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Noah Lying on His Blanket

Noah Lying on His Blanket

June 15, 2018

 

I listened to a song while you were lying
On a blanket in the floor this morning—
A song we sang at church that left me crying
Because it said (a punch without a warning)
That God would never let me down. And I
Was pretty sure He’d done exactly that—
Because although I knew that He would dry
The tears He bottled up for me and pat
My forehead like my mama did, I had
To stop believing He would fill my heart
In that place where I longed to be called “Dad”—
Like saints that Paul said only saw the start.
“But if not,”—I would quote the three young men—
While God was brooding like a mother hen.

 

And I Said Nooo Nooo No

There’s been a lot of talk of recovery and the need thereof in my immediate circle lately.

The word rehabilitation has been playing around my mind this morning, and I was thinking about the etymology. Latin re–again, habitare–to make fit. To make fit again presupposes that something was fit before.

I don’t think that’s the case when it comes to things that we treat with what we call rehab, that something was actually fit before–and all it needs is to be restored to its former glory. No, I believe we come to the place where we need rehab because we were fundamentally broken from the get go.

Melissa and I have been reading a book by Richard Rohr called Breathing Underwater. It’s an examination of how the Twelve Steps are congruent with the gospel.

Rohr posits that we are all addicts. It’s just that for most of us, our addiction isn’t to a substance that will kill us, so our dependencies play like background software undetected for most of our lives.

My personal list would be topped by the triumvirate of Approval, Being Liked, and Pleasing Others followed closely by nighttime cereal eating.

I trace back through my years and I watch how my own legion addictions (activities or practices that promise a controlled, pleasurable experience, however fleeting or empty) have shat on my life, relationships, and sanity like a kit of Port Authority pigeons.

I also look back and see where the gentle, masterful Hand of God (where I finally let Him) turned pigeon dookie into manure that grew a really beautiful garden.

It’s grace. Charis undeserved and freely given. God sent the perfect people into my life at the perfect times to tell me in all love and tenderness, “This is a cluster.”

My experience has not been that of tidying up a messy room. There had/continues to be a razing of the whole structure, a re-digging of the foundation, and setting the Cornerstone in place that I had rejected. If the building blocks of our bodies are cells, I have been changed on a building-block level.

This was not self-help, self-improvement, nor will power.

It was Step One: “(I) admitted (I was) powerless over (my addictions)—that (my life) had become unmanageable.” It was the prayer of the despised tax collector in the temple that Jesus taught about: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

It was the end of my perceived self and resources. Accompanied by a ninja spiritual director, a cadre of truth-telling friends, and then the sweetest miracle wife, I walked and walk through re-pentance. Re-thinking. Metanoia

The gospel says that Jesus died and rose from the dead, and because He did, we do too. It’s that crazy.

I believe the whole thing. And I see the resurrection in my life, how God has raised dead things to glowing brilliance.

Trash into Treasure

I vividly remember a dream I had when I was on tour in 2002. Pretty sure we were in Oklahoma City.

I was at an artist’s studio, a ramshackle wooden shed painted white. It was outside on the greenest of green lawns, one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.

There were mosaics, mirrors, pinwheels spinning in the breeze, chimes ringing. The artist was there, but he was invisible. He said every creation in the studio had been fashioned from discarded things.

herb box

Raised herb garden made from discarded fence wood.

And in my life since then, I have seen so much trash turned to treasure. The list would create an unread-ably long post. I’ll have to piece them out for later. (What a stoopit-blessed thing to be able to say.)

Recently I got to work with this practically. I wanted to build a mini raised garden for our back patio.

After a fruitless trip to Lowe’s fretting over which lumber to buy (it was a sight to behold involving aisle-pacing, tape-measuring, and much scratch-paper draftery), I came across some discarded fence wood someone had put out for garbage collection in our neighborhood.

Eureka!

A few nails, loosely-measured hand-sawings, and cuss words later, we got ourselves a little herb garden.

I love looking at it and knowing what was headed for the landfill is now full of herbs and ‘maters.

Aaaand, life lesson link, go.

Happy summer, y’all.

 

 

Sunday on the Farm, Uncle Joe Bill

My Great Uncle Joe Bill Jessup went to heaven two days ago.

Married 63 years to Aunt Ruth, father, Korea veteran, joy-filled, live-wire, caring man who loved God.

Ever since Melissa and I moved to North Carolina, I have been thinking, “Melissa has to meet Joe Bill.” And I never made the time.

It turned out to be timely that I wrote a poem about my fore-farmers on Tuesday because Joe Bill is a major part of that legacy.

I heard so many hilarious front-porch stories of him and my Papa, Basil Jessup, growing up on the farm together in Westfield, NC, along with their brother J.T. and sister Mary Ellen.

I could tell you a lot about him, but you just have to see him to know.

Here he is from a video my brother Joel captured during a visit we had with him nearly two years ago, telling us how every day for him was like Sunday on the farm.

There is a really nice obit in the Mt. Airy News here.

We love you, Joe Bill.

 

Sweet Beulah Land

When I was a little boy my mom and dad would sing this song at Woodville Baptist Church (near Westfield NC).

“Sweet Beulah Land” by Squire Parsons.

I remember the woman who often babysat me on Sunday afternoons and was my trusted source for Hubba Bubba, Hazel Norman (who also carried me into the church for the first time after I was born), would request it all the time.

A dear friend of ours, Anna Smith, recently asked me if I knew the song. She wanted to play it for her mother, Frances. My mom’s name is also Anna, and my grandma’s name is Frances, too. We were meant to be family.

So I found the chords and gave it a shot. Playing through it the first few times brought a tear or seven. Amazing how indelible these early memories are. “Precious memories,” as another hymn says. Grateful to be from these North Carolina hills and hollers.

Here you go, Anna Smith. Love you.

Magnificat

Here is a simple setting I wrote of the Magnificat.

I love this quote. One of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle, and one of my favorite books, Walking on Water:

“The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.

…I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.

As for Mary, she was little more than a child when the angel came to her; she had not lost her child’s creative acceptance of the realities moving on the other side of the everyday world. We lose our ability to see angels as we grow older, and that is a tragic loss.”

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

 

Embracing Yo Mess and Slowing Down

The last post I wrote (ahem, in January. Joops) I talked about going slow to go fast. By that I meant that we all need to slow our respective rolls so that we can take time to remember what is important before we go all headless-chicken putting out fires that aren’t going to burn anything up anyway.

It’s May, and I still need to learn this lesson. Even as I type, I’m a little frantic about it. That might be the coffee. So delicious.

But I, like you, have this heaping pile of stuff that needs to get did, and it likes to tap me on the shoulder and and say, “look here!”…”No, here!” I think it’s an octopus, my pile of stuff. Several tentacles tap my shoulders all at the same time.

When I listen to the task pile, I get crazy. And then I don’t practice my singing, I don’t write, I’m not a good teacher, and I don’t build anything that I’m passionate about creatively.

It reminds me of my sweet Grandmother Edith when I’d take the bus to her house from school. It seemed almost every day she didn’t get anything accomplished that she wanted to. She and my Grandpa were deeply impacted by the Great Depression, and their home and outbuildings exhibited that residual need to hold on to things in case they may need them one day. The things became overwhelming to her eventually, and she didn’t know where to begin to restore some order for herself.

We do the same thing. It might not be physical objects, but we collect obligations and projects because if we say no to something, that might be the opportunity that leads to our big break, and look, see? We missed it.

It all stems from the same root: We scared. Just like we hold on to physical things to protect ourselves from impending lack, we also hoard projects, professional connections, and all kinds of obligations because we don’t want to miss out on something. We don’t trust.

But what is there to trust? I’m just going to share with you my personal belief on this. It helps me out. In fact, it holds me up. I hope it helps you out too. I believe in God. I believe He put us here on this planet for lots of great and fun purposes, and I believe He loves us more than we can begin to wrap our little human brains around. I believe He’s weaving a masterpiece with our lives.

And here’s the deal with weaving. Have you ever seen the back side of a tapestry? It looks like a…say it with me…a hot mess. You can check this link from the Metropolitan Museum or just plug it into the Google machine for yourself and see. And that’s often what our lives look like when terrible crap happens. We’ve all been through it, and we’ve all asked why.

I seriously believe that Got takes all the painful terrible dookey that gets hurled at us and tricks it out and redeems it. I know I’ve seen it in my life. And just like Joesph tells his brothers at the end of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” Okay, I don’t know if Tim Rice put that anywhere in the musical, but the source material definitely says that.

So that’s why we can look at the knotted threads that look like stringed chaos and remember that you just can’t see the other side of the tapestry. Why not? I ask that too.

That’s why it’s good to embrace the hot mess action in our lives. It actually makes us remember that we are really weak and blessed and dependent on so much that we don’t understand.

It makes us slow down and reassess what’s really important right now, and then we can take action accordingly….and taking action slowly tricks us into trusting. Then we feel this thing called peace. It’s awesome.

I hope we can relax in this and feel some of that today.

Have a great May!

Go Slow to Go Fast

The word that has been tapping my heart on the shoulder the last few weeks…slow.

I don’t do slow so well. And when I do slow down, a little panic button gets pushed in my brain. It activates an alarm for about fifteen minutes until my brain recognizes that I’ve actually grown more productive since I held my horses.

I don’t understand it. It seems like if you want to get more done, you should do things really fast. But I think what happens when I slow down is that I can take a moment and remember my priorities. Then I can make some wise and deliberate choices about what I’m doing rather than putting out seemingly urgent…squirrel!…fires.

I think this is a big thing for us to download this year. Going slow actually makes us go fast. Going slow makes us see that life is happening right now. Hurrying is destination-obsessed, thinking that we’ve got to scramble so we can quickly get from A to Z. And by the time we get to Z, we’re already preoccupied with the next over-there. So we don’t just miss the destination, we’ve missed every bit of scenery on the way.

This isn’t anything new. Ever since the Ten Commandments, people have known about the need to slow down, rest, and be present. There’s a reason. It’s important.

We should take some time to check if all these cliches we’ve heard our whole lives, i.e. stop and smell the roses, (and if you live in LA, you can actually do that. Sorry Polar Vortex sufferers.)…to check if these cliches have actually made it into our heart and experience. They’re cliches for a reason. Most of the time they are true.

The other day I was watering our veggie garden and I realized that I get more enjoyment out of watching the plants grow than I do harvesting and eating them. Made me think about my grandfather (Papa) Basil Jessup who had a massive garden every year and would give me the tour every few days of how the plants were growing. It delighted him so much to see things grow. And I realized that life should be the same way.

We believe that the actual event we’re preparing for (the audition, the opening night, the career-defining moment) is the real thing, the magical occurrence that will mark the beginning of real life. After that, then we have permission to really enjoy ourselves. Every moment up until then is drudgery that we just have to endure waiting for the big thing.

That’s a lie. And it sucks the joy and life right out of us, making us whiny and complainy and scared that the life-validating event may never happen or pan out. Hard to enjoy anything when we’re complaining and full of fear.

So here’s what I propose. Literally slow down. Walk a little slower, drive a little slower, talk a little slower (this is a powerful tool in that audition room, too). Take your time to plan your days based on your priorities, not on the fires you think you have to put out or the people you think you need to please. They probably care more about what you can do for them than they care about you. If you slow down, I bet you an ice cream cone that you will see yourself accomplishing more, seeing pockets of time you didn’t know you had, and appreciating things like hot running water, food and shelter, and friends in new ways.

Then you just might be a little freer to be an encouragement to the people around you. When we hurry, we are self-occupied (i.e. trapped), and we believe that everything is our responsibility. Lies. When you slow down, you trust, and you change the atmosphere wherever you go.

So that’s my encouragement to you and to myself. Let’s all walk a little slower and take the time to see the people and things around us. You might be surprised at how quickly you get to those surprise destinations that are so much better than the ones you thought you were heading for.

Why We Don’t Practice

I always miss East-Coast-style fall here in LA. I even bought some liquid amber branches with some fall color on them at Trader Joe’s the other day. They were for Melissa, but were they really? :)

But I am grateful that in LA you can still plant a fall garden, so hopefully there will be some good veggies to harvest by Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m looking forward to the parsnips most of all.

Many of you know I’ve been studying opera and classical singing again. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s unearthed all kinds of gaps in my technique and pushed my nose directly into some very uncomfortable emotional/spiritual places. In other words, it’s a blast.

…Okay side note. I just went out to our little laundry shed to check the clothes in the dryer, and I saw a hummingbird just sitting on a branch. I’ve never seen one sitting still. It chirped a few times and flew away. I just thought that was really cool. Hummingbirds are incredible…

Okay, practicing. Why do we avoid it? Why is practice time the best time to check Facebook, text your mom, or dust the light bulbs?

I don’t think it’s because of the fear of failure. Most of us who are performers have failed plenty, and we didn’t die, and we’re fine. This is my theory. I think we avoid practicing because we know if we practice consistently, we’ll get really good at what we do, and then what are we going to do with that?

All kinds of heartbreaking possibilities come into play then. We could get really skillful at our art form and then never get the opportunities we think we want.

Or we might get the opportunities, and we realize that we’re too scared to accept them. Our skill brings a level of responsibility that deep down we wonder if we can handle. It’s like the lottery winner who squanders all their winnings because inside they don’t think they deserve the money.

Here’s the big revelation. We don’t deserve any of it. Who among us made ourselves happen? We can’t make ourselves breathe. We can’t make our hearts beat. We can’t make our vocal chords phonate. We are downloaded with the most intricate and miraculous systems when we arrive on this planet. My wife is a biologist. She could tell you about it all day long. It’s mind-blowing, the universes that exist inside us on just a micro level.

So all of this is to say that any talent we have is truly a gift. We didn’t do anything to earn it or create it. But somehow we get into our heads that we are not worthy of it, or that we don’t deserve it. Here’s the truth. It doesn’t matter whether we deserve it or not. It’s been given to us. So what now?

We practice, and we make our skill beautiful and strong and precise.

Then we get to give this skill to others who, guess what, probably don’t deserve to receive it either. It’s a gift we get to pay forward. See how it works? It’s all a lot of grace and undeserved goodness.

A couple of weeks ago I was at my lesson, and as I was singing an exercise, everything lined up. The space, support, relaxation, focus, and a really beautiful feeling/sound came through me.

My teacher Renee stopped playing at the piano, looked up at me, and said…”Shit.” Then I started to cry. As the tears leaked out of my eyes, I knew why I was crying. I had been making it harder than it was, saying no to it.

I couldn’t just let it be easy and joyful, I had to worry it and work it. It’s the other side of the pride/ego coin. One side is stamped “grandiosity,” the other side says “self-flagellation.” And pride-ego careens us from one ditch to the other. The narrow, solid road in between the two is humility to receive the undeserved gifts. It’s an active acceptance, a decision to open our hands and receive something precious and un-earnable.

Think about it, though. If you let it be easy and joyful, you stop taking yourself so damn seriously, and something really beautiful gets to come through you. Then what does that mean for your audience?

And this is something we can practice every day. Just the ability to sing a scale is a gift. Because we can’t see an immediate outcome, we avoid it. It doesn’t look fruitful to us. Especially if you live in LA, we’re surrounded by a culture that is entitled and demands results without any investment.

So there is the paradox, right? We are given a gift we don’t deserve, and so we’re entrusted with that to make something beautiful out of it. And even the ability to work on it is grace. It’s a road that requires us to look at ourselves, feel afraid and do it anyway, and then do it again. And I don’t know of a more rewarding road to take.

So I’m encouraging you all. That thing you have been given, that talent: practice it. Commit to it. Be willing to do it even if your heart gets broken in the process. Take the hit. It’ll be broken open and then you’ll have more to share.

That’s the thing about our creative gifts. I can’t think of a more perfect means to redeem the crap that happens and turn it into gold…a song, a play, a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a film. We know the ones that have touched our lives. Let one come from you and touch someone else’s.

Being Chosen

About a year an a half ago in the musical theatre workshop, I stood at the dry erase board, and we talked about what we could do as artists in an environment (Los Angeles) that seemed to be offering less and less gainful employment to theatre actors.

Long story short, two separate production companies grew from the seeds we planted that month in our class community, and each is producing a fully-staged musical in the next two months here in Los Angeles. (Sugar Fix Productionsand Not So Artful Productions)

Here is where the bit about being chosen comes in. Almost all of us creative types have a deep need to be chosen. Whether we felt like leftovers when the kickball team captain called our name dead last or if it’s as deep as parental abandonment, we all need to hear, “I choose you. You are precious. You matter.”

The problem comes when we try to get these deep heart-needs met with a career. Every audition becomes a test of our innate worth as children of God rather than what it is: a job interview. Enter fear, shame, and several flavors of mental torment.

In my own life, I am now grateful that I didn’t book a Broadway show in my 20’s when I was finally getting the 3rd and 4th callbacks. I’m glad because to my 25-year-old mind, a Broadway contract was going to legitimize me. I didn’t know it, but deep in my background software, I believed that being chosen to be in a Broadway show was going to fill me up in some way. Don’t get me wrong, I still wouldn’t mind checking it off my list, but it’s not going to make or break my life.

You don’t have to look far to see the results of this broken promise (achievement = fulfillment) played out over and over. It’s the fodder that keeps every gossip magazine in business.

We believe a lie that whispers to us that we are not enough, that we are unlovable, and that we are worthless without some major bells and whistles to upgrade us. Then we begin to compare our bells and whistles to others’. Let the insanity whirlpool ensue.

You are precious, chosen, and significant because you are. End of story. God saw fit to put you on this planet; therefore, you matter.

If you know you’re already picked for the team, you can choose yourself.

Is there a dream that keeps knocking on your door and waking you up in the morning? Maybe you are the one that dream is waiting for. Maybe it’s time to start your own kickball team.

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