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Muscle Memory and the Muppet Show Theme Song

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I have owned a piano for almost six months now. When we loaded it in my car, I remember thinking “In six months, if I haven’t used this much, I will resell it and free up space in our living room.” I wasn’t sure that I would practice piano anymore as an adult than I did as a middle school kid. Mom faithfully paid my piano teacher Mrs. Gatrost, and I faithfully showed up at her house for my lesson each week, having tried to cram a week worth of practice into the half hour before my lesson.

I have owned a piano for almost six months now and something crazy has happened: I have played it nearly every day. I started with some of the piano lesson books, trying to figure out what level I would be. The lessons didn’t really do it for me, so I picked up a couple fun easy piano books. I’m not great at it. I play at varying speeds. I hit wrong notes. On some songs, I just plain suck.

But I’ve been playing more. I have a book of hymns that I keep flipping through. I play a mean “Jesus Loves Me” and “Blessed Assurance.” I can stumble my way through half a dozen other hymns. Playing them soothes me (though I doubt it would be soothing for a listener.) I used to have a book of Sesame Street songs but lost it sometime around college. I reordered that and also found a book of easy Muppet music.

I’ve been trying to master the Muppet Show theme and “Moving Right Along.” I’m trying to get them up to tempo. I’m realizing the more I play them– and really it’s just 15 minutes in the morning, maybe 10-20 minutes at night– the more my hands hit the right keys without trying. In fact, I sound so much worse on the piano when I do try. Crazy. But my muscles are learning where the keys are. And they’re remembering.

Music saves me at the end of stressful days. Music sets my mind in the right place at the start of my day. Playing great songs, wrong notes and all, has become a spiritual discipline. And it’s amazing how many alternate lyrics we’ve come up with at my house for the Muppet theme. “It’s time to pet a kitty…”

So here’s the update for today: I’m keeping the piano.

Piano Practice

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I did something a little crazy. I bought an electric piano. I didn’t even know that I wanted a piano until I saw a listing for one on a facebook for sale group. This is the piano that I ended up buying (used and reasonably priced.)

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I enjoy plucking out hymn melodies when trying to find songs for the bulletin, but I’m self-conscious about practicing the piano at church, where people can actually hear me play.

So I talked it over with Steve and did some research on different models of pianos and keyboards. This one isn’t super flashy– no bells, whistles, or drums. But it has weighted keys and sounds like an actual piano. It also is portable, which will come in handy next time we have a community ecumenical church service at the old school, where there’s not a piano we can use.
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I’ve played the piano every day this week. I can’t help but picture my childhood piano teacher Mrs. Gatrost smiling and I hear her counting in my head. The seller threw in some piano lesson books and I’ve enjoyed figuring out what level I’m at. I’m certainly practicing more and trying harder than I did all through elementary and middle school. The muscle memory is slow to come back but it will, in time. Steve says he doesn’t mind the extra noise. This is the face the orange cat makes when I practice, so I suspect the cats might have a different opinion.

 

20161123_101335 I knew being a pastor would be stressful. I had heard pastors describe the weight of the call and the difficulty in finding a way to unwind. Music helps. It helps me to listen and sing along. It helps me to play and practice. I’m not sure I’ll ever be awesome at piano, but I would love to be able to sight read a few hymns. I’d love to not have a panic attack when I’m heading to a worship service without a piano player, and am told I’ll have to lead singing acapella. Pitch is irrelevant when I sing– something I’ve learned my niece does not particularly enjoy. This is how she listened to us sing happy birthday to her other aunt.

 

I’m thankful for the chance to unwind a little and I’m especially grateful for my mom who paid for piano lessons all of those years, even when I sort of just gave up on playing. Coincidentally, I think she’s excited, too. When I told her I bought a piano, she said she would dig out some of her sheet music and bring it over so she could play again, too.

Never Ready

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I am returning to my blog with an Advent confession: though Advent is a time of preparation and awaiting Christ’s coming, I feel anything but prepared. Not just for Christmas and Jesus things, but for life in general. I find myself perpetually in a state of longing for another fifteen minutes (or day or week or month) to get things done.

I am a slave to a never-ending “to do” list and I hate it.

But the alternative is worse. Without a list, I grow even more disorganized. I am absent-minded. If something isn’t written down in an easily viewable, findable spot, I tend to forget it. I try to coax the chaos into neat little lists. I try to keep the list to 3 most important things.

Do those three things, add three more.

But if I were to honestly write down the list of all of the things, it wouldn’t fit on a post-it note. It might fit on a typed page with tiny font.

How much of what I think I ought to be doing actually needs to be done? How much of what “needs” to be done actually gets done? I won’t pretend to keep statistics. I won’t guess at how meek the percentages of accomplishment would be.

Instead, I will wake up each morning. Fight back against the voice of panic that rises in my heart. And I will try to do the important things, apologizing constantly for the people and places I miss out on.

I don’t want to be busy. I don’t want to show up late. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff. But good golly, I’m exhausted just looking ahead at the next couple weeks. I long for quiet, calm, silence, solitude. I need to carve out time for that or I’m going to blink and it’ll be January.

Can a tree sing? Can a tree clap?

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Sometimes when my eyes grow bleary from looking at a computer screen or reading little print in a book, my gaze drifts to my open office door. From my desk, I can look through the hallway window and see past the parking lot.

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Look past the coffee and the floral sofa…

Just on the edge of the parking lot is a small tree, perfectly framed by the window. When the breeze hits the tree, it sways side to side in a graceful dance. When the wind is particularly strong, the tree nearly bends over, as though bowing.

The sight of the small, joyful tree brings to mind part of Psalm 96:12: “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD”

and also Isaiah 55:12: “… and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Can a tree sing? Can a tree clap? Does a tree even have hands? The imagery is powerful and poetic.

Like trying to understand the personification of a tree, the joy of knowing God’s salvation and deliverance can be difficult to explain. Rejoicing can be challenging in the midst of the trouble we face as we continue in the reality of a fallen world with broken relationships and the consequences of sin. We see glimpses of God’s glory in this world, but we remain fully aware that all is not right.

20160823_151646Sometimes the wind is not gentle to the tree branches. Instead of a dance, this young tree looks more like a prize fighter, swerving and ducking when faced with the wind’s persistent blows. The tree still stands, somehow weathering the storms that have brought down other branches in and around the parking lot.

When your eyes grow weary from whatever work lies before you, I pray you might be able to divert your gaze and look to a different part of God’s creation. May we seek rest in God’s promise of salvation and deliverance. May we see a bigger picture as we await the day when the trees of the forest will sing for joy at the return of Christ.

37 Thoughts on the day after I turned 37

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My birthday was yesterday. I turned 37 years old, which seems a little ridiculous. I don’t feel that old and simultaneously,  I also feel much older. Anyhoo… here are 37 birthday thoughts, just a day late.

  1. I get lax on leaving birthday greetings on facebook walls, but then my own birthday hits and I smile at the kindness from all the friends and family.
  2. On that note… how fun is it to get real mail? Birthday cards are the best!
  3. A few people sang to me yesterday. That makes me smile.
  4. Last year, Grandma Benton sang to me on my birthday. It was the only time in my life that I remember hearing her sing.
  5. Grandma sang off key… way off key. It took a stroke for her to lose the inhibitions and filter that kept her from singing loudly. But it was the most beautiful serenade I have ever received. I miss her.
  6. This was my first birthday without a grandparent. That’ll age a person quickly.
  7. I spent my morning at the church, hosting coffee for church and town people who wanted to stop by. IT WAS FUN!
  8. In the afternoon, I helped the Presbyterian Women take treats for coffee time to a care center and IT WAS FUN!
  9. I used to think I really liked adolescents and teenagers. I enjoy talking to them and asking all sorts of questions.
  10. Turns out I just like people. I enjoy talking to most of them, no matter their age.
  11. I was feeling a little old after asking my husband my age. (Since 30, I’ve never really known my age without stopping to subtract 79 from the year.)
  12. Then, I talked with Helen. She’s 106. I’m just starting the 2nd 3rd of my life if I live to be 106.
  13. She said it’s lonely after 100. Most of your friends are gone.
  14. I asked if she made new friends and a smile spread across her face. “New friends are good, too,” she said.
  15. We let age become a barrier to friendship too often. I want to have friendships with people in every decade.
  16. Another woman at the care center asked me if she could talk to me. Would I listen?
  17. I put on my concerned and attentive pastor face. I expected a deep theological question. I went to seminary for this, right?
  18. Turns out pastors aren’t just needed for deep theological questions.
  19. “My roommate snores. How am I supposed to get any sleep? What should I do?” the lady asked.
  20. Fortunately, I was an RA in college. This is freshman college roommate territory. The circle of life, if you will.
  21. I suggested she try to go to sleep before her roommate. Or ear plugs.
  22. Ear plugs are great because you can sleep without anyone disturbing you– roommates, phone notifications, loud and hungry kitty cats…
  23. Then I thought about all the people walking around with headphones or ear buds, deadening the sounds of life around them. I wonder how many cool moments we miss because of headphones.
  24. Listening is hard work, but good. I’m going to listen a lot as a 37-year old.
  25. One of the women I had coffee with was in her eighties. I told her I just wanted to listen to people like her because I wanted to learn stuff.
  26. “Oh, I know a lot of stuff,” she said. “Some of it I can even remember.”
  27. Can you imagine in fifty years when people my age are in their 80s? We don’t have to remember much now because we document the important stuff on social media. What if we lose access to pictures and files? What will we remember?
  28. “Oh, I can google a lot of stuff. Some of it might even be important.’
  29. I don’t know what to make of 37. I get ordained in three days. The rest of my years, I’ll be a reverend. Best get all the heretical thoughts out of my head now.
  30. At General Assembly, someone approached me about being part of the young clergy women group. The group’s for women who are ordained before they turn 35. I was already almost too old. “Oh, you don’t seem that old. I’m sorry you can’t be in the group, but you can read our blog.”
  31. All due respect to young clergy women and men… I want to be in a group with the old clergy women. They know more of the stuff.
  32. Excluding the gifts from my husband, the best birthday present I received this year was from our neighbor Tom, who sprayed the wasp nest hanging from our house. Can you imagine a better present than a dozen dead wasps and a cool geometrical hive?
  33. The way wasps build a nest intrigues me.
  34. The way wasps might chase and sting little nieces visiting this weekend terrifies me, though.
  35. Steve got me two new place settings of fiestaware and the 37 year old me is giddy about them. That’s old lady glee.
  36. He also got me a “Fear the Tree” coffee mug and sticker– he kindly tolerates and encourages my obsession with the Stanford Tree. Pray for him.
  37. What a great birthday. What a great year. What a great life.

 

(You think this list is long? Can you imagine what Helen’s list of 106 things would be??)

Eleven days until my ordination!

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Lord willing, I will be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in just eleven days. As we get closer to the day that I thought would never come, I am eager and anxious. A decade ago, I would not have imagined myself to have the discipline, focus, and desire to complete all the steps required by the Book of Order; nor would I have dreamed about returning to school to complete a MDiv degree at seminary. The Holy Spirit sometimes pushes us in weird places.

A decade ago, I was firmly in the tribe of youth worker. I was adamant that seminary was not in my future. I was stubbornly sure that youth ministry was my calling. I had a chip on my shoulder about ordination. You don’t need to be ordained to live into what God is calling you to do with your life. That was true then, and I still know it to be true now. Strangers, church members, friends, and an annoyingly persistent older brother continually nudged me to consider more schooling and taking the next steps.

I don’t recall a light bulb moment. With me it was more of a dimmer switch slowly adjusted to bring more light to my understanding of vocation. Through Winterset and then back to my roots in Cherokee, I realized I was yearning to do more in the church. I did not graduate from youth ministry. I did, however, realize that I wanted to be able to serve communion and baptize people. I also acknowledged the thirst for more knowledge about God and the church.

The three years of seminary and the four years under care of the presbytery of Prospect Hill feel like a blur. I am a better person for both tracks towards ministry. I’m still unpacking all I’ve learned from classes, conversations, and guidance. As I study the latter part of Hebrews 11 and the first few verses of Hebrews 12 for Sunday’s sermon, I’m mindful of the people that God has used to shape me and to prepare me for this calling.

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Just a few of my faith heroes from the top right and going clockwise: Mister Rogers, Grandpa Everett Lamb, Grandma Anna Belle Lamb, and my grandparents C. Wayne and Neva Benton.

The cloud of witnesses include flesh and blood friends and teachers, yet also friends who live in the cloud of my computer. Family has been incredibly supportive of this journey and I don’t think I would have made it through school and all the meetings without the encouragement from my husband, Steve.

I’m humbled by the support and love from people spanning all parts and times of my life. I look forward to celebrating my ordination on August 21. More so, I look forward to the coming years when I will be able to live into the calling God has given me. I look forward to taking on the responsibilities that our Book of Order lists for Teaching Elders (fancy talk for Minister.) I’ll end with the paragraph that explains the role of teaching elder. Some of the phrases are so beautiful and I am eager to officially take on this role.

 

Teaching elders shall in all things be committed to teaching the faith and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12.) … When they serve as preachers and teachers of the Word, they shall preach and teach the faith of the church, so that the people are shaped by the pattern of the gospel and strengthened for witness and service. When they serve at font and table, they shall interpret the mysteries of grace and lift the people’s vision toward the hope of God’s new creation. When they serve as pastors, they shall support the people in the disciplines of the faith amid the struggles of daily life. When they serve as presbyters, they shall participate in the responsibilities of governance, seeking always to discern the mind of Christ and to build up Christ’s body through devotion, debate, and decision. –G-2.0501

Blog revamp

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Confession: I had forgotten how to log in to my blog. And I let the domain name expire. And I thought I would just start fresh when I finally landed somewhere as a pastor.

Now I’ve landed. I updated the domain name (though there’s always going to be a slambfriend inside sarabsutter). And as I read through the past posts, I decided they should stay as signposts for how I ended up here. I don’t want or need to “start fresh” since I believe God uses our experiences to prepare us for what comes next. Growth is fun to see.

I’m still working through how I’m going to use this space and this mode of communication. Over-thinking everything is a gift, right? As for today…Today’s success comes from logging in, updating the header, and getting a short little post up for the first time in a couple years.