde tree. Add a blindfold and a broom handle. Party-goers get in line…

Let the party begin!

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like a piñata – dangling mid-air. Gratefully, God’s creative energy is so much more skillful than mine (or we’d all be egg-shaped mice). There are days I wish I looked as festive and colorful as a tissue paper piñata, as if looking good was the goal, but the purpose of a piñata isn’t to float on the breeze indefinitely.

The purpose of a piñata – its role in the party – is to be broken.

After all – that’s how we get to the good stuff, right?

The very first women’s retreat I ever attended took place in a mountain summer home. There were only 5 of us there that weekend – all of us young mothers who couldn’t help but rejoice at the opportunity to spend a child-free weekend, hours away from home. Our theme that weekend was brokenness, and while I hate to admit that I don’t remember much about the teaching, I do remember the piñata.

Our leader hung it outside on the porch, and 5 grown women took turns (blindfolded, of course) wielding the weapon of destruction. We swung hard and whacked mightily until finally the piñata completed its mission and spilled chocolate candy all over the wood planks at our feet. Like children, we giggled and rushed in to grab at our favorite treats, collecting the goodies and enjoying every last bite.

While we ate our treats, I thought about Jesus, whose body was broken for me.

I thought about Jesus, who teaches that,

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves his life will lose it. But anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it and have eternal life.’ John 12:24-25 (NIrV)

I realized then that my buttoned-up, self-contained, dangling-piñata life fails to bring glory to God. Hanging there, on display, the only thing I’m good for is a photograph. Maybe a second glance. Maybe a comment. And then, you’re bored. Ready to move on.

That is, unless you have a broomstick in your hand.

I could preserve this shell of a life and steer clear of the weapon you wield, but Jesus says that would be fruitless – like choosing death. No, my friend. Today I choose to be battered and beaten until the holes in this fabric that I’m made of are sizable enough to let the good stuff through. To let what I’m truly made of – placed within me by the hands of the Creator Himself – be poured out like candy from a piñata at an Arizona birthday party.

Broken.

Beautiful.

My life as a piñata. There is no higher calling.

Let the party begin!

Wanted: Champions

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RunnerI used to run in the mornings.

When I was (significantly) younger, I would wake up early and sleepily tie on my sneakers, pop a cassette tape into my Walkman (yup – just dated myself), put my headphones on (no earbuds, mind you, just a couple of generously-sized speakers that nearly covered my entire ear), and wander out onto the pavement.

My first steps were always labored and awkward (not to mention painfully slow). Often though, as my body warmed to the idea of motion, I would find my stride. The rhythmic thud of my feet on the street somehow managed to free up space in my head. Some days, I found myself lost in the music I was listening to. Other times, my thoughts were so loud that the music served only as a soundtrack for the stories and scenarios streaming through my mind.

But there were moments during these early morning jogs where neither the music nor the head games could compete with the drama emerging from the east. On these days, as the sun gathered its energy and bled its light into the fading darkness, I was nearly overcome by the power of the new day. Light and warmth intensified everything within eyeshot, exposing the world to me and me to it. On these days, when my run was over, I felt… different. As if I hadn’t just been on a run, but on a journey. That somehow, in 30 minutes’ time, I had started and completed something; that mysteriously, things had changed.

One thing I never experienced, however, was the sense that I was in any way/shape/form a Champion. I was just a jogger. A novice. A casual athlete. I wasn’t running to win any races or trying to keep pace with anyone else. I ran because I had a desire to move.

At a meeting I attended last week, this word Champion came up.

Not the winner/victor/title-holder kind of Champion, but the supporter/guardian/defender/advocate kind.

The kind of Champion who campaigns tirelessly for her cause.

The kind of Champion who will fight for what is right and necessary and true.

The kind of Champion who stands up for those who just can’t find their balance (or have been knocked out so many times that they just can’t lift themselves up off of the mat – again).

Not the noun-kind-of-Champion, who wears a medal or frames a certificate to hang on the wall, but the verb-kind-of-Champion. The doing/speaking/acting/stepping-out-of-comfort-zones-for-something-bigger-than-myself-ing kind. One who bravely acts on an innate desire to move.

The Psalmist noticed this need to move in the daily recurrence of the sunrise, comparing the sun to “a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.” Psalm 19:5

Having a very well-defined ‘course’ to run, the sun rises every morning and sets every night, only to rise up and do the same again tomorrow. And the day after that. And again, the day after that. Without the faithful, daily emergence of light and heat from the sky, all of creation would be out of whack. Out of sync. Unable to function predictably.

Without this Champion of the sky, darkness would prevail on the earth.

But a quick look around me confirms that, while physical darkness comes and goes with the day, other forms of darkness have fallen around us which aren’t so eager to be ushered out by the sun.

Emotional darkness. Depression. Lost hope.

Relational darkness. Betrayal. Discord.

Spiritual darkness. Confusion. Mixed messages.

I know you see it. I know you feel it all around you, every time you leave the house or pick up the phone or turn on the tv.

Champions are needed in this world that’s out of whack, to bring it back into sync with the Creator. Verb-kinds-of-Champions, whose goal isn’t victory but action. Whose course is met with patience and persistence and joy.

Whose first steps may be labored and awkward and slow, but whose faithful attempts at finding their stride produce rhythms of freedom and healing and possibility for those who haven’t seen the sun in a very, very, very long time.

Friend, move to a window and look up.

The One Who made the sun and set its course in the sky is the same One Who created you! You may not have noticed this before, but you have been given your own course to run. You are the possessor of energy and light, and there are people all around you whose lives are crying out for a Champion!

Not a competitive, gotta-come-out-on-top Champion, but one who is compassionate, looking-out-for-the-lost-and-the-lonely-and-the-least. Not sprinting to the finish, leaving the ‘competition’ in the dust, but faithfully and steadily following the course of a God-crafted life in a God-hungry world.

We need Champions!

Double-knot those sneakers, my brave friend. I’ll see you on the street.

An Unlikely Mentor

At William “Bill” Alfier’s memorial service today, memories flowed freely and were peppered with laughter, salted with tears. Bill was a colorful guy for whom appearances meant nothing, but whose family and friends meant everything to him. He lived exactly as he pleased and gave permission for others to do the same, and whether or not he intentionally chose to mentor three young men, including my husband, the return on Bill’s investment of time and attention touches my own life every single day.

People like Bill Alfier are a rare breed, yet today more than ever we need these unlikely mentors to grow the next generation of engineers, leaders, teachers, world-changers; people who see potential in everyone and are willing to pour into a few lives the best of what they’ve learned. These exchanges might take place at the conference table or over a working lunch, but it’s all the better when they happen during the course of a real and imperfect life; for my husband, this included countless rides in cigar-smoke infused vehicles and many hours spent seated on bar stools, listening to the shaping-stories of a man who held nothing back.

It was a beautiful thing to hear my husband, Dallas Hammit, speak the following words in honor of his mentor, Bill Alfier. We share them with you now in hopes that you, too, will consider the power your life still has when you make the choice to give it away.

If you knew Bill, you know he had strong opinions on many subjects: politics, the Marine Corps, and building roads, but what stayed with me were his thoughts on people. Bill often said “God did not make any junk.” Bill looked for the best in people and was constantly watching for ways to assist people in their personal and professional development. This help came in a number of forms:
        Pushing you to start or complete college,
        Providing a work schedule that would allow for continuing education,
        Providing coaching to advance one’s career, or
        Taking a backseat to allow a young engineer to learn and grow.

Bill lived servant leadership. It was not a fad or the trending thing to do, it was a belief.  “A leader must put their employees first and allow them to grow.”

Bill liked to tell stories, and I heard most of them in the car as we drove through the District. Many times it would start with Bill calling loudly down the hall, “I’ve got roads to build!” and we would be off. There were lots of stories. Stories of the days when he worked in the carnival. Stories of going to Montana to mine copper. Stories of stripping down to his underwear at the bar, to win a bet with Mr Higgins. Stories of changing the way things were done at ADOT. One of those lasting changes was the Maintenance Servant Leadership Team. Bill – and others – believed the people closest to the work should have a larger say in what goes on and how we do things in maintenance. They formed a team of engineers and superintendents that met regularly and set policy for the way their department would do business, from dividing the budget to advocating for worker’s pay. This group is still active today.

And if there ever was a question about whether Bill had a lasting influence at ADOT, just look at the current leadership: a District Engineer, State Engineer and Chief of Operations all grew and developed under Bill’s leadership.

Bill Alfier will be missed.

William “Bill” Peter Alfier, July 22, 1944 – January 22, 2018

Trek to the Manger (DQ29)

We can only imagine what awaits us at the end of our own Trek to the place where Christ is present.

“Only Christ can get rid of the veil. Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are – face to face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” 2 Corinthians 3:14b-18

May you arrive at the manger – in your heart – and be so much more full of Light and energy and life this year, for having taken this Advent-ure with us.

And remember – from this day on, it’s you and God on a road revealed milepost by milepost – the adventure of a lifetime!

Trek to the Manger 29

If you registered for the Trek and posted at least three times in response to the daily questions during Advent, stay tuned for the results of our nifty prize drawings! Recipients will be posted on the Trek to the Manger page by January 2, 2018.

Trek to the Manger (DQ28)

Trek to the Manger 28You’ve heard the saying, “there’s safety in numbers,” right?

Maybe. But on this Trek to the Manger, I’ve become a firm believer that “there’s energy in numbers,” too.

Think about it! Together, God’s light in the lives of believers shines more brightly than a life lived – however passionately – alone.

I wonder, is God leading you toward others who share your passions? Energy? Vision? Who are they, and how are you going to respond?

Over the past week, I’ve also decided to adopt a new mantra in 2018: Follow the Energy! Where God’s good stuff is happening, the Spirit is stirring, and even if you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel the power surging as you move closer to the action.

I’m pretty sure that’s what happened at the manger, all those years ago.

 

Trek to the Manger (DQ27)

Trek to the Manger 27

So much life is lost in waiting for “someday” to arrive.

Some of us, hearts set on Heaven, miss the beauty to be found in our broken world today.

Others, so dialed-in to their goals and agendas, squander today’s opportunities while planning for a tomorrow that may never actually arrive.

Do you remember a time when the anticipation of a coming event or milestone kept you from truly engaging in your life being lived “today?” 

Today, let’s agree to give away the temptation to look forward to the future at the expense of here-and-now!

Trek to the Manger (DQ26)

Trek to the Manger 26Being stranded stretches us.

Even in the face of warm hospitality and a tasty bowl of chili, some of us will choose to pout because things just aren’t going our way.

“The Holy can be either a Hiding Place or a Boulder blocking your way.” Isaiah 8:14

Which one is it going to be for you, as the long-awaited Christmas holiday arrives?

Will you take refuge in the strength of the Baby in the manger, while you wait for life to make sense again? Or will you stand, hands-on-hips, and complain about the roads that have been closed along the way?

Maybe today is your day to whip up a batch of “chili” (real or proverbial – you decide), to make someone else’s wait less trying. At least they’d know they’re not alone.

 

Trek to the Manger (DQ25)

Trek to the Manger 25Lately, I’ve taken quite a few rides on Lyft. It takes a little bit of getting used to, being a passenger in someone else’s car.

When I’m driving, I get to decide when to change lanes, when to change directions. Not so when someone named Andre or Pete is driving.

On this Trek to the Manger, we’ve talked a lot about making changes. The thing is, what God is really after is our willingness to go along for the ride.

Do you trust Him to get you where you need to go?

What’s it going to take for you to enthusiastically call out “Shotgun!”?

 

Trek to the Manger (DQ24)

Trek to the Manger Ch 24Can’t help but chuckle, reading chapter 24 afresh, now that my Stinky Friday kid is all grown-up. Maybe it was in rebound from those good ol’ sixth grade days, but there was a definite spike in water usage when high school rolled around.

I’ve got two questions for you to consider on this Stinky (Friday) Tuesday…

 

Deodorant is a cover-up for body odor. Anti-perspirant works to keep smelly conditions at bay. Which have you been relying on to keep your world stink-free, and how’s that working for you?

Just in case you hadn’t realized it, stink is a by-product of living. Close your eyes and engage your spiritual nostrils… What smells a bit ripe in your domain today?

Today, I thank God for the waters of baptism and the chance He gives each of us to start again, fresh and clean and stinky-sin-free!

Trek to the Manger (DQ22)

Trek to the Manger Ch 22It’s so hard to know what people need to hear.

On the one hand, there are things I like to say! I have my favorite stories to tell and advice to give, and when I’m learning something that affects me deeply, I’m apt to want to share it with others.

But what if those things aren’t what my fellow sojourners need to hear? What if they just need me to listen? What if they just want company – a peaceful presence on the road – with no words at all?

I’m wordy and I know it. Today, I want duct tape over my mouth, to remind me to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19), because my high-beam energy just might be scaring away those who are in desperate need of God’s presence, not my interpretation of it.

Consider those whose lives currently intersect with your own. Who is keeping step with you? Who is lagging behind? Who is watching from the sidewalk, as if on the parade route? And what is your responsibility toward them as a bearer of light in God’s Kingdom?

Trek to the Manger (DQ21)

Trek to the Manger Ch 21Who is your gift-giving really about? 

For those of us on a Trek to the Manger, questions like this one are helping to guide our decision-making in a season of auto-pilot moves.

Tradition is great, but mindless tradition needs to be questioned. Why we do what we do, in terms of gift-giving or anything else, really does matter!

Do you have a philosophy of gifting during the Christmas season (or even year-round)? 

If you could box up your life’s best gift for our Savior, what would it be?