Worship Planning Theme: Grace

Worship Planning Theme: Grace

When I was in high school, I heard a pastor explain grace in the form of an acronym: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

Grace is a gift, an invitation to receive God’s riches and become heirs of God’s kingdom.

I grew up in a United Methodist church, and the more I learned about what it means to be Methodist, the more I learned about grace.

You see, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, considered grace the cornerstone of the Christian faith. He described God's grace as having three different forms: Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace.

This Is My Story, This Is My Song

This Is My Story, This Is My Song

A few weeks ago, the youth led worship. They planned skits and a children's message, wrote prayers, made T-shirts, wrote testimonials, and chose music. They poured their hearts into this service. And it showed.

The overall theme was packing for a long journey - carrying extra baggage through life and trying to do it all on their own until Jesus revealed himself to them and offered to carry their burdens. But instead of playing fictional characters, the youth assumed their own identities - they were themselves and the baggage they carried were real things they struggle with in their own lives.

One high schooler shared her struggle with depression and anxiety.

Another about grief and loss.

One talked about turning her back on God, the way He sought her, and the joy she's found in returning to Him.

A 6th grader spoke about taking a stand and choosing to believe in God even when her friends and teachers try to tell her He doesn't exist. 

Within the security of grace

Earlier this year, I shared my goals for 2012. Among "make more decisions" and "pursue excellence," I wrote:

- Keep the faith. Think positively even when surrounded by negativity, stay strong even in the midst of frustration and weakness, find new ways to actively build my faith throughout the year, commit to worry less.

As such, I thought I'd share an expression of faith that's been on my heart lately. This year, the season of Lent spans the entire month of March. It is a solemn time in the church year, a time of self-reflection and sacrifice (giving things up). A few weeks ago, our pastor shared this thought with the congregation: "Lent is a time to examine ourselves as God sees us, within the security of grace." It resonated with me. "The security of grace" is a thought so comforting, so freeing. It's not an excuse not to do my best, it's motivation to try again, to forgive again, to move forward. It's a simple reminder that my whole life fits into the palm of His hand. We can choose to live in this security of grace every day. What will you choose?

Finding Joy

Count it all joyAll of it. That's quite the challenge, don't you think?  I find myself asking for compromise: "Can't I just pick a few really good things to be joyful about?"  Of course, I know the answer.  There is joy to be found all along the journey, not just at the scenic overlooks.  Your job is to seek it.  Seek joy.

I used to think joy meant turning into Pollyanna, determined to turn everything in life into a positive.  No, joy is deeper than that.  Joy is the bigger picture.  You can't soak it up as you run by onto the next thing in your day.  Stop.  Stand still.  Take a deep breath.

  • Joy is not dwelling on the things that went wrong but celebrating what went right.
  • Joy is accepting the imperfect with grace.
  • Joy is greater than anger and frustration.
  • Joy is spontaneous.  And contagious.
  • Joy is all around you.

Standing still in the midst of a world traveling a mile a minute, I think to myself, "There, you found it."  This is joy - larger than life and much larger than the little things that keep me spinning in circles day in and day out.  A wise friend reminds me often, "The joy is in the journey" and friends, the journey is so much more than just the distance between here and there!  In the midst of those crazy, circle-spinning days, there's joy in teaching, there's joy in helping others, there's joy in making music, there's joy in homemade blueberry muffins (even if they are from a box), and there's joy in sharing this journey with a sweet, funny, selfless man.

Find a moment today to just stop, quiet your heart and mind, and count it all joy.

Silly Faces

Sometimes, we need to take time to make silly faces.  It’s important.  In the midst of those days that overwhelm you, those not-so-fun grown-up to-do lists (how many more hyphens can I add to one sentence?!), and those times when life feels way too serious, remember what it feels like to be silly and laugh at yourself.

It started out innocently enough – just trying to take a nice picture together for the background on Steve’s phone.  Obviously, one of us was feeling a little silly that day.  This is now one of my favorite pictures because it makes me laugh every time I look at it.  It reminds me to not take life too seriously, to let go of the things that don’t matter, to laugh often, and to be thankfulWe took another silly picture for my phone background so I can remind myself of these things throughout each day.  The result:

Yes, take time to be silly.

Christmas Time is Here

With Turkey Day behind us it seems the whole world has turned to Christmas and the upcoming holiday season with gusto. The radio stations are playing solely holiday tunes (though, I admit, I gave up on them after hearing "Dominic the Donkey" today); the church is decked out with trees, wreaths, candles, and bright red bows; and our tiny P.O. box is filled to the brim every day with cheery catalogs. It's a joyous season and yet it's also the busiest month of the year!

Between extra meetings, special bulletins, long choir rehearsals, finals, shopping, wrapping, and traveling, I feel like I'm holding on for dear life some days. It's hard not to get carried away in the hustle and bustle! In moments like these, I try to remind myself to take life one step at a time, to prioritize what's most important, and to keep smiling through it all. Part of that "grace not perfection" mantra is taking time to admire the red and green decorations in the Pharmacy window on my way to work instead of speed-walking down the sidewalk, spending time in the evening addressing Christmas cards (they're black and white and so us!) instead of fretting over the bulletin formatting, taking a Saturday morning to bake Butter Cookies (a family tradition) instead of sending emails, and planning a few days of escape with family instead of sitting at home planning for the Spring.

This season, though busy and full of opportunities to feel overwhelmed, I choose peace. I choose thankfulness. I choose joy.

Cracked Wide Open

You know those times when you feel like your head is in a million places?  You're so busy trying to keep all 10 plates spinning that you're not really 100% present and that responsibility, that weightfeels like the weight of the world upon your shoulders.  Can you relate?

We had a busy weekend.  I spent six hours in the car on Saturday (dropping Steve off for a weekend away, picking up my dress in CT, and running a few last-minute errands: who knew chalkboards were so hard to find?)  The weight of Sunday morning began to set in.  I stocked my night table with a box of tissues and cough drops (battling a cold since middle of last week) and bought an extra alarm clock, just to be safe.  Good thing I thought to take it out of the box before going to bed - another trip out to buy AAA batteries.

Sunday morning, 6:45 a.m., neither alarm sounded.  Thankfully, my night was restless and I was awake anyway.  I dressed for the foggy, cool morning, grabbed a coke, and ran out the door at 7:45 a.m.  To-do: run-through music, pick up chairs in Choir Room, make seating chart for children's choir, rehearse.  At 8:45 a.m., I had four of the twelve children I was expecting to sing.  At 9:00 a.m., I had half of the adult choir I expected.  We started rehearsing nonetheless.  A few more faces joined the group and panic set in as they realized Steve (their unofficial "leader") was not there.  After a 60-second counseling session ("really, y'all will be just fine"), they were on their way.

I took my seat at the piano and waited for the announcements.  Are the choir members leaving enough room for latecomers?  Are they being quiet?  Lifting my hands to the keyboard for the prelude, I saw the pastor stand up and make his way to the center.  I scrambled to change books when I realized he was skipping ahead.  No worries, crisis averted.  And so we proceeded:

Gathering Song Call to Worship Opening Hymn: four verses - melody on the swell manual for the third verse, it's just one wrong note - let it go Passing of the Peace: old language in the bulletin - remember to fix that in staff meeting Don't slip running down to the piano! Scripture readings Time with the Children: will that children's choir member remember that we're singing today, since he missed the rehearsal? Combined anthem (three choirs): it's worth the split-second pause to make sure the page is turned Meditation: why is my contact so blurry?  Will I have to play the rest of the service with one eye closed? Middle Hymn: three verses - fix melody second time through based on how the congregation is singing it Joys/Concerns - moment of panic when all eyes turn to me with announcement of our wedding next weekend Lord's Prayer (sung) Offertory Doxology Offertory Prayer: bolt to organ for Closing Hymn - no time to hesitate, play introduction, hear whispers, see people sit down, read the word, "Communion!" on choir members' lips.  (This prayer is new in the communion service and for over a year it's been my cue to run to the organ.  So, like a well-trained dog, I heard the prayer, and I ran to the organ.  Completely blind once back there, I completely skipped the communion portion of the service.) Skulk back down to the piano. Bread, music (wait for pastor), cup, music (wait for pastor), prayer: dash to the organ Closing Hymn: four verses - make sure choir leaves on verse 2, after the deacons have extinguished the candles Benediction: dash to the piano Benediction Response: who is talking in the back of the church? Postlude

Cracked. wide. open.  Do you know how that feels?  Do you know how hard it is to not let yourself fall apart but instead, to pick up your broken self and keep going?  I suddenly felt much more sick than I really was.  Foggy lightheadedness felt like it could just consume me.  But I had to keep going.  It's not that I expect perfection - I know things can never be perfect.  I strive to be invisible in worship, to be an instrument, per se.  I want the music to speak for itself and I don't want to do anything that detracts from that.

Yesterday, as hard as it was to come out from behind the organ to play the rest of the service - broken and embarrassed, I managed.  I struggled with showing grace to myself.  It's hard for me to just accept such a public moment of fault as "okay."  I took a risk.  I didn't hesitate with the hymn introduction - I came right in, boldly and confidently.  This is one small consequence for that level of risk-taking.  Is it worth it?  Is it better to take the plunge and play your heart out at the wrong time or hesitate, play with half of yourself, and perhaps avoid such public errors?

I'd rather be known as someone who brings their whole heart into what they do; someone who takes those risks and is willing to make those public mistakes; someone who can be cracked. wide. open. and still keep going.  Grace is part of the process.

It's One of Those Days...

It's one of those days.  My feet hit the ground running this morning. Welcome to the fall semester, right?!

Inboxes (yes, three of them) full of unanswered emails from the weekend, staff meeting this morning, errands to run, studio lessons this afternoon, meetings to schedule, etc.  And then there are the unexpected things that come up... a reporter calling to interview me about the cultural council grant we received for the workshop this year, booking a hair salon for the wedding party, responding to student inquiries, a 2-and-a-half hour staff meeting, and dealing with a Blackberry that is constantly blinking for attention.  Grace, not perfection, my friends.  I likely will not cross everything off my to-do list today.  I will probably not be able to make all the phone calls I need to make before 5 p.m.  I will, however strive to be the best that I can be in accomplishing as much as I am able.  One thing at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Image Credit: personal