The Day Jars of Clay Bought Brunch

I’m rarely lost for words. However, for the past week, words have escaped me.

Last weekend I embarked on a 13 hour road trip to Greeneville, TN, a sleepy, and frankly rough looking little town on the far eastern side of the state known for being the home of President Andrew Johnson (my least favorite president) and not much else. There wasn’t even a  mall to wander through, although I still managed to find a few stores and add three pairs of shoes to my growing collection. I headed to Greeneville to meet up with my sister (who had to travel 8 hours herself). Together we had tickets to go to a Jars of Clay concert being held at the local performing arts center, a beautiful auditorium connected to the newly renovated high school.

We have both adored Jars of Clay since they debuted 20 years ago. I’ve now been to 15 concerts. She’s lost count. As I headed out onto the road alone, I became reacquainted with each album they have released, heard lyrics in a new way and fell in love with their music all over again (more on that in future blogs). Songs like “Worlds Apart” and “Faith like a Child” are just as meaningful to me today as they were back when I was just a geeky high school student. The meaning behind the music has grown and changed, but the songs have remained. And new releases like “Fall Asleep” and “Inland” speak thoughts and emotions I didn’t previously have words for. Their music has very literally been the soundtrack to my life. But this isn’t really about the music, at least not entirely…it’s about the people behind the music, their kindness, and their authenticity.

The trip was intended as a way to both celebrate Kelly’s birthday and to escape real life, even if just for a weekend. Life is not easy or pain free and my sister is walking through one of those very painful times. As one of Jars’ songs says, “I have no fear of drowning. It’s the breathing that’s taking all this work.” We thought perhaps a ridiculously long road trip, some sister time, and a Jars of Clay concert would make breathing a little easier.

Weeks before the trip, I took a risk and emailed the band about our trip and the reasons behind it. (Side note: It was very late at night after a very long week and as I sought to personally thank them each by name, I managed to use the WRONG name! I realized it a second after hitting “send” which is one second too late. I was mortified. Stephen – I promise I know your name!) I didn’t expect a response. I had stood in many lines to get an autograph and shake their hands in the past, but a response to an email? Nah. They must get so much fanmail, there’s no way they’d have time to respond to mine, especially after I messed up a name! Except that I did get a response – from Charlie, stating that the story was both difficult and beautiful. I was floored, and assumed that was it. It wasn’t…

As I’m driving around Greeneville, trying to stay entertained while waiting for my sister to arrive the next day, I received another email from Charlie. “The band has read your email. We are moved and looking forward to meeting you once again tomorrow night. Do you have dinner plans tomorrow night, or may we send you somewhere special on us?” WHAT!? Did my favorite band of all time just offer to buy my sister and me a meal!? Several emails later, I had instructions to pick up a gift card in my name at the lobby of a historic hotel in downtown Greeneville where we would be having brunch. When Kelly arrived, she was as shocked and excited as I was.

wpid-20140329_134012.jpgThe simple gesture of a meal. It meant so much. We excitedly tweeted about every part of the event and couldn’t believe it when the band themselves “favorited” some of those tweets. The concert was fabulous, as it always is. And once again, we stood in line to meet Jars of Clay as we had so many times before. However this time we didn’t want an autograph or even a picture. No. We just wanted to look them in the eyes and say, “Thank you.” Thank you for a simple act of kindness. Thank you for being authentic. Thank you for living what you write and sing about. Thank you for moving and impacting people in more ways than you’ll ever know.

As we approached the front of the line, Charlie recognized us (likely from our incessant posts on social media) and waved. All four looked us directly in the eye as they shook our hands. Each asked if the restaurant was nice and if we’d had a good time. Matt had found the restaurant. Stephen teased him for liking “old people” places and asked if the restaurant had that “old people” feel. We assured them that it had been perfect and that words couldn’t express our gratitude. And then we left…

But the impact of their kindness, genuineness, and authenticity has stayed with me. I suspect (and pray) it always will. I did not need a reason to like Jars of Clay more than I already did, but now I have a very good one. A simple gift card. A simple meal. A simple gesture. A profound impact. So what is the “music of your life”? Both that which speaks to you and that which you are meant to make for others. I’m no musician, but Jars of Clay has taught me to be my calling, be authentic. Don’t sing one song and live another. And they reminded me of the power of kindness. What act of kindness and generosity can you express today? You may never know the impact you’ll have on another.

Once again, thank you Charlie, Dan, Stephen, and Matt. You’ve inspired me to “walk inland.” Until the next concert and the next handshake…

Discipline is not a 4-letter word

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Discipline. I don’t know many people who like this word, well, aside from maybe the parents of toddlers. It’s a ten letter word that we tend to treat like it has only four. Discipline feels restricting, legalistic, and boring – depriving us from the adventure of life and the ability to do whatever we want to do. Deprivation. Perhaps one of the only words we like even less than discipline.

But what if discipline doesn’t actually lead to deprivation at all? What if this is one of the great lies of the enemy? What if the lack of discipline is really what deprives us of the life we dream of having?

The truth is that I’ve never felt more free than during the times in my life that I’ve been the most disciplined. And the truth is that lack of discipline has never led to greater excitement or fullness of life. Rather it has always led to sloth, laziness, and incredible waste of my time, talents, and resources. The “freedom” of lack of discipline seems to lead to NCIS marathons, eating entire packages of Oreos, and leaving a permanent indentation of my behind in the couch. I end up watching others live life instead of living it for myself. Still, over and over again I find myself buying into one of the greatest lies – that discipline is a drag and a stealer of joy. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of buying into this lie. I’m ready to live according to the truth, so I’m flipping the script.

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I’m choosing to believe that discipline really does lead to freedom, and joy, and adventure, and blessing beyond measure. I’m choosing to follow my calling instead of my emotions. When I’m tired, I’m choosing to go on a walk instead of taking a nap. When I feel like being alone, I’m going to choose into community. When I feel like eating a dozen Oreos, I’m going to choose something healthy (or at least eat only 2 or 3). When I feel like all that matters is meeting my own selfish desires and felt needs, I’m going to choose to deny myself in order to live for Christ. I’m actually choosing deprivation – deprivation from the things that keep me from the best things. I’m depriving myself from reality television so I can go live my own God-given reality. I’m depriving myself from junk food so I can receive true nourishment. I’m depriving myself of lazy Saturdays alone in my own little world so I can receive the blessings of serving and reaching out to others. Yep, I’m flipping the script because discipline doesn’t actually lead to deprivation, at least not the kind that we think it does. And isn’t this really what Lent and the Easter season are all about?

The truth is that discipline leads to deprivation of the things that actually harm us and leads to freedom to pursue that which is best for us. Discipline is a gift from God actually. It’s a gift that leads to holiness. Holiness is greater than any indulgence we think we need or deserve. And what about those days when discipline feels like an impossible task to achieve? Like making the choice to follow God seems nearly impossible? When we think of the word “discipline” we tend to think of being punished as a small child. First of all, discipline from God is important to receive with an open and humble spirit. However, more often discipline is really about self-control and obedience. 1 Peter 1:13-16 says, “So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” And if God commands us to be holy, then we are capable of living out that command. The trick? We can only do it in His strength, never in our own. As God’s chosen children, we must obey His commands, demonstrate the self-control to choose discipline, and ask our Father for help when we are weak. The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Discipline yourself so others don’t have to.” Choosing into discipline that looks like obedience and self-control prevents the discipline of God humbling and teaching. But even when we need that kind of discipline, it is out of a love relationship. With God it is always about relationship.  And that’s DEFINITELY the message of Easter – the great lengths God went to in order to restore relationship with us!