Tuesday, October 31

My Psalm 130

The Psalm songs make me feel less psychotic, most of the time. They give me permission to feel, and to (politely) yell at God. This Sunday night, we challenged the high schoolers to rewrite Psalm 130 in their own words. We've been studying the Great Commandment, and Sunday we considered what it means to love God with all of our souls. I like re-writing Psalms as a way of finding myself in between the lines. [If you're up for it, post your own 130 paraphrase in the comments. There are only 8 little verses.]

There have been so many times I’ve been down, Jesus.
I don’t always cry out to you.
Sometimes I just cry.
But, I want to tell you everything.
Hear my voice as I admit this, Lord.
Lean your ear close to me.

If you kept a list of the ways I forget you, oh Jesus, I’d be hopeless.
But your forgiveness and patience is real.
I’m in awe of the complete way you love me, even though I don’t love you this way.

I am waiting for you to come back, Jesus.
I am waiting for you to turn the tears into dancing songs,
because that’s what you do.
You make all things new.
I put my hopes in your Words.
(I’m trying to, at least.)

The real me, my soul, waits for you, Lord--
more than people who work the night shift
wait for the sun to come up.

Oh Israel--and the whole Family of God, across the earth--
put your hope in the Lord.
Because with the Lord is love that won’t disappoint,
and with Him everything will be made new again.

Jesus Himself will pay for all the ways we turn from Him,
and He will forgive us as we turn back around.

Sunday, October 29

Gentle Voices

With all of these tears I am feeling soothed a bit by the sound of soft, gentle voices. There are many, but I'll mention just one for now.

Thanks to the excellence of Pandora I rediscovered this tender little band from Pennsylvania, The Innocence Mission. There's nothing fancy to them, but their simple piano and quiet guitar is helping me think straight right now. I think the Holy Ghost has always used musicians for that. (See also: David and King Saul.) I just bought their record "Small Planes" on iTunes, and I'm remembering how the sound of Karen Peris' voice has often made me feel like Jesus is sitting near me. (There are a few free mp3s on their website, if you want to see what I mean. That's where I found the picture from, above.) I discovered them a long time ago, back when Sixpence was my favorite band (before they were famous, mind you, though I don't hate them for getting some money in their pockets with that "Kiss me" song). Sixpence had sent an email out to fans promoting them. I was intrigued enough by their band's name to give a listen. A mission of innocence? Nice.

Friday, October 27

Career Day at the Middle School

My sweet brother, Anthony, is in the 7th grade. He asked me to come in and talk to his class for Career Day.

"You want me to talk about my career at your public school? I think I'm gonna have to talk to your teacher first."

What is my career? I'm not sure. I've been a missionary-type in Portugal, working with teenagers. And now, I've just started working for South Potomac Church as their (part-time) Director of Youth Ministries. [There. That was the great unveiling of the Help-Wanted Poll. The two least-voted-for options were my top two choices, incidentally!] I was sure that the school would frown upon me coming in and talking about my line of work.

I was wrong. I asked the nice teacher in charge if I could say that my career involves talking with young people about Jesus. She said it'd be ok, as long as I wasn't a religion pusher. (No sweat, lady! Religion kills!)

So today I got to present my "career" as a "professional youth worker" to about 350 kids aged 11-14. (Funny, I didn't even know I had a career before today...eventhough I've been working with young people for 9 years, I never would have thought of it this way.) I said in pretty simple terms that I have the best job in the world cause I get to be friends with young people for a living, and talk with them about my best friend, Jesus. And no matter what they think (or don't think) about Jesus, I still get to love them all! So that's great. And that the real paycheck is seeing lives changed. I told them that I went to college and loved it, and that they should all study abroad for a semester when they go to college. I showed them some pictures of Portugal, and played them Front Door's song, Love Lessons. It was an altogether lovely day. Here are some more of the highlights and very-cute questions I was asked:

1. A spunky little girl in 8th grade saying to me, "I've been telling my friends that I want to be a pastor when I grow up, but they say I can't, because I'm a girl. But, you're a girl, and you're a pastor!" Me: "You can be a pastor and be a girl. You just might not get called a 'pastor,' but you can definitely be one. That's more important, anyway...not what they call ya."
2. "Can you go shopping in Portugal?"
3. "What is the name of your haircut?"
4. "Jesus is your best friend? For real, though?"
5. "Do you get paid?"
6. "Is it important for you to be close to God and Jesus for your job?"
7. "Did you play in that band [Front Door]?"
8. Another young one coming up to me and, in a few short sentences, telling me all the pain they'd experienced in their family, and how they needed someone to talk to. He left me his number and asked me to call him.
9. Teaching masses of American kids how to say cute things in Portuguese slang. And then hearing them say it to each other on the way out of class!

Thursday, October 26

Names Written on Water - Part 2

[I promise to turn the topic to something less heavy soon.]

I wept from my belly a lot today as I spent many hours at a viewing
of an old friend. I dug up a simple poem that I wrote in 2000,
because it paints a similar scene to my today:

At the Viewing of a High School Senior
Whom I Never Knew

Tonight I saw a boy lying
in a lifeless open cave;
dead branches pushing out,
gave a brittle welcome wave,
begged me in silent words
to reckon with the grave.

His life summed up on a black felt sign
that spelled out his name
in a toothy white line.

His friends had eyes on him
but they beckoned me to drink
a chalice full of tearful whys,
to quench the thirst to think.

A kneeling spot was plush and red
where we all considered God
here a few first prayers were said
when we all considered God.

So we all hugged each other
till we turned to nothing more
than sparkle-speckled dust
fallen to the parlor floor.

Tuesday, October 24

Names Written on Water

In 1999 I spent a semester studying in Rome. Just outside the old Roman walls, there is a Protestant cemetary where a great many famous Englishmen are buried. I wandered into that cemetary one perfectly overcast afternoon and spent time talking with God about life. I needed a break from the hustle of emotions that is Rome. Quite suprisingly, that cemetary was one of the most peaceful places I've ever wandered. The tombstones were works of majestic art. While I was there, I spent a lot of time lingering near John Keats' grave.

Keats was 25 when he died of tubercolisis in 1821. He was a brilliant English poet and a hinging force of the Romantic Age. He was the one who wrote that famous line, "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know".

But what fascinates me most about Keats was that he refused to have his name written on his tombstone. Instead, he insisted they write, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

A week ago a young man died in my town. He was my age, only 26. I didn't know him well, but my Mom did. I had actually spoken with him just hours before he died. He fell asleep that night and never woke up. I went to his wake and cried my eyes out. And in the funeral parlor I couldn't stop staring at a (not terribly artistic, but still profound) painting of Jesus escaping alive from his stony casket.

Today I found out that a young woman whom I'd once known very well committed suicide. Many years have passed since we'd seen each other, but her honest, prayerful questions are still fresh in my mind. They were excellent questions about God's sovereignty in the midst of searing pain. We wrestled with them together, but we didn't necessarily emerge with any cheap or quick answers. Her (almost awful) honesty found its way in my poetry notebooks and scribblings, as I reflected on some of our conversations. Finding them, I wonder if she knew that she could have been a Psalmist.

In the same sitting today, I found a lengthy obituary for Sister Teresa Feeley, who died at 74. Sister Teresa was the younger sister of Sister Kathleen Feeley, who had been a visiting professor my freshman year at UMBC when I took her expository writing class. In my rush of grief, I got the two sisters confused, and thought I was in the twilight zone of death. Memories of Sister Kathleen are appropriate here. She was one who taught me about old John Keats. I really got a kick out of her sharing stories from her sweet Catholic life, though they echoed in our blaringly secular classroom. As an English professor she was delicate and kind, but yet unyielding. She'd look us each in the eye as she'd slowly quote Wordsworth, standing there in her white habit, poised and grasping the lectern: "Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility."

Our names are written on the water. All of our days are like grass, here today, and gone tomorrow. You could say that I've been considering Moses' Psalm 90 a lot lately.

Friday, October 20

How to Rest in America - part 2

(Continued notes-to-self from this post: How to Rest in America - part 1)

18. Read the international news.
19. Learn some new songs.
20. Sketch things in a little book. (You used to do that as a kid. You forgot how much you like to do that.)
21. Sleep long enough to remember your dreams.
22. When you wake up, write down all those dreams.
23. Drink better coffee.
24. Listen to some classic books on mp3.
25. Write people thank you notes for things they'd never get thanked for.
26. Frequently fast from the internet.
27. Have some long meals with old friends.
28. Drink two-Nalgenes-full of water every day.
29. Get out of debt completely.
30. Start reading good poetry again.

Wednesday, October 18


Yesterday I walked into Earnest's office rather shyly. Earnest is the Pastor of Worship and Arts at my church. He'd heard that I play the guitar, so he pointed to a guitar and asked me to play.

I froze. I clam up in situations when it seems I'm supposed to impress someone musically. I think it's because I taught myself how to play guitar when I was a (very lonely) sixteen, and all I learned to play were the worship tunes from the 1982 Young Life songbook.

Every guitar-player has some token songs that they pull out of their pocket at a party. I have zero. I've always liked when people would play Blackbird as their token song. It's a lovely little Beatles tune, it is. One time when my dear friend, Elise played Blackbird (note for note) in our Portugal living room, it made me cry.

I think I even sighed to Earnest, "I'm not going to be able to play you anything impressive like 'Blackbird' or anything."

Then I made myself laugh (that's not difficult) as I played him some old Messianic-clapping-song (I think that's the official name of the genre) that always makes me want to dance. (It also makes me wish I were Hebrew.) "Awake, Oh Israel." Great song.

So, I came home and taught myself "Blackbird" late last night. The tablature thoroughly confused and outright intimidated me at first. Learning that litte song was suprisingly one of the most satisfying things I've done in awhile. But, it's still not as fun to play as those old worship songs from 1982.

Saturday, October 14

Would Jesus Drink @ Starbucks?

I'm not sure what Gus the cat thinks about Starbucks. The only brew he could smell was the stuff we poured out in that old apartment in Sao Joao. We only drank from those cheap, hand-painted mugs from Evora that were forever chipping. The saints of the earth would often mail us some of that holy hazelnut American joe. I confess, sometimes it was a Starbucks blend. But Starbucks was never my favorite.

I don't hate Starbucks. In fact, I kind of get a kick out of the global-warming of their franchise. (In some European countries their American-exported-environments are actually encouraging the folk to drink their coffee slowly, instead of just those espresso shots on the run. I think this is a good thing.) Let's be clear here, though: The Italians have the market cornered on the delights of coffee. I hope the baristas in heaven are Italian.

Right. I don't hate Starbucks. Nevertheless, in light of my recent bloggy-poll, I'm obliged to share the thoughts of my new friend, Cari, who is a good Northwest girl. (Don't worry, she told me I could share. I won't post your emails or Facebook messages without asking.)

Um, Jenelle, look, I really like you, but if you work at Starbucks, even though it's from my home city, we might not be as good of friends. Lol. Actually I'm not that intense, but take it from someone who knows good northwest coffee- Starbucks is bad in multiple ways. (Not really free trade, just trendy; they burn the beans, the coffee is old and tastes bad, they really don't help cultures that much, they exploit good bands, they're not for true coffee connoisseurs, etc, etc, etc). So yeah, I really don't think you should work there. Even if the benefits are appealing don't sell out! Lol. Any of the other jobs are cool. Could you be a barista at a non-corporate shop?

I chuckled, thinking to myself, "Yes, this is exactly the response I was hoping to get by putting Starbucks on my job-poll." I really did consider Starbucks for a time, though. Then I read the fine-print and realized that their benefits really aren't that hot, after all. (I will get to talking about what job I've jumped towards. I'm just really into all of this pontificating on Starbucks right now.)

I agree with Cari on many fronts. (If not, all of them.) So I did a little googling-research, and found some others who take issue with Starbucks, and give more reasons why. And then there is this blog, which is a story in itself: Starbucks Gossip: Monitoring America's Favorite Drug Dealer.

I digress. All these things do make me wonder, though. When some hard facts are thrown down that a corporation is exploiting their workers, what do I do? When I found out what the Gap corporation was paying their workers in the third world, I stopped shopping there. But I didn't feel bad buying their jeans from a thrift store. (At least I knew the money wasn't going back to the Gap.)

Would Jesus drink at Starbucks? I don't know. Maybe I should ask him. I feel like I've been talking about him more than I've talked to him, lately. I think that just makes me a name-dropper.

Wednesday, October 11

Sunsets Say Goodbye

Trevor Borden wrote this song as he was saying "goodbye" to Portugal. The last days of my time in Portugal happened to be the last days of the Borden's, too. I'd come home awfully late to the Borden's house and find Trev tinkering away on his guitar, outside in the garden. Eventhough it was past midnight, we'd put on the tea and he'd keep tinkering. It's such a sacred thing to hear the song of a friend develop. This one would probably be the title track on my leaving-Portugal-soundtrack. I can't wait till Trevor gets to record it in a studio out in L.A., hopefully very very soon. He recorded this one at home.

Sunsets Say Goodbye in Streaming Audio

Shadows fall the day is done
They chase each other 'till all light is gone
Watch him hold her now, the moon rises
But they speak in silence
What good are words now?

Who gently waves her fare-well
And I say “Hello” to the change
You've brought me this far

Huddled close, their bags are packed
Awkward father frowns while mother weeps
Look around this is the last time they will be here together
They move on together
Hope has bound them strong as they look forward to the adventure of tomorrow
“All aboard!” cries the conductor of change

Who gently waves her fare-well
And I say “Hello” to the change
You've brought me this far