Dear Mom

Today marks the ten year anniversary of the end of your seemingly short race here on this planet and the beginning of an eternity as the bicycle riding, softball throwing, pool swimming, head-back laughing, stranger-greeting, ever smiling young woman with clear and sparkling blue eyes. You must be so happy, singing at top volume, every song your favorite.

Even still, I miss you.


Mom (Avonna) and me or possibly Lynelle. Who’s to know? (1980 or 1982)

I mostly just wanted to take today to thank you for always loving me–the times we understood each other and the times we couldn’t see eye to eye. You never once let me question your affection for me, unashamedly hugging and kissing me, making it normal to hear the words, “I love you.”

When it didn’t seem like we had much in common, you found ways to make your commitment to me sure: coming to my Saturday softball double-headers and sharing a submarine sandwich with me on the grass between games, playing Boggle with me after I couldn’t stand being beat in Checkers by you one more time. You were always willing to sing harmonies of the old hymns and choruses you taught Lynelle and I when we were young, and you consistently found a way to make my birthday more than just an ordinary day. When I think about the fights we had, I also remember how you gave me space to myself to cool off and remember that we loved each other.

Above all else, I’m so thankful that you trusted me to know Jesus for myself, teaching me to hear His voice and giving me room to dream with Him about my life. You didn’t put your own expectations on my future but, instead, expected me to follow the desires God had for me.

I’m no longer afraid of the tears that come, sometimes unexpectedly, when something reminds me of you: seeing the remnants of a scar left from a scrape you helped mend or watching a sentimental commercial I know you would’ve been wiping your eyes to. My tears don’t hold pain anymore, just the gratitude for the days we got to spend together–the fond memories that we built even when my mind was too young to catch them.

It might seem selfish, and I could never ask you to come back from being fully and truly you, fulfilling your eternal destiny and living your dreams; but I often wonder how it will feel on my wedding day, or on the day I have my first child without you there to hold my hand. I know I can rest in two things: that I will feel you in my heart on those days, and that those gifts will be directly related to you, through the gift of life you gave to me. Thanks, Mom. I love you forever.

The Hero at the Festival: How one woman made everything matter

Baptized by sweat and sunburn, The Pilgrimage Festival was to be the first musical experience in Nashville that changed my life. Shortly after I relocated to the Music City, I saw an ad for the festival and knew I had to check a concert off my bucket list: Ryan Adams. I was so excited! Some of the other fantastic artists I experienced that day were Valerie June, with her beautiful dreads and clarion voice, Muddy Magnolias with their brand of rock/soul, Langhorne Slim’s story-telling, Fitz and the Tantrums high energy, and then…the queen of the ball: Mavis Staples.

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My first experience with Mavis Staples was when my high school friend, Kristin, introduced me to The Last Waltz, a documentary on The Band and all of the special guests that played for them at their final performance. Even though The Staple Singers sang for a later edit, it was Mavis and Pops covering “The Weight” that affected me the most. So, when I had the chance to hear her sing at the prime age of 78, I knew I couldn’t miss it–even if it meant forfeiting the first 10 minutes and a good spot in the crowd for my golden boy, Mr. Adams.

I had my pick of spots to stand near to the stage, waiting in the shade to save my energy to dance in the sun when she came out to share her gift with us. She sang “Freedom Highway” (click here to listen) and, little did I know that the furious mix of dancing, singing, shouting, and hollering would cause the tears to stream down my face for minutes on end. As I was having this experience amongst the trampled grass and crumpled water bottles, the words she sang resonated my in heart, “I can’t understand…why some folks think freedom is not designed for all men.”


You see, this young Mavis was one of the main voices of the Civil Rights Movement, singing deliverance songs for marches and non-violent protests in the 60’s and beyond. That sound was like a train on tracks this past Sunday as she sang her song for those 45 minutes in that open field. As she talked about Selma and Dr. King and being put in jail, and getting out and doing it all again, I could hear Heaven’s sound of deliverance. That is the sound that I’m after, that’s the sound in my bones.

When Mavis exited the stage, I didn’t even have much of a desire to see Ryan Adams on the next stage. I had heard what I had come to experience that day– a sound of freedom, a song that outlasts generations: “Marching on Freedom Highway/Marching each and every day.” She had imparted something to me, and I could feel it in the deep parts of my soul: deliverance songs are just as needed today as they were 50 or 60 years ago.  I will sing the Freedom Song until I have no voice, and then my heart will transmit the sound until it no longer beats.  Arm in arm with my brothers and sisters, we’re singing “I’ve made up my mind, and I won’t turn around.” And that’s why Mavis Staples will be the Hero at every festival she sings at until her sounds are left to echo in the sounds of the listeners.

The Unorthodox Box

Bird in BoxThe bird in this photo is a welcome morning inspiration. And I don’t even like birds. It seems she’s made a nest in the flower box on the second floor patio. She has hardly moved since landing here–only to escape some pelting rain.  Unconcerned with the spiderweb being built in close proximity or the cars that come and go and park and leave all day beneath her, she has found her place in the sun, in the midst of concrete, to birth something new. Her circumstances aren’t defining her journey, and she’s not afraid to be somewhere or someone she isn’t “supposed” to be. She only knows that she had to find a place to lay her dream, to fulfill her purpose, and to continue her life.

Aren’t birds supposed to make their nests in trees or at least on someone’s front porch lamp? These are the places we expect to see them, and, perhaps, don’t notice them because of their natural presence in that environment. But fulfill your purpose in a tiny window box, with your own little view of beauty, and you will see things you never dreamed. You will also be seen by a whole new group of people, who stumble on your own unexpectedly shining beauty.

History is filled with unorthodox boxes. Moses, the deliverer of a nation, was supposed to be killed along with an entire generation of Israelites, but his mother sent him downstream in a basket.  Abraham Lincoln would begin political discussions and readings with humorous stories and jokes to lighten the unimaginable seriousness of the Civil War era.  Maya Angelou, writer of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” reportedly wrote from sparsely decorated and small hotel rooms rented months at a time. Even Jesus was born in unorthodox conditions, having been laid in an animal’s food trough.

How many times have we settled for a daily life in the ordinary? How many times have we not considered taking a risk because it looks unusual or is not a part of what culture deems “expected”? Sometimes, fulfilling your purpose means looking outside the patterns of those around us, the definitions of previous generations, and finding life in the middle of a concrete-heavy world. Sometimes, the unexpected, unsuspecting patios are the places that need the beauty you have to bring.

Don’t be afraid of doing what hasn’t been done. Don’t be afraid of being the only one.
Fulfill your purpose whatever the cost.
Cheers to finding your unorthodox box.



full-moon-moon-bright-sky-47367I think the moon is getting closer. The longer I stare at him, the clearer he becomes. His tentative confidence is showing as he did not invite the clouds over. He’s even keeping his favorite stars just out of reach.

Some months he really shows off, coming in really close; other months, it’s as if he doesn’t feel that his fullness is enough to impress anyone, covering up with storms, clouds and fog. My favorite moments are when I feel an apocalyptic message in his low and close, fiery and glowering presence.

I wonder if he’s been waiting for someone to notice him tonight. Maybe, during the day, he dreamt something too interesting to keep to himself. Maybe he has a joke to tell. I keep staring. He keeps inching. I begin to see the expression on his face, daring me to ask a question, silently pleased that I’ve noticed him and his almost full edges. I just keep my face turned toward the light, satisfied with the quiet and the game we are playing.

Tomorrow, he will be full. What will he will feel, and will he share his wonder with me? With the world? Will he be alone? Will he invite the stars? Tomorrow, I will be watching.

My Favorite Worshipper


It’s the second week of October in 2007. Tulsa, Oklahoma has just barely entered its fall season, but winter has overtaken my family months ago. My mom, who has been battling leukemia for nine years, is taken by ambulance to the hospital for the last time. There have been good days, bad days and days the word “terrible” can not even begin to touch.

And here is where the truth lives…every October. Before this last hospital “visit,” I have struggled to see my mom, to be there with her in her sickest of days, to spend every last moment with her. I want to run, I want to pretend this has already happened, I want to forget that I feel so alone.

But something is happening when I call the ambulance on this Monday morning. I stop running. I stop thinking about myself. I know these are the last days I will have. I know that I will have to make the most of these hours, these minutes, these seconds. When did time start moving so quickly? I can’t pull myself away from her room, from her bed. Prayers for healing continue to go up and all I can think is, “I need you here, but not as much as you need to be whole.”

You may ask what this post has to do with worship, so I’ll tell you:

My mother is a worshipper.

This night, the first of her last five nights on this earth, I do what I do best: I make her a playlist on my mp3 player. Somewhere I have the list of downloaded songs written down. But it’s not the songs that matter. What matters is that my mom wanted her last days to be filled with music that lifted her heart, her spirit to the One she was going to meet.

The longer my mom is gone, the more I want people to know her. She loved music so much that she played the accordion. That’s right. The accordion. The only people who play the accordion are the people who can hear music where no one else can. I now have her accordion, but I can’t play it…yet.

I have countless memories of singing in church, my young heart bursting with love for Jesus, while my mom played the piano or organ, lead the choir, smiling as her own heart was bursting. As I stood beside her in church, she belted out the alto harmony to whatever song was being sung, or she sang in her quiet falsetto, unashamed. I listened with comfort and belonging as she clapped to the beat, danced a dance, and shouted her praises to the King she would see in a few years. It is only now that I see this music inside me, and my love for creating it is a direct result of what was happening beside me.

My mom is a worshipper. Avonna Lee Terpening is a worshipper. And, as far as I know, she never wasted one chance to rehearse for what eternity would hold for her on October 13, 2007.

As my sister and I planned my mom’s memorial service, I knew the most important part would be the music. There were five songs and hymns played that day, from different eras and different styles. I could almost hear her voice harmonizing with all of them.

My mom is a constant reminder to not let this moment pass by. I don’t want this moment to pass us by. Whether with words, a song, action, a hug or a smile, a heart turned upward, let’s take this moment to rehearse for eternity.

We are worshippers.