Grieving Death, Celebrating Life

Note: I wrote this nearly a week ago, on June 24.  Finally, after a busy week, I am getting around to posting.

Right now I am flying north to Columbus, Ohio, to attend my grandmother’s funeral.

She was 99.

After years of deteriorating health she finally left her difficulties behind and went to be with the Lord.

I have mixed feelings.

On one hand I am grateful that she was able to go.  Her existence had less and less dignity, although her daughter and son-in-law cared for her in the most beautiful and respectable way possible.  It’s just that your dignity walks out the door hand-in-hand with your ability to wash yourself and tend to your own basic needs.

On the other hand I will miss her.

I will miss her as a connection to my greater family tree and history.  I will miss the woman who graciously allowed me to live with her while I was Rosedale Bible College.  I will miss the woman my mom often describes as generous, selfless, and a blessing to others.

I will miss the woman who teased me about thinking “girls don’t like me.”  To this day I don’t remember when I said that, but back in the mid-90s she remembered, and she called me on it.  And she had a funny smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye.

I will miss the grandma who liked to haul the ice cream bucket out of the freezer and take a few bites.

I haven’t seen her for perhaps as many as 7 years, but when I heard she had died I felt deep and instant grief.  Perhaps I will understand why sometime.  For now, I am immensely grateful to fly northward and celebrate and grieve with my family.

And every time I pull out the blankets and quilt that she sewed by hand for me and my family I will thank God for her.

Thank you, Grandma Miller, for a shining example of all that is good and loving, and for sharing your life with all of us.

Who in your family has inspired and encouraged you?

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Why Life Isn’t Fair

We all know life isn’t fair; we just pretend it is.

We tell our children to abide by the rules of the game. Coaches sideline players for not playing fair. Sports officials and referees wrestle with rules and enforcement to make certain the game is fair.

But life isn’t like that.

We don’t even know all of the rules.

Yesterday we celebrated the generous life of my grandma. She died last Thursday at the age of 99. That’s the reason I haven’t been writing.

If life had been fair for her she would have passed on much earlier. As it was she endured patiently the health issues she encountered as she waited for her time to move on.

Life isn’t fair because life is broken. Once Adam and Eve sinned the world was hurled into darkness and decay. Today we continue to see the effects of that decision.

The problem with focusing on “fairness” is that it is completely self-centered.

Jesus was completely focused on others. Instead of fair he was focused on free/generosity. It was about what he could give, not about what he could get.

How about you?

Where should you be focusing on giving instead of getting?

The 6 D’s of Communication

Caveat: I am not a licensed therapist, and I don’t play one on TV. Read at your own risk.

Yesterday, at the age of 99, my grandmother passed away and went to be with the Lord. She had a wonderful and full life, and she had a great impact on me.

Her age also got me to thinking about when she was born (1913).

A lot has changed in 99 years:

  • The crossword puzzle was invented in 1913.
  • The Wright brothers flew their plane only 10 years earlier.
  • Adhesive tape would not be invented for another 10 years.
  • The Band-Aid would not be invented until 1920.

In 1913 relatively few methods of communication existed, but today the list of methods is long and varied:

  • Email
  • Texting/Messaging
  • Face-to-face conversation
  • Phone
  • Skype
  • Snail mail
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • and many more . .

Since (thanks to Apple) we have all of these options at our fingertips, what methods of communication should we choose?

If my office is a 2 minute walk from my colleague’s office and I need to tell them something brief, how should I do that?

If I have to challenge someone on a difficult topic, what is the healthiest method to use? When should I confront them, and where?

I have struggled long and hard to communicate in the right way, at the right time, and in the right place with my loved ones and close colleagues.

If you are struggling with the same issue, here are a few things to consider.

Consider the geographical and emotional distance.

Geography: If someone lives in another part of the country you obviously are not going to be able to talk in person, but how about using Skype? If you need to talk to your colleague down the hall, what is stopping you from taking a brief walk? You need the exercise, and in person conversations mean you can see someone’s body language, which is at least 70% of communication.

Emotions: Never communicate when you are overheated emotionally. Put some distance between you and the event so that you can communicate clearly and kindly. For some things all you may need is a minute or two, and for others you may need a night’s rest. Just don’t wait too long.

Consider the details.

Don’t attempt to have a detailed conversation via texting or email or Facebook messaging. You need to see someone’s body language, and you need to be able to enter into a deep discussion without being delayed by typing . . . and waiting . . . for a response . . . and then . . . getting the rest . . . of the message.

Find a place where you can sit down together and not be distracted, and make certain you have set aside enough time so you are not thinking about where you need to be next.

Consider the delicacy.

If you know that what you want to communicate is sensitive and could bring an emotional response, avoid technology. Period.

A friend once told me that if you need to use more than one smiley face 😄 in a text to lighten up your otherwise heavy or difficult message you should stop texting and pick up the phone. That rule has been extremely helpful to me.

Also, the more delicate your conversation the more diligent you should be to speak in “I” statements. “When you do such-and-such, I feel this way;” not “You are arrogant and I’m angry about it.”

Is it a decision?

Decisions must be made in person, face-to-face, unless emergency and distance prevent that. Truth be told, there are few emergencies in life (a sale at your favorite technology store or shoe store is NOT an emergency!).

Decisions must also be made with all of the key personnel present. If someone cannot make the meeting, don’t make the decision. If you are overhauling something, always involve the person or people affected. Otherwise you risk division and bitterness.

Consider the delivery.

Give the grace you wish to receive. Just yesterday a drummer called me and said he might not be able to make rehearsal because of a family change in transportation. I had the choice to either get in his face or to help him. I gladly jumped in the car and made the hour round trip, and the resulting connection and camaraderie was awesome.

We as leaders can get so frustrated with feeling like volunteers are bailing on us. Just remember you are in ministry for people and not to turn out a product.

Finally, consider the potential for damage.

In relation to what medium you use, do you really want to use Twitter to ream someone out? Is Facebook the best place to vent your frustration with your job? Do half a billion people really need to know what is going on in your bedroom? Really?

Communication is a learned art for everyone and has the potential to build up or destroy relationships and the people you love.

It’s up to you.

How can you communicate more effectively and compassionately with your colleagues and loved ones?

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Last fall I discovered, horror of horrors, that I am an old dog, and I don’t always like new tricks.

Like playing organ. On a real organ. With pedals.

You mean my feet have to play nicely with my hands?

As a pianist and keyboardist I have avoided all such strange contraptions. Till now.

Skip ahead to a week ago. My feet are learning to do what they’re told and I pulled out a Bach fugue and some Frescobaldi on the recommendation of a friend.

My sight reading was far from perfect, but I found immense satisfaction in hearing this music on it’s native instrument.

The truth is we are all old dogs from time to time. Given a choice we will choose the familiar and easy every time.

The payoff of learning new tricks is huge, though.

What new “tricks” are you reluctant to learn?

The Truth about God

God is not confusing.

Huh?

That’s right.

But aren’t all of those seemingly contradictory things about God (perfect love and justice, loves all people but convicts the guilty, present everywhere but individually involved, the Trinity, etc.) extremely complex and confusing?

God is definitely complex and hard to understand sometimes, but he is never confusing. God is very clear in Scriptures that Satan is the author of confusion.

So when you and I face a difficult situation and we feel extremely confused, we can be certain that God is not the one confusing us.

We are, or Satan is.

We are flawed human beings corrupted by evil, and consequently we have a hard time seeing clearly. Satan, on the other hand, has no interest in allowing us to see clearly.

So when you or I feel confused, here are some steps to clarity.

1. Press into God. if God is the source of clarity, it only makes sense to pursue him more. Entering into the confusion only leads to more confusion.

2. Get objective feedback. Solomon tells us that there is wisdom in seeking the counsel of many wise people. Don’t isolate. Seek out one or two trusted people to be your advisors.

3. Deal with it. Don’t ignore the situation. Wade in and wrestle it out. Peace waits on the other side.

Where are you struggling with confusion?

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

No one has had a greater impact on me than my father.

I have had great professors, teachers, pastors, mentors, and even friends, but none of them will ever come close to matching the impact my father has had on me.

Even though my father is a flawed human being, he still has made a lasting impression on me, and this gives me hope.  Some of the most impressive messages my dad preached had to do with his failings and how he dealt with them.

I want to be like that.  I want to make a lasting impression on my two boys.

I get the feeling that time is slipping through my fingers and soon my boys will be all grown up.  Am I really making the most of these young years?

Then I look at dad and remember that even though I have flaws and even though I have had failures, I can still make a difference.  I will make mistakes in the future, but I know I can still have a positive impact on my two precious boys.

Here are a few things my dad has modeled for me.

Integrity.  If dad says he will do something, he will do it.  Every time.  When we are doing masonry, dad will never cut corners.  If a customer is not happy, dad will work with them until they are, even if he has to eat the cost.

Work ethic.  Life has not been easy financially for mom and dad, so they have had to work long hard hours.  Dad never complains; he just chooses to enjoy his work.  He works holidays and Saturdays if necessary to get the bills covered.

Grace.  I remember slamming the door in front of my mom and hearing her talk later about how dad would tell her to give me space, that I was just in a stage.  I have had the door slammed in my face a time or two by my boys, and I now appreciate how hard it must have been for them to make that choice.

Humor.  When I was in junior high my dad and I were working on a house and the drywall workers had their radio cranked way up on some country station.  After hours of this dad walked over and lightly asked, “Could we listen to the birds chirp for a while?”  I don’t think it made a difference, but I give him serious credit for being willing to inject a little fun into a potentially stressful situation.

Passion for God.  Dad’s favorite topic of discussion is how God is working in his life or in the lives of others. Dad celebrates God every day.

If I grow up to be half the man my dad has been, I will be happy.  Very happy.

How about you?  How has your father impacted you?

Rehearsal Leadership for Beginners

Learning to lead a band rehearsal can be a hazardous process.

First of all, accepting the title of “leader” can feel like taking a target and taping it to your shirt.  You get to answer all of the questions and settle all of the disputes.

Once you have accepted that reality you must become comfortable with sharing your heart with people who are not always in your inner circle of friends.  This experience can feel much like undressing in front of strangers (not that I have, but just saying).

Deal with that and you still have not even begun deciding how to structure the rehearsal.

Help?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, let me tell you that I constantly deal with the first two issues.  If you are human you will need to occasionally revisit those things.

What you can do, however, is develop a rehearsal process that is clear and does not add stress to an already challenging experience.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Begin on time.  No matter who is there always begin on time.  The key to valuing volunteers is valuing their time.  Those who are late should not penalize those who are on time.  Later that week (NOT after rehearsal) call those who were late and ask them to step up.  They are holding everyone else back.
  2. Always begin with prayer and a brief devotional.  By brief I mean 5-10 minutes maximum followed by 5-10 minutes of sharing and prayer.  The goal of this time is two-fold: 1) to enable everyone to deal with the baggage they bring with them, and 2) to emphasize that our focus is on Christ and worship and not on ourselves or perfection.  Treat your worship team like a small group.
  3. Deal efficiently with sound checks.  One of the most frustrating parts of a rehearsal can be getting the technical issues straight.  Cut this one off at the pass and meet with the technicians ahead of time to decide how you are going to handle set up and sound checks.  Set a time limit that is reasonable but preferably short.  I prefer to have my musicians arrive 15 minutes before rehearsal begins to set up and plug in so time is not lost within rehearsal.  Do not assume anything; communicate, communicate, communicate.
  4. Methodically go through each congregational song. 
    1. If the band has had a recording to work with in preparation, or if the song is familiar, play straight through the song without stopping.
    2. As soon as you end direct them to any major meltdown areas and play through those areas until they are comfortable.
    3. If things sounded fine to you, ask if anyone has an area they want to revisit.
    4. Finally play through the song once more without stopping.
  5. Play congregational sets through.  After you have worked through each congregational song individually, play through any groupings of songs in the service in order to get the transitions figured out and to get the feel of doing the songs as a group.
  6. Work up the special or performance tune, if you have one.  Leave at least 30 minutes for this.  You may even want to play the recording through once before you start, if that would help.
  7. End on time.  The best way you can value a volunteer is to end on time.  If you find you are consistently running over in time, ask yourself several questions:
    1. Am I leading the rehearsal effectively?  Usually there is something we as leaders can do better.
    2. Is the music too hard?  Quite often I have found that I want to do too much hard music for my team and I have had to pull back.
    3. Are we trying to do too much music?  Playing 4 songs well is much better than playing 6 songs moderately well.
    4. Have I allocated enough time for rehearsal?  2 hours should be a given.  1.5 is too short, and 2.5 is really long.
    5. Can we improve how we work with the technicians?  Sometimes the key to improving rehearsals is working more closely with the sound technicians to prepare more effectively for rehearsal.

Ultimately leading rehearsals is a lifetime learning process.  Hang in there.  You can do it.

What rehearsal leadership tips do you have for beginning rehearsal leaders?