“You can make people feel,” he told me. That’s high praise, coming from a world famous poet and a marvelous compliment coming from a person who is in touch with “all the feels.”
But it’s not me “making people feel.” The stories I share and the way I share them is thanks to the people who have inclined me to open the door to my feelings and offered a safe space for me to feel them. It’s my gratitude for these lessons learned, messages communicated, insights shone, and perspectives gained that spills onto the page.
My new book, Made to Move: Knowing and Loving God Through our Bodies comes out in February. It is a “devotional workbook” for individuals and small groups but not your typical book of devotions. It’s not a daily, Jesus Calling, kind of reading to assure you that Jesus loves you and God will never leave you, though I subscribe to both of those beliefs.
No, this book is really, well, I guess its the product of the practice of writing thank you notes that my mother began in me all those years ago. It started me writing notes to people who I thought deserved a thanking. And not just the canned version:
Thank you for ______.
I’ll use it for _________.
I really appreciate it.
But the real version — the “felt” version — written with the Lord’s guidance, letting a heart that was truthfully grateful take the lead. Somehow, gratitude lets us turn the knob on the door to a passageway we didn’t know existed. It opens onto the hallway of feeling. All feelings. None prohibited. It is a safe zone where trust can abide and healing reigns.
Because feeling can be hard. It can be gut-wrenching and head-spinning, earth-shattering and life-altering. But, it can also be breathtaking and awe-inspiring, heart-healing and life-giving. Life offers us the opportunity to turn the knob and enter in, not knowing what we will find on the other side.
The courage to do this doesn’t come from the author who invites you in, but from the Author of Life who is there to facilitate your discovery. Whatever you find there, I will help you handle. Whatever you need there, I will supply. Because I will be with you in the feeling, the you who emerges will be changed.
I don’t “make people feel.” I invite people, through words birthed in gratitude, to experience their feelings and then to be healed by the only Healer I know whose work lasts forever.
My book is a thank you note to the world. Each page, a person. If it “makes you feel,” I am grateful because I know God’s grace is at work in that space between gratitude and glory.
You’ve heard of party crashers and wedding crashers, but perhaps you have never heard of a choir crasher. That’s me, the person who, back in the doldrums of September as election campaigns were still in full swing, shorter days and longer nights were just beginning to descend, and when Christmas trees were not yet at Lowes, I began to wonder in earnest … What can I do to make this season feel more like Advent?
A clear and undeniable suggestion came to mind: join the cantata choir.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no solo singer. I have an average voice…a congregational voice…that’s mostly on pitch and works well in a crowd. Harmony is a stretch, but I can make a joyful noise.
So, I emailed choir director, Yoon Nam, who told me they were welcoming seasonal singers for the Cantata and told me to come for the last part of their Wednesday evening choir rehearsal. I did and they were expecting me. My name was written on a sticky note marking an empty seat saved for me.
“You’re an alto, right?” Yoon asked.
“Yes,” I said, as I took my seat, wondering how she knew.
And frankly, I was pitiful. I couldn’t find the notes, couldn’t hear the pitches, didn’t get the rhythms let alone the words, so I spent most the time lost in the music, scanning the pages, frantically looking for the alto line shuffled among the four parts and the piano accompaniment. Oh my, what had I done?
After rehearsal, I thanked Yoon, apologizing for my dismal performance, wrong notes and poor sight reading. Ever honest, Yoon said, “That’s okay. You have other gifts.” Haha! Thank God I do. Just point the microphone away from me!
At the end of that first night of rehearsal, we dismissed from our seats to form a large, hand-held circle to pray. The choir, you see, is actually the largest small group you’ll ever be a part of, nearly 70-strong. Not only do they sing together in worship, but they care for each other, share devotional reading and always, they pray together to conclude their rehearsals.
Yoon prays and the room falls silent:
“Lord, thank you for letting us sing to you.”
That says it all. It’s the reason we’re here, the reason we practice, and the reason we are admonished to take care of our instruments, which in this case are our bodies and, in particular, our voices.
Unfortunately, I immediately realize that I brought very flabby praise muscles. My vocal chords are sorely out of shape. My harmony is hard of hearing. After thirty minutes of singing, I’m hoarse and exhausted. This is ridiculous! What kind of praise is this?
Week by week of Wednesdays, I showed up for just a wee bit of practice with this small group disguised as large, where a chair welcomed me by name, faces smiled when I arrived, and strong, confident voices surrounded me. With Mandy and Erin, the dual Rocks of Gibraltar in the alto section verily ringing out from behind me, all I have to do is open my mouth to let the angels sing!
And Yoon… there’s just no describing singing for her. She is hilarious, mimicking and imitating us in practice, yet, serious about drawing it all together perfectly. As we prepare for what is not performance, but offering, she is generous, forgiving and heartfelt. Her direction is a whole-bodied, whole-hearted, full-minded, soul-filled affair. Notes travel, phrasing moves forward, sound grows and diminishes, and praise, praise, all of it is meant to praise. Yoon teaches us to praise through song.
“Open your mouth like this,” she shows us. Because when we sing reluctantly and without confidence, our lips tighten and the sound is raw and quenched. Opening your mouth lets the note ring beautifully. “Listen to how it sounds. Listen to how it blends. Open your mouth and let the Holy Spirit sing in you.”
The Light of the World is coming and has come. Words just can’t quite say it completely. This calls for singing, as if there is a microphone in every pew, which surely is how God hears us. There’s just nothing quite so true as singing Glory to God, double forte. Oh my goodness! Thank you, Yoon, and new choir friends. It was amazing praising God together.
Lord, thank you for letting us sing to you.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:16-17
Have you ever noticed how contagious gratitude can be?
I just had the opportunity, thanks to the William & Mary DC area Alumni organization, to welcome an Honor Flight coming into Reagan National Airport. On it were men and women who had served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam who were flown into Washington, DC so they could tour the monuments and memorials erected in their honor.
All I had to do was show up with a smile; posters and flags were optional. William & Mary colors were encouraged. Turns out there were a lot of us who thought this was a great opportunity. It seemed like every other person in the security line was there to meet the Honor Flight. Green and gold mingled with red, white and blue was everywhere.
Patriotic balloon bouquets greeted us at gate 38 as we gathered, and our numbers began to swell. Couples and singles, families with young children, girls and boys, teens and young adults, the middle-aged and older yet all swept into the mix. The chatter among us grew in connection and anticipation. “Their plane was early,” the gate crew told us, “so be ready.”
Suddenly, the brass of the Roger Whitworth Band brought us to our feet as they belted out the National Anthem. And not only us, the volunteer greeters forming the welcome tunnel, but all the people in neighboring gate areas as well. We all stood in honor of the anthem and saluted the flag in honor of our guests who would disembark any moment.
Then, all eyes to the jet way, a voice announces, “Here they come!”
And so they did. How delightful to see the first to emerge, as he stopped in his tracks to take in the scene. With a sincere bow, he waved and smiled as he was ushered along the runway like a New York City model. Cheers rang out, salutes given, whistles and thanks. Thunderous applause.
Then the next and the next. Each one receiving their welcome in their own way. Some were gregarious like the first. Some looked down as if embarrassed. Some in wheelchairs, some with walkers, some with canes. Some sprightly, shaking hands. Some jovial, smiling broadly.
Many, really most, were slow and deliberate. Each red-shirted veteran walked with a blue-shirted companion which, I learned later, had been assigned to accompany them in their day. Some companions pushed the wheelchairs, held hands, or walked behind to be sure of balance, but many wielded cell phones, video-recording the events making a lasting memory for their patrons.
From my place among the left flank of greeters, I was mesmerized by the glory on these faces. These men and women who had served their country proudly in ages past wore age and beauty, character and wonder, delight and surprise. Not many of them, I suppose, are wealthy executives, judging by their demeanor and their dress. They have just flown several hours in anticipation of visiting memorials where they will remember friends and comrades gone and are sure to recall experiences they may have long-ago chosen not to remember. Yet, I watch them in utter amazement. Some weep or choke back tears of joy. Most wave in acknowledgement; some applaud back to us!!
As they make the turn toward the concourse I realize that time has stopped in that corridor. Not a soul is moving in all of Terminal C! The crowd blocks the width of it and not a soul complains. Continuous applause rings out.
The ranks of our hundred or so volunteers are now buffeted by the per-chance traveler out of Washington DC on a Saturday morning. All those, too, are now gathered around gate 38 to see what the fuss is about. There is a small child hoisted up on Daddy’s shoulders to get a better look. Beyond her, a tv screen shows news that no one is watching.
Our attention is center stage until the last, a veteran of WWII, makes his rightful way along the imaginary red carpet and is wheeled through the throng on his way to the bus and the mall and the memorial.
Roger Whitworth and the boys in the band hold their last note and applause swells and then tapers. Over the intercom, an announcer closes the festivities: “One hundred and fifty reasons why we are free today.”
Hands numb from clapping, with smiles affixed, and bidding fond farewells to newfound friends, people turn to go about their days. What an amazing moment we have just witnessed. We came to welcome and honor men and women for their service, and they applauded back to us just for being here.
Gratitude does that.