Melody and words have been a powerful influence in my life. As a little girl, I started recording my rambling ideas on a color-coded tape player before I could even read. Since then, writing and music have become a part of my daily life as a music therapist, songwriter and girl who can't keep from singing. A well asked question, a haunting melody--these can transform life from the mundane to the beautiful.

Monday, October 24, 2011

All I Really Want

Okay, I'll admit it. There are some emotions that I'm just not very comfortable with feeling. So I thought it was a little ironic (don't ya think?) that I found myself cracking open the cover of the album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette from my high school years as I continue in this musical exploration.

The album title is so appropriate for this album because lyrically and emotionally, it’s hard to swallow. The album kicks off with the song “All I Really Want” as she takes you on a very sarcastic, emotional ride through a minute-by-minute recount of her anger at so many injustices in her life from failed relationships in love to disillusionment with God and life in general. With that characteristic angst in her voice, she sings/shouts “You, you, you oughta know.” Her voice is honest, raw, and a just a little more than abrasive at times. Yet, somehow it’s refreshing to hear someone just say it like it is, no holds barred, and let it all come undone.

In my work as a music therapist, I have the interesting and crazy job (it’s okay, you were thinking it) of teaching about everything from how to go to the potty to how to read emotions on the faces of others. Things I never expected to do in my lifetime? Make a video complete with dancing and masks about feelings. Enter Kibbles Rockin’ Clubhouse and the song “Feelings.” With a dog puppet, four kids, a band and Handy Sam in tow we sing, “I feel mad my face is scrunched tight. I stomp around and want to start a fight. I feel mad.”

Yet, the reality is, it’s much harder for me to say those words, “I feel mad.” Anger doesn’t feel like an emotion that I should allow myself to have, right? Shouldn’t I just see the positive in every circumstance and how it will all work out in the end? Anger always feels like one of those out of control emotions. Having recently seen the movie Bridesmaids, I have images

of Kristen Wiig as Annie as she snaps and throws a tantrum, destroying the decorations and food at her best friend’s wedding shower. Unchecked anger. Whoa.

And yet I have begun to realize that anger can be the fuel for so much good in the world. In some strange way, I need to let myself sit with it. And yes, it’s okay to feel angry, to scream, to yell and to shout at the heartache of this broken world. It seems that it isn’t until we really get angry about something that it prompts us to action. Anger at the injustice of poverty causes us to want to stand together and to start a movement to change that reality for others. Anger at evil in the world causes us to want to stand and fight for the good. Anger at the lies that come all around us forces us to stand together as a community, as a church, and to slice through darkness with truth and light.

In the midst of this contemplation, I pulled out the album again and started scanning the list of the familiar songs. “You Learn,” “Hand in My Pocket, ”Forgiven.” Wait a minute, “Forgiven?” I don’t remember that song on here. It’s interesting to me that on this album so filled with anger, this song is stuck in the middle. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. The flip side of anger is forgiveness. How can we move forward if we hold on to this? Anger can be like hot stones, something we can’t hold on to for very long. We can hold on to it long enough to wake us up but then we’ve got to let it go. That’s so much harder to do. Forgiveness is a much harder pill to swallow.

How can I learn to do that? To let go of those stones, to let people see my scars and to slowly open my hands and forgive those people and circumstances that have wounded me. It’s when that release happens that I’m able to walk forward and trust God at the deepest level of my hurt. I am able to find new life, joy and a greater capacity to love others. And as I stand with all my scars from past wounds, I begin to see that my Savior has some scars on his hands too.

As I was writing this, I learned that today kicks of National Forgiveness Week culminating on this Friday, October 29th. Okay, God you’ve got my attention now. I get it. Forgiveness is important. This week my prayer is that God would give me the strength to let go, forgive and create new spaces in my life for new things. And THAT is all I really want.

“And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.” (Matthew 6:12)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finding Home

Summer is one of my favorite times of the year. I remember waking up so early (yes, I used to be early) and sitting on the front porch eating breakfast with a neighborhood friend because my mom said it was too early to play in the house. At the Neve household during the summer months (thanks to a very creative mother!) we had our own Olympic competition and medal ceremony with my cousins despite being in a backyard. For five summers I worked as a camp counselor at Lake Okoboji and had experiences that transformed my life. And summer was never really complete until I had picked sweet corn from the grandparents’ farm in Iowa. So it felt pretty natural that as I’m reflecting back on my Midwest home that I find myself tonight drawn to album about a neighboring Midwest state, Illinoise, by Sufjan Stevens. The concept album features songs referencing places, events and people related to the state of Illinois. (He also did one for Michigan.)

Aside from our common Midwest upbringing (he was born in Detroit), there are so many beautiful and amazing things about his music that make his inclusion in the book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, so important. First of all, he plays a lot of the instruments on all of his albums (oh, the power of multi-tracking), including piano, banjo, guitar, drums and various other instruments. Maybe it’s a throw back to my drum major days at Hoover High School (don’t laugh, yes, I did that), but his music can feel like a marching band one minute, orchestra the next and then all of a sudden an intimate singer-songwriter show. He definitely is a performer, complete with costumes, cheerleading outfits and even sometimes bird wings at his shows.

Secondly, his lyrics are rare, honest, longing and filled with emotion. Even the title of his album draws you in, (Come on! Feel the) Illinoise! “Don’t just watch from a distance, take the time to sit with this album,” he seems to be saying. His intimate lyrics can’t be more on display than they are with his song about a personal tragedy of a girlfriend who passes away from bone cancer on an Illinois state holiday “Casmir Pulaski Day.” After she passes, he sings “all the glory that the Lord has made and the complications when I see His face.” There is something about honest, unguarded emotion that resonates with people. That resonates with me.

How I long for home, sometimes in a tangible way, as I long for simpler (or so it seems looking back) days of growing up in Iowa. And yet, I find myself standing in all of this complicated reality, which really just leaves me with a lot of questions to ask God when I finally get to see him face to face. Although I try so hard sometimes to shelter myself from pain, from loss, my ability to lean into the grief may be one of the most important rhythms I learn how to weave in my life. I hope that this stretching and aching will enable me to love people in a deeper way and to have greater empathy for those hurting.

I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s book The Road to Daybreak recently. The book is his intimate diary of his search for a home. A Catholic priest teaching at Harvard, he decides to leave academia to serve at a home for adults with special needs, a place which he calls “closer to the heart of God” and where he finally learns that he has “come home.” Why would he choose to spend the final years of his life with people with mental and physical disabilities?

In the midst of this, I find myself scheduled to go and see Jane (name changed) for a piano lesson. Living in a group home, Jane is 47 years old and has Down’s Syndrome. How can she contribute to world? Her days consist of working at a thrift store to raise money for the hospital (she doesn’t get paid), dinners with her housemates, visits with family and now music lessons. Greeting me with a huge smile, she was eager to play “When The Saints Go Marching In” for me. As I listen to her play, the questions come, “How can she be so content?” I wonder. She doesn’t have fancy toys, a career, a boyfriend or even freedom to go where she wants to go when she wants to go. I couldn’t help but get teary eyed knowing that on some level she had a much greater understanding of peace, joy and God’s presence than I would ever know. As she stood up to give me a hug goodbye and I am still contemplating my questions, she mentions something about growing up at “Lake Okoboji” and I realize that she is from Iowa too. In that moment, I realize that God is trying to teach me (in a not so subtle way!) through this Iowa connection, something about our home in Him.

These days, as I am crawling out my grief, as I am renewing my heart, as I am seeking a simple, hope-filled life, I am realizing that home is less about a physical state and more about a state of my heart. Learning to lean into grief, to let go of places that don’t fit anymore, to make my life more simple and content and to not be afraid to “Come on! Feel!” knowing that the aching will be made beautiful in time, amidst all the questions. And I think that sounds home.

“I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Extraordinary Moments with a Little Help From My Friends

I couldn’t get very far into this musical journey, without visiting the Beatles and one of their most acclaimed recordings Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I picked up a vinyl copy (yes, the black round kind that spin) on a trip to the UK a few summers back. So, tonight I dusted off the record, and dropped the needle to see what this music would stir up.

My introduction to the Beatles involves two very different memories. First of all, my dad would play the records and I remember him teaching me what a "beat" was through those moments as we cranked the music so loud that it would shake the second floor. (sorry mom!) The second part of this introduction was via Sesame Street when I heard the song “Letter B” played by a group of small insects. Way to go Sesame Street for providing humor for adults that was above kids’ heads at the time. Whatever the case, the Beatles have definitely woven their way into my life.

One of the things that is so appealing to me about the Beatles is seeing how those four friends came together, struggles and all, and did life together through their music. On my trip to the UK, I had the opportunity to walk the streets of Liverpool and visit some of the places that inspired some of the most famous songs of the Beatles, everything from the “Strawberry Fields Forever” to a street named “Penny Lane” to the church parking lot where John and Paul first met playing a show for a youth group. What struck me was how ordinary these places were, nothing spectacular, just the everyday lives of normal people. Yet, the way these friends captured their memories, their dreams and transformed it into music was anything short of ordinary. What if Paul had never met John in that church parking lot?

There are so many amazing songs on this album but the one that resonates with me right now is “A Little Help From my Friends.” I find myself sitting on the couch with the singer and wondering, “If you could see all my faults, even if I sang out of tune, would you stay here with me or would you walk out the door?” That is such a hard question to ask because it is hard to ask for help. It is hard to admit that I am not strong enough to handle the messiness of things on my own.

Why are we so afraid to let people in? It seems easier to give love and support to others than it is to receive it ourselves. As a community, as a body of Christ, we are meant to fit together, supporting each other. We need each other. When one falls down, we help each other up. And when we can’t hold ourselves up, we find the hands of friends on either side of us helping us to continue to stand.

The last few months have been particularly hard and yet I have experienced the love of Christ in very real and tangible ways through my friends and family: cards of encouragement, phone calls from states away, text messages just checking in, long walks, coffee dates, prayers in divinely appointed moments, sitting with me as I externally process (again!), listening to yet another song I’ve written, and making me laugh when all I want to do is cry.

Through these seemingly ordinary moments, God is doing extraordinary things to transform us, to bind us together and to help us realize that we are not alone because we can get by with a little help from our friends.

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waiting for a Good Beginning

The adventure continues as I use the book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die as the canvas to paint my musings about life. So for my second blog entry, I decide to browse through the book for something completely different. How about Icelandic rockers that sing in an invented language? Perfect. Sigur Ros’ Agaetis byrjun, the only album of theirs featured in the book. The title can be translated “A good beginning" which seems like a great place to venture for the second entry.

There are so many things that captivate me about this music, which some people either find really fascinating or just really weird. First of all the lyrics are sung partly in a made-up language many call “Hopelandic” and the guitarist in the band is known for using a cello bow on the electric guitar. Secondly, there are beautiful themes, soaring orchestrations, seemingly transcendent, that anchor the music. Some have said that when they listen to it, it feels intensely spiritual. Lastly, the music is usually slow moving and churning with no apparent hook so you aren’t tempted to sing ridiculous words for hours on end in your car. When I turn on this album, I find myself slowing down, lighting a candle, crawling into my bed with my journal and wanting to contemplate the deeper things in my life. It gives me the space to breathe. There is no way that I can rush through this music. I have to wait. Ah, patience.

The word patience stirs up so many things for me. At the sound of this word in conversation, I have been know to spontaneously burst into song (surprise surprise) with a rendition of Herbert the Snail from a favorite childhood album, The Music Machine. “Have patience, have patience, don’t be in such in a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember that God is patient too. And think of all the times when others have to wait to you.” Such a simple song yet such a harder concept.

Recently, I have started doing Bikram Yoga, which I have to confess, sounded absolutely crazy the first time I heard about it. Do yoga moves in a room over 100 degrees, and sweat profusely for 90 minutes? Where can I sign up? Strangely, the slow process of doing each position, without rushing, stretching each muscle, forces my brain and body to slow down. As much as I want to run out of the room during Standing Tree Pose, I compel myself to stay in the room. And afterwards (having taken a long shower of course) I find myself less anxious and able to deal with what the day may bring. The heat, the letting go, and the slow stretching brings peace and strength.

These days, I find myself in a season of slow stretching and of waiting. There are moments of rest and times of peace but there are also times of general annoyance and me saying “Okay, I’ve got this lesson, can we move it along to the next part?”

We don’t like to wait do we? It feels like God sometimes speaks in His own made up language that we can’t understand at times when all we want is for Him to tell us what to do or what is coming next. He allows us to sit in our unanswered questions: Who will we marry? Will we have a family? Will our kids be okay? Should I take the job? Will our parents be okay? Yet, He gives us the ability to hear the large overarching themes in our lives that anchor us: He brings peace. He is forming our character. He compels us to stay in the room of our own life, to not give up. He is with us always. We draw close to Him and ask for His word to give us just enough light for the next step and the strength to continue to hope for what is around the bend. And that seems like a good beginning.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Take a Chance on Love

It is with careful steps that this bird walks onto the wire called the blogging world. Yes, I am the girl who signed up for a Twitter account (so that I could get a free burger from some place that was giving them away if you had an account) and has only tweeted one time. So, the one who never chirps on Twitter is now writing a blog! Brace yourself, I have no idea what is in store.

I was inspired by a book that I received one Christmas called 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die which includes reviews on all genres and decades of music from classical, jazz to rock. The tagline on the back of the book says “The Musical Adventure of a Lifetime” and that was really intriguing to me. What if I was to listen to albums from the book and then share whatever ideas or inspirations come forth from that?

So, here we go. I crack open the first page of the book and the first album entry: ABBA. What could be better for a Monday morning? I dust off the CD and start clicking through the songs to the hits “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “Waterloo” and find myself wanting to have my own personal dance party complete with a hairbrush for a microphone.

What is it that I love about this music? Somehow when I listen to this, I find myself waking up inside, pushing aside my insecurities, and daring to be who I really want to be: vibrant, alive, courageous, and brave enough to have karaoke with my hair products. For 4 minutes and 4 seconds I can confidentially stand in the skin and identity of who Christ made me to be and sing “take a chance on me.” I want to be known for that—for wearing my heart on my sleeve no matter how messy or foolish that may seem. To love deeply.

Isn’t that our hearts’ desire? To be really seen, with all of our failings and fears, and to be accepted and loved anyway. In this season, I am learning to believe that, to really believe, that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. There is no place too far that we can go. Fear does not have a hold on us. We are compelled to love by a love that purses us. God laces up his running shoes and runs to find us to remind us of who we really are and how much he loves us. Once he finds us, he wants to have a dance party to celebrate.

And ABBA will probably be on the stereo.