Making the Invisible Visible

If you’ve followed my writings you already know that I am willing to be transparent, to open myself to others’ scrutiny. I told God years ago that I did not want to wear a mask. I realized that I had worn a mask most of my adult life. I liked the image my mask presented. From all indications I had it together. I lived a good life; I had a wonderful family – what more could a girl want, right? I wore the mask of the wife and mother of a picture perfect family: educated mother and father, boy, girl and a dog or two. When we went to restaurants, strangers walked over to tell us how beautiful our family was. My mask smiled and I patted myself on the back. We moved to Ohio to follow my dream of teaching college and my husband went back to graduate school. The mask remained firmly in place. In fact, it became decorated by my new position. In that first year, in this new place, strangers on every side, the mask began to slip. There were a few meltdowns but at the end of each, the mask was put firmly back into place.

Eventually, a series of events forced the removal of the mask and I vowed never to hide behind one again. What I did not realize twenty some years ago is that the mask was but one part of the armor I used to protect myself.

Let me bring this a bit closer. I had something of a meltdown this morning with our eight year old. I’ve been working hard on a second book in the Hezekiah Loves Music series. This book is quite different from the first and I’m really excited about it. I’ve had a few people, including children, read the book and the feedback has been tremendous. One lovely child told me it is among her favorite books. I’ve been trying to get the subject of the book to read it. Beyond working with me on the music that will be included, he seems to have little interest. That just did not go over too well with me this morning. One thing led to another and we were both nearly in tears.

After putting him on the bus I began to question why his seeming disinterest should bother me so. He is only eight, after all. The discovery may be surprising to those who know me but – deep breath – here it is. For much of my children’s lives, I felt invisible. Ok, I said it and the world is still revolving. We traveled the world together; we spent quality AND quantity time together as a family. Yet, I often felt separate from the inner circle the kids shared with their Dad. The fact that I was the photographer on most of our adventures means that I am in very few family pictures. This realization still brings tears to my eyes if I dwell on it too much. This led to the understanding that my sense of invisibility did not start when my darling babies were born or even when I got married. No, it’s been a quiet demanding, freeloading visitor all of my life. It’s gone with me everywhere I’ve gone. It’s attended every celebration. It’s patted me on the back at every heartache.

invisible womanRevelation is a good thing but only if it is useful. So, my prayer this morning was about how to circle the issue of invisibility and examine it from all angles. I wanted to know how to shake its hand and bid it a forever farewell. In other words, I wanted to know how to heal the places that contributed to feelings of invisibility.

Healing is not an easy road to travel. It is certainly not for the cowardly. It requires willingness to strip away layers of protective armor. When we are wounded in any way, the body has an amazing capacity to send defenses to that place. That is easy to see in the physical but is much more difficult in the emotional. Feelings of abandonment, insecurity, fear, or loss set the body’s natural defense system in motion. When we do not process these emotions, when things continue to pile up, what was intended to be a short-term response – let’s call it a sheer layer of protective armor – becomes a hardened prison that thwarts growth and health.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 9.40.20 AMTo access those things buried beneath is not a passive endeavor. Some will need to be chipped away, bit by bit. As you chip, you will feel pieces of you pulled away, too. It hurts!! This is where we often give up. I mean, we’ve all read the sign ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ There have many times when it did not take much for me to declare a thing ‘good enough.’ The problem with living beneath armor is that while your conscious self might not know something is wrong, the subconscious does and demands attention. This creates inner dissonance and feelings of unrest and dis-ease…. which often leads to physical disease. Yes, chipping away costs something but the beauty is God created the body – physically and emotionally – to renew itself. What feels like the pain of death truly is but a ‘light affliction’ in the scheme of things. It’s like giving birth. Those babies we love cause serious pain yet most of us would do it all again just for the joy of holding that precious one in our arms. Likewise, giving birth to the whole, healthy person God created you to be will require a sacrifice of pain. BUT, when it’s done you will come forth as pure gold.

Some things need to be chipped away. Others must be soaked away. When a wound is covered by gauze seeped in caked on, dried blood, it must soak before it can be, oh so gently, peeled back. Removing armor from wounds that have been opened and reopened for years is perhaps the most difficult process of the two. The process of soaking is one of vulnerabandaged handbility and is counterintuitive for people who are accustomed to their armor. Heck, some of us LOVE our armor! Although it sounds passive, it is not. Soaking calls you to let go of the familiar. It requires you to allow yourself – heart, mind, spirit and wounded places – to be covered by the ointment of the Holy Spirit. It means acknowledging that you have wounds you simply cannot reach by your own works. It means partnering with someone who can help you get beneath the covering.

In this place of total submission, the healing balm of the Spirit gently covers the armored places. And, like a loving Mother, the Holy Spirit very carefully begins to reveal – inch by inch, issue by issue, pain by pain – the brokenness, heartaches, fears, tears, memories – hidden beneath. Like a child, you open, first one eye, then both to take ever-lengthening looks at what is being revealed.
And as you are emotionally ready, you lay aside these weights.

It is crucial to know that the Holy Spirit can work anywhere. So your soaking may have to occur in the office of a mental health professional. Yes, God is capable of zapping you, waving one hand and swoosh, the armor is miraculously peeled back and your entire world is righted. But what I’ve learned is God often requires our participation in the healing process.

Chipping, soaking or both, whatever it takes to be whole, that is my heart’s desire. And I’m going after it!  Won’t you join me?


Baby Shower Resources

Baby Shower Games and Activities

1. Prayers for the Family.

Download tprayers for the familyhe form and copy enough for each guest to have one. Use pretty papers. This is what I had and I thought it was pretty for a boy baby and had a timeless look.  Ask guests to complete each form and collect them in a binder for the family to enjoy for years to come.

2. Baby Boy and Baby Girl Scattergory (click boys or girls to download)

Print enough copies for each guest. There are four rounds for BOYS.  There are five rounds for GIRLS.  Using Baby Girl Scattergorya timer give guests 2 minutes to write. After the timer goes off, compare answers. Any duplicated answers cancel each other out. Guests may use creative answers but other guests will have to approve the answer. You are not allowed to use colors (ex. red shoes) or numbers (ex. Five teddies) to fulfill the category.  Have fun!  The guest with the most points at the end of the rounds wins!!

3. Famous Babies
Famous Babies

Give guests a few minutes to remember and name these famous television babies.

Download here.

Famous Babies key

A Joy To Be Recognized….

I made a whirlwind trip in March to Vermont, a place I had never been. I wished I had had the time to actually explore the place but that was not to be. Though I did not get to see much, I did get to meet some truly outstanding people. We spent the better part of a day singing and breaking bread. There was such friendship and love in the space; I was honored to be a part. Though I did not have full use of my voice (this has been an ongoing journey and a story I will tell before long; I know God is doing a mighty work), things went beautifully. It is amazing to teach people who truly want to learn. I left there thinking I may just start my own ensemble, I so miss singing with others at a higher level of excellence. Brendan, the director of the ensemble, wrote the following words in his newsletter. It filled my heart with joy on many levels. I am learning to truly love and accept me, the person God made without the burden of ‘work’ to qualify me. So I share these words just as I share the love I felt when my sisters and brother drove from Maryland to be with me when I was awarded the 2014 University of Dayton College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award.  It is a joy to be recognized……

Thanks for reading!!


Brendan wrote: ” The day after I got home from the studio, the whole Bright Wings gang assembled at my place for three days of rehearsal and a weekend of performances. This has been our model from the start, but this time we had the opportunity to spend the second day of rehearsal with Rev. Donna Cox, a gospel choir leader and university professor who traveled out from Ohio to work with us for a day on our performance of African-American gospel and spirituals. As Bright Wings has branched out from our initial roots in shape note music, we’ve really enjoyed exploring some early gospel. But as a group of white singers in a predominantly white state, I felt it was important to do everything we could to insure we were honoring the tradition in our performances, especially in light of some of the events of the past year.

Donna is a gem, and it was a joy to work with her. She was able to coax a better performance out of us almost instantly and gave us some really excellent new repertoire to work with. She also framed spirituals and gospel in some ways that were really helpful to me, and that I’d like to share a bit of here. The first thought has to do with how that music, all of it, is coded and can be understood on multiple levels. Most of you will be aware that songs like ‘Wade in the Water’ or ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’ were understood spiritually and as advice/ directions for slaves wanting to escape north (the drinking gourd in question being the Big Dipper, pointing north). But what Donna pointed out is that every song, not just the obvious ones, operates on multiple levels of understanding. She taught us the spiritual ‘Great Day’. It says:

            Great day/ great day the righteous marching
Great day/ God’s gonna build up Zion’s walls/ God’s gonna build up Zion’s walls.

While this is obviously a promise of spiritual deliverance, it could also be sung with the intent that it will be a great day when Harriet Tubman comes, a great day when we cross that river into Canada. And the advantage of the code then was that it could be sung in that way without the slave-owner knowing. The advantage of the code now is that it means, as a singer, you can choose how to approach the song. You can choose what intention you bring to it. For those of us, like me, who didn’t grow up in a church, I can invest those words with more personal, more visceral meaning: it will be a great day for me when marriage is available to all, when black teens don’t fear the police, when we stop tearing down the mountains in West Virginia for more coal.

Understanding this coded nature of the music also means—and this is what’s new and so important to me—that you can approach the songs on multiple levels as a listener, not just as a singer. That you can find in this old and powerful music meaning that apply to you and your world, and that you can do that in a way that is part of the music’s heritage.

Because that’s the other thing in approaching a musical tradition: it is a tradition, it has a history that needs to be respected. In everything I do musically I’m aware of trying to balance a respect for tradition with the need for personal expression. Donna captured it beautifully when she said, “You bring to the music your experience. You honor where it comes from. You make it your own.”

That feels so important to me, all three parts of that equation. We all have to deal with this history, with the fact that our European ancestors brought slaves from Africa to this country. The ramifications of that are obviously deep and complex, and a bit too much to take on in an already long e-mail. Musically, the response to that experience created an incredibly rich vein of song, music that is now the most popular music in the world: spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, rock, r&b, soul, hip-hop. Music that is with us every day and that allows us to make these intentional choices, as listeners and as singers, on how we approach the different levels of meaning.

And all that from just an afternoon of rehearsal. Just think if we had had a week… We were supported in doing this work by a crowdfunding campaign, something that many of you contributed to. Thank you for that. Thank you for supporting us, for helping us develop as musicians and to think more deeply about the intersection of race and music.

This ramble has been even longer than usual, so congratulations if you’ve made it to the end. It is Easter Sunday as I write. In the spirit of understanding something on multiple levels of code—wherever you are and whatever you believe, may your spirits rise today.”


Offer Yourself Grace

I’m on a 21 Day Journey to Inner Healing. I’m determined in this study, to stay out of my head, to get into my heart, and stay there.  The head is a much easier place from which to live. But the head is not always kind to the heart or spirit. As I was journaling this morning, something bubbled up and I believed I needed to share it. We’ve been talking about the grace of God, that unmerited, unearned favor that is so freely given to us. God is gracious. God is merciful. But Donna is not always gracious, and certainly not always merciful (just ask my students who don’t do their homework on time).  I’m learning that God’s grace doesn’t always reach my inmost being because of my own stinginess with offering grace and mercy to myself! In short, instead of being loving and kind to God’s daughter, that would be me, I have, way too often, done the opposite.  It’s definitely something to make you go ‘hmmm.’

Anyway, I hope these musings will help someone and deliver them from the same inclination.

There IS something worse than being victimized by others. It is becoming a double victim by penalizing yourself for your response to the victimization. When a woman who is raped choses not to fight back,  she is STILL an unwilling participant in the violent act. To beat herself up because she did what she needed to do – in that moment – to survive is to inflict an even greater violence. The woman who sets aside her own emotional needs when her husband’s infidelity is discovered, who, if even from a place of inner woundedness, chooses to make herself emotionally present for him, the children or the ministry; the woman who chooses to pray for her husband and for the heifer – ok woman – with whom he had an affair,  actually PROTECTED herself in those moments. Yes, she was victimized… cruelly. Yet, if she spends the next ten years angry at herself for not choosing a different path, she is guilty of inflicting more violence on herself and at a much deeper level than anyone else can reach. The daughter whose alcoholic mother forces her to grow up much too soon is a victim. Spending her days caring for her siblings, cooking meals and hiding her mother’s drinking from her father may be the only choice the daughter believes is available to her – in that moment. To give herself over to self-hatred because of this makes it very difficult for the girl to grow into a healthy woman.

Before you allow your anger to be kindled against me for telling women it is okay to stay in dangerous situations, please hear what I’m really saying, underneath. Choices are not always black or white. Sometimes a person does what she believes she needs to do to survive emotionally or physically. Sometimes, her choice may not be the one people outside her situation will believe is right, and perhaps from an external perspective, they are right. But if her choices protect her from leaping off the nearest bridge, crawling into bed and not getting out, or inflicting damage on someone else, she shouldn’t compound the violence by punishing herself once the danger is mitigated.

God wants to and can heal us from the trauma of what others do to us. But before God can intervene in the inner healing, God needs for us to stop being judge and jury and sentencing ourselves to a life sentence of hidden pain. We must stop listening to the the inner voices that make us demean ourselves. It is so subtle at times that we might not even recognize what we are doing. You know what I mean. You have the internal conversation over and over – and you are never on the winning side. You call yourself names. You tell yourself you deserved every wrong thing that ever happened to you.  You slap yourself around because you ‘let’ someone rape you, you convince yourself that your actions forced your husband to have an affair, you goad yourself because you didn’t confront your mother about the ways she damaged your self esteem.  Instead of this cycle, hold the woman that you were in your arms and thank her for doing the best she could with the emotional resources available to her at that time. Tell her that her choices, even if they could have or even should have been different,  didn’t make her weak or stupid. It didn’t make her less than who God made her, a precious daughter. Stop blaming her for not donning her Wonder Woman cape and headband and kicking some butt or rolling some heads. Love her, respect her, allow God to reach her and heal her. Then together, you and God can decide where you need to go, what you need to do now. You will make your next decision with a comforted heart, an undivided mind and a spirit that is soothed by the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

Offer yourself some grace.

One of Life’s Roller coasters

For the past eight years my siblings in the DC area have been closely traversing the rocky road of terminal illness with our Mother. They have done a yeoman’s job caring for her through experimental treatments, a variety of medical plans and a host of doctors. The past year has been more down than up and the past six months have been totally crazy. Since January I have been to DC four times, each time thinking she was at the end. Our Mother was the poster child for mind over matter. I’ve never known anyone as strong-minded (stubborn) and determined to be in control of her life.

I’ve been using “roller coaster’ as a metaphor for the family’s journey with Mother and I believe it is accurate. Like a roller coaster ride, there have been high highs and low lows. Things have moved quickly and things have chugged bumpily along. And just Imagelike the roller coaster, when the ride comes to a very abrupt stop, there is a sense of disorientation. The ground feels unsteady. The stomach may feel queasy and the heart still skipping a few beats.

The past five days are a microcosm of the past six months. Friday morning, after finding that Mother had fallen during the night, my sister called 911 and she was carried to the hospital. Within the day we were told what we already suspected – Mother was terminal and death was imminent. She would need to go back into hospice (this would be the third admittance – the first one she discharged herself). On Saturday, we had multiple discussions with the medical staff and struggled with when to have the medicines that were helping her body function, turned off. She was alert off and on, understanding when we told her that she was very ill and that the doctors didn’t think she would make it. ‘What’s new?’ she wanted to know. She was okay with being in hospice — after she went home first. On Sunday, Mother was alert and complaining about being bored, asking if she were expected to just lay in the bed. We wondered if we had made the right decision and if she planned to prove the doctors wrong with yet another come-back. By Sunday night the next ICU doctor had information that conflicted with what we had been told the day before. On Monday, Mother was less aware of who was in the room with her. She had conversations with folk who were long dead in between sleeping fitfully. By Tuesday she was agitated, calling Grandma, having conversations with Daddy (complete with rolled eyes). She greeted me with a ‘hi baby’ when I came in but after that she didn’t know I was there. She was clearly in another place or on her way. It took much longer than we anticipated but she was moved to a hospital hospice space in the afternoon. This morning, without much ado and with none of us standing over her, Mother slipped away, the conclusion to a five-day roller coaster ride or the culmination of an eight-year ride.

It’s easy to think that those of us who know the Lord would be (should be?)  exempt from suffering or watching those we love do so. However, believers aren’t exempt from the swirl of emotions that riding a roller coaster brings. Despite knowing God is the driver around every curve, over every hill and during every breath-taking drop, believers do not get a free pass from experiencing strong feelings after the ride is over.

When the ride comes to a conclusion, you still need to find your footing and that can be difficult. This applies to every person regardless to whether you are riding with someone for whom the trip is final or if you are there as support.  ImageUltimately, death is a solo flight. When the ride stops, both the passenger on the Eternity Coaster and those waiting at the station, must know where they will find themselves: on solid or shaky ground and with God or not. Don’t take a chance. Know for sure.

RIP Claire. I love you and thank God for you.

Love is a Decision

Watching my oldest move closer to the date when he will truly ‘leave his parents’ and begin the lifelong process of ‘cleaving’ to his wife, I find myself thinking more and more about love. This word, like many, has become one we toss glibly about: we love chocolate, we love Scandal, we love the flowers growing in our garden, we love pecan sweet potato pie (can I get an amen!) – the list goes on. But do we really love these things? And if we do, are they able to love us back? And if they weren’t able to love us back, should that make a difference to the quality of and our commitment to love?  Of course, these questions do not really apply to chocolate or pie especially since their brand of ‘love’ leaves them clinging to thighs, abs and chins and refusing to let go. That’s probably not a healthy love. But these are questions we must ask about genuine love relationships.

I have prayed long that my children would marry people who loved God with all of their hearts and souls, people who treasured, respected and honored my son and daughter. I’ve also prayed that whomever our children married would be folded into our family, without all of the negative drama so prevalent and normalized in our society. And my prayer has not been only for the future spouses but that our families would mesh, that we would love each other, be great friends and supports. In my vision, our families would merge so tightly that we provided a safe harbor in which these new family branches could grow and bear fruit.

This is the prayer of a person for whom family is very important, the prayer of a person for whom love has often seemed more like something captured in a colander than a bowl. At times I’ve watched love slip through the holes and wondered what happened. Sometimes I have carelessly pressed it through those holes. I’ve also floated in it, riding the gentle swells. confident in the ability of the container to hold true. And still I believe… I seek… I desire to love and be loved.

Over the years I’ve learned something very important about love. It’s not the overwhelming, mushy feeling of the movies and romance novels. Love is much more than that. Our emotions are fickle, contrary and very often totally and deliberately deceitful. Strong, mushy feelings are important. Who hasn’t loved so much that you wondered if your chest could contain all of the feelings! But emotions are really only a fraction of the story. Love is a decision we make and purpose in our hearts to act upon. In the traditional wedding ceremony, the officiant asks the bride and groom if they promise to love, not, do you love this person already but do you promise to love through whatever life throws your way. That implies making a conscious and continuing decision!!

I’m rejoicing because in a few short months I’m going to have a truly wonderful daughter-in-love. I already adore her. Yet, the truth is, we don’t fully know each other right now and that’s okay. We have a lifetime to get to know each other. It will take time for the seeds being planted now to take root and blossom. That’s the future. In the present, I know enough to be willing to choose to love her. I know she loves my son. I know she loves God. I know she loves her family and I know she is willing to love ours. So, I deliberately make the choice to love this young woman. I make a conscious choice to make room in my heart for her and for the rest of those she loves. I choose to love her now and I’m going to love her as long as we both shall live. If that sounds like the wedding vow it’s because it is. When two people marry, they join FAMILIES! There really is no such thing as marriage between two people. Other cultures have a better understanding of this concept than Americans and it’s time we do a better job of comprehending.

Choosing to love is not always easy; sometimes it would seem simpler just to walk away or turn your back. Love is risky business at the best of times because we are flawed individuals. Because we are, it is inevitable that we hurt each other, that we step on toes by mistake, that we get so caught up in our own stuff that we are negligent or careless with others. Yes, deciding to love is risky but the rewards are tremendous. You and I are recipients of deliberate love. God’s love for a deadbeat, hard-headed, recalcitrant humanity (that would be you and me in case you missed it) was so deep that God made a decision that would cost Jesus His life. God did that for us, not because we deserved it but because God loved.  This is how Vanessa Bell Armstrong’s song, For God So Loved The World, puts it:

God could have chosento never love again,
fallen man could go his wayand die in his sin.
But God in His compassion said,“I’ll pay redemption’s price”,
so He took on the form of man and became the perfect sacrifice.

That’s the image of love, personal sacrifice, a decision to love when you don’t feel like it, when the other person gets on your nerves, when you feel misunderstood…. even when your heart is broken. Love is a decision. What is your choice?DSC05979

This photo was taken after Mom and Dad Cox celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. This is one of my favorite images of sacrificial love!

American Folk Songs

Thank you for attending our session at OMEA.  Feel free to download our list of ‘must not forget’ songs. Please send me yours in pdf format so I can share it with others!!

Thank you,

American Folk Songs

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