My Red Sea Road Day

 

Today (May 27, 2019) is the Celebration of my Red Sea Road – Exodus day. My liberation day. My get the hell out of there day.

To know me is to know that milestones and anniversaries are a pretty big deal to me. This is one of those days.

I began putting miles between myself and my manipulating spiritual, emotional abuser.
Literally packed up a uhaul with the help my yoga teacher and some of their friends.

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A city that I loved, unfortunately, was too much of a reminder that I couldn’t be there any longer.

I had long run out of reasons to stay. The air I was breathing had become toxic ever since the day I arrived. Maybe the nerves I felt arriving were an early indicator that something was not right. Maybe the tears I cried every time we had a conversation were an indicator that something was not right. Maybe the tension and confusion that built up in my body because “do I listen to God or the pastor?” was making me sick.

Oh, but don’t worry they just wanted me to repent and recant for calling out spiritual abuse. The ugliest, most awful email I’ve ever read and received, was full of the very manipulation they were denying.

My physical symptoms were undeniable. The wear on my psyche, my heart, my soul, and my mind and body.

Just do what you’re told. Just be the good little church girl, your voice isn’t valued here. Your gifts as a worship leader aren’t needed, your skills, your training, and your church music degree. It was like I didn’t even exist.

You will be condescendingly criticized, belittled, betrayed, manipulated and gaslit.

So yeah, I know what it feels like to leave, and I know what it feels like to be excommunicated. Only, I never understood why they felt like they had to have the last word…

A Brief Timeline:

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*I moved to Chicago in the Summer of 2012
*I found yoga in April 2014 – yoga saved my life.

*Visited my sister on Memorial Day Weekend 2015 – This was beginning of the end of the spell I was under. I was criticized and warned against visiting my pregnant sister by my abuser. On my own long weekend, which I paid for. I mentioned this particular time further in this post.

short video clip of Apollo Chorus & Northwester students rehearsing Mahler for our Northwestern University performance, followed by a performance in Downtown Chicago on Sunday.

*I left Chicago on Memorial Day 2016, just like a Red Sea parted, God made a way for me to get out. The day after performing with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, a dream come true, and the best way to leave on a high note.  Pictured, my view from the stage, my Backstage pass wristband, and after the performance with a couple of my favorite kiddos, with the stage behind us.  The same stage where I saw Andrew Belle, the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, and Idina Menzel the previous fall. mahler choir.jpg

THAT WAS THEN, NOW I’m FREE

AND NOW, 3 years after leaving

I am free.
I am whole.
I am fully alive.
I am healing.

I am a vocal advocate against spiritual abuse.
I help women reconnect with their bodies.
I sing regularly and am a valued part of my worship team.
I am writing songs, and finding my sound. I hope to have some coffee shop gigs later this summer or early fall. I hope to one day record music for television and get paid for it. I want to compose a choral piece for my women’s choir to sing. I want to write an orchestral symphony or suite.

I celebrate and savor life, delighting in the beauty found in each new day, and practicing gratitude. I practice nonjudgment and self-compassion on hard days and allow myself to feel, and go at my own unique pace. I journal and reach out to friends. I am connecting with old friends and new and building new relationships that are rooted in wholeness, being fully myself.

I am creating art, words, music, and resources for healing, spiritual agency, and wholeness.

I am a yoga teacher, integrated soul mentor, songwriter, and auntie.

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Harmonizing and drawing from my background studying art, music, worship, theology, and yoga, I teach gentle yoga classes and empower women to love their bodies in the present tense.

Interwoven with my passion for social justice, peacemaking, and spiritual agency, preventing spiritual abuse and speaking truth to power, paired with my personal story of awakening, departure from, healing and recovery of spiritual trauma by employing spiritual and personal agency.

Synthesizing contemplative Christian practices to help you live an integrated faith & embodied spirituality, rooted in love, free of religious platitudes, spiritual bypass, or legalism.

I believe deeply that we are not powerless. My desire is that you would feel less broken, more empowered, and discover your own inner wholeness. Loving our bodies is a vital element of a healthy, integrated soul.

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I am just getting started. I have risen from the ashes, and will not be silent.

My sacred calling is to create, nurture, and heal. Making space for other women to embody and integrate their faith, find healing, and embrace the sacredness that is within.

Will you celebrate with me? 

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The Soundtrack of Deconstruction and Spacious Faith: Gungor’s Last Concert at the El Rey Theatre: The End of The World Tour and The End of Bad Religion

The Soundtrack of Deconstruction and Spacious Faith: Reflections on Gungor’s Last Concert at the El Rey Theatre: The End of The World Tour and The End of Bad Religion and the past Ten Years

A walk down memory lane, a timeline.

How do you put words to something that has been the soundtrack of ten years of your life? Not only the soundtrack, but I am grateful to have seen them many times over the past ten years and the way they have been woven into my own story. I dug out these photos from shows I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.

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Gungor releases Beautiful Things February 16, 2010

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May 7, 2010  – Costa Mesa, CA
Beautiful Things at Rock Harbor for a Worship Central Conference. The first time I heard them in their full splendor with a full band. I was completely blown away by their musicality, skill, musicianship, and beautiful melodies & harmonies.

I was inspired as a musician and as a songwriter. I had several charismatic type experiences during these two days, altar calls, tears and snot and prayer, and beginning to embrace songwriting as a spiritual calling. I’m not really sure what to think about that experience in hindsight…it was positive at the time. Though my memories are unfortunately marred by my abuser’s presence that weekend.

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March 3, 2011 – Irvine, CA
One year later, Michael, Lisa, and a cellist played at Catalyst West and I heard Michael chat on a panel on Creativity with Amena Brown & Jo Saxton. I still remember he shared that he went into music because it was something he couldn’t not do. That really resonated, and I felt similarly while connecting with his musings as a fellow music student.

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Ghosts Upon the Earth – Album released September 20, 2011

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March 10 2012, The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA
Ghosts Upon the Earth Tour – Amena Brown and The Brilliance opened the show.  A black umbrella and a chandelier draped over the stage as Lisa opened with the song “Let there be Light.” As the music built the lights came bursting aglow.

Behind the scenes, I was weeks from deciding and in the middle of begging God for confirmation about moving to Chicago.  I spent the weekend prior in San Diego at a hotel, on my own for a mini prayer retreat / and a bit of a vacation and I ended up feeling like I was saying goodbye to San Diego. One month later I committed to making the move.

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Creation Liturgy Live Album with Recordings from the Ghosts Upon the Earth Tour
Released October 9, 2012

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I am Mountain –  Album Release – September 24, 2013

gungor march 19 2014 with steph

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I am Mountain Tour – The Metro, Chicago IL (Just a few steps away from Wrigley Field)

At this time I was living in Chicago, in the middle of losing my job, which was confirmed with about a week, and right before I began going to yoga every week (yoga saved my life). My friend from L.A. was visiting and joined me for the show. In a lovely full circle turn of events, I saw her again last night, right before going to the final show in Los Angeles at the El Rey.

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One Wild Life:
Trilogy Released in 3 parts, respectively: August 7, 2015, March 25, 2016, & September 30, 2016

This also became the soundtrack to my yoga practice as well as my departure from Bad Religion.

 

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Almost entirely due to the recommendation of Gungor, I attended a Premier showing just north of downtown Chicago of the film Last Days in the Desert with Ewan McGregor, and it was a fascinating film. I really enjoyed it. Gungor opened with some music and conversation, just as they advertised and set it up really well.

Unfortunately, on my way home I received a troubling phone call to learn that one of the pastors was asking some questions, and so instead of getting to reflect on the movie I had just seen, I spent a couple hours before bed finishing up a 6-page document that I had already begun drafting, naming symptoms of Spiritual Abuse and how they were affecting me and calling out Spiritual Abuse and Bad Religion, and lastly, naming my abuser. Feeling a sense of urgency as a result of that phone call, I sent the email.  I blew the whistle. I wanted it to be clear what was and wasn’t going on. And within hours of my departure from the city, I received the most awful, abusive, manipulative email in response, I stood there shaking as I read the email on my phone. Let Bad Religion Die. Indeed.


Back in 2017, on August 22nd, I played the song Brother Moon on repeat for my nephew who snuck out for juice past bedtime, and he picked up on this gorgeous ethereal line as I sang along. (super short video).  Would you listen to that adorable baby musician? So sweet.


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June 26, 2018
Last year, Lisa released her book, The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen. I was able to get a copy from NetGalley and this was my review:

I’ve just finished Lisa Gungor’s memoir, The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Ever Seen. It is beautiful, lyrical, and cinematic. I highly recommend it, especially to Gungor fans and to those who have difficult family tensions, and those with whom we don’t always see eye to eye. It’s poetic and eloquent, evocative, insightful, and a true work of art. Super judgy, analytical readers may not find it appealing. It is a stunningly, achingly beautiful memoir. I especially loved the way all the threads were woven together: giving color and nuance and context and expression and experience.

I loved reading how as she told her own story, of her childhood, as well as their love story, and their journey making music adding more color and nuance as well as gravity and ache to the small pieces that had been shared with fans and readers of their blog, and on social media. It really was very lyrical and cinematic the way she told the story, and I loved it so.

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Archives – Album Release – March 1, 2019
I’m so grateful that the Gungors decided to release this archive full of music. There are so many songs on here that I am loving so much.

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The End of the World Tour – May 6th, 2019 – Los Angeles, CA
And so we come to the end. The End of the World Tour. Gungor, the musical collective’s last tour, and very last show at the El Rey in Los Angeles, CA.

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  • IMG_1648I was joined by a group of friends who met online as a result of loving Gungor and/or the Liturgists Podcast which was started by Michael Gungor and Science Mike. How in the world does that even happen?! A group of us created a subgroup as an offshoot from the main group and started a new group to discuss our lives as single people, navigating the (already) confusing dating world in our various stages of deconstruction and reconstruction. We have regional meetups, and love getting together and bonding over this One Wild Life.IMG_1559.JPGIMG_1598.JPGI honor and thank Lisa & Michael Gungor for all their blood, sweat, and tears and the pure and honest artistry and musicianship that they have poured into the Gungor Collective. For sharing their lives and their journey with us. It has been ONE WILD LIFE. For sharing their family, their stories, their hearts, their spirits, and for their music. I grieve the ending of something that has been so profoundly meaningful, been the soundtrack to much of my own journey for these past 10 years. Thank you. And looking so much forward to what comes next. Thank you both. I could not have asked for a more perfect show, the setlist so lovingly curated and joyously. This yoga teacher is so grateful for the breath meditation moment that Michael led.

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    Some favorites from last night’s show:
    Woman (Fierce & Feminine) by Lisa
    I am Mountain
    Please Be My Strength
    This is Not The End
    Oh, What a Beautiful World
    We’ll All Be Free

    Hearing William Matthews, Israel Houghton, Propaganda, and The Brilliance, the Younger Gungors, and everyone else who joined them on the stage that night was such a delight. Two cellos, two drummers, simply amazing. Truly, a musical feast, full of heart and soul, and full of the honesty of humanity.


*For more on my story, if you felt like I left you hanging…it is a long story, I didn’t want to make this longer; if you would like to know more, follow the bread crumb trails here on my blog, here are a few places to start:

  1. An Odyssey Moment
  2. Loved Back to Life: Redemption
  3. One Year Ago | A Uhaul & Unforced Rhythms
  4. Taking My Voice Back | One Year Later
  5. Surprise, it’s a Podcast!
  6. Integrated Soul Podcast Ep. 2 & 3 Shownotes

The Integrated Soul Podcast Episode 1 Shownotes

“Something Is Not Right” Show Notes

In the first couple of episodes, I begin to share my story of taking my voice back after spiritual trauma and how that led me here. I’m using my own voice to tell my story with the hopes that it will empower someone else to be free from the toxic, shame-based religion and indoctrination that’s out there.

fleshing out what it means to have a healthy soul

Some of us find freedom and find new ways to connect to our faith and spirituality. This is my story.

LISTEN HERE: anchor.fm/integratedsoulpod 

You can listen via the web app at that link or download the app to your smartphone to listen. If you use the Anchor app, you can even send messages or record a voice message for me that I can use on a future episode. I’m planning to keep it here in one place at the moment, though I am open to requests to distribute to iTunes. Leave a comment and let me know you’re listening! 🙂 If you have any technical difficulties let me know, I’m happy to help.

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You’ll hear as I mention some of the symptoms I was experiencing that were caused by spiritual abuse and trauma.


Quotes referenced on the show:

re-examine all you have been told
at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul

~Walt Whitman

Version 2

(artist, unknown; poem by Walt Whitman)

He brought me out to a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

~Psalm 18:19


Music Appreciation

Excerpts from Brooke Fraser’s song, Therapy, helping me sound kinda cool. Here’s her official lyric video: Therapy.

Links & Where to find me:

Thank you so much for listening, it means a lot to me! If you’d like you can leave a voice message or contact me if you’re interested in having a conversation on the podcast sometime!

LISTEN HERE: anchor.fm/integratedsoulpod 

The Language of Freedom

If you’ve known me for a while, you may or may not have noticed that my language has shifted. I’ve drastically cut back on the “religious” language that I use. This is completely intentional. It is part of my healing. It is part of my attempts at sobriety from religious addiction and trauma. Our subcultures and super-sub-subcultures have got to change.  We’re going around in circles talking about things we don’t even mean nor do we know how to say what we mean. We’re padding ourselves with religious bubble-wrap and cushioning, to keep ourselves safe. Hashtag blessed (hear the sarcasm?) From what exactly? From people who are different than us?


The language we use is very telling; and, very important. Pointed,  jagged, sharp, loaded and painful, hurtful words can sound like this:

submit, obey, character, trust, faith, choice, direction, death, self, die-to-self, surrender, sacrifice.


Here’s an example: “Your character needs to grow/change/improve.”

And slowly the word “character” digs sharper and sharper into my chest like a dagger. It sounds more like this. “We don’t like you the way you are. You need to be better. You don’t look like / operate like/ conform like us.” What is this, the survival of the fittest, most ultra spiritual person?

“You need to trust God.” or the accusatory, “You don’t trust God.”

Loaded. Bang. Bang. Do you hear it?


Oftentimes it becomes necessary and healthy to take a step back from the thorns that have entangled the true and good meaning of these words, and look again with fresh eyes at their true meaning and remove the religious stigma and legalism, and religious and spiritual addiction and spiritual manipulation, abuse and triggers.

Faith and trust can become gentle, and even trustworthy again.

A deeper listening and mindful awareness of the power of control, self-control and free will. The will to make decisions and power to consent.

Bodies and hearts are good. Intuition and wisdom are good. Paying attention, being aware and mindful of what’s going on inside your body and outside and noticing how your body is reacting or responding to various stimuli.

We don’t have to embed religious language into everything we do in order to “redeem” it. In fact, it can be quite dangerous, and unhealthy. Because you stop thinking for yourself (with your God-given brain) and you become a religious parrot, which we are not called to be. Our uniqueness and diversity is to be celebrated. You are a poem, did you know that? Our unique gifts and abilities; gifted to each one.

I dare you. Pay attention to your language. Use your thesaurus and your own words. It takes practice and it will take time. This is so important.

Not only are others desperate for this fresh, raw language, many of us on the fringes are in need of words that don’t hurt and burn and scar and wound and push us farther away.

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One Year Ago | A Uhaul & Unforced Rhythms

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One year ago I loaded up all my belongings from my second floor apartment into a small Uhaul squeezed in our narrow alley along with the help of some dear friends and their friends and escaped from some really toxic relationships. To this day, I still have a couple kitchen boxes packed. I drove over 400 miles in a Uhaul truck and moved in with my sister and became my nephew’s nanny; arriving at about 11pm that night. We took care of each other and I found refuge there with my family.

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I’ve walked with Jesus the whole way. It was his words in Matthew (below) that signaled that it was time to go. And he’s never left my side, he’s always been with me. I may never understand how I ended up where I did, or why it got as bad as it did, but what I do know is that He was the one who rescued me.  He was the One who provided a way out, along with the help my family and some very dear friends. He was the original rebel; rejecting rules and religious addicts and bad religion. (cue the Gungor song, Bad Religion)

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When I found myself unable to say the words it is well with my soul,” I knew my soul was not well. I will say it, and quote this ’til my last breath, a healthy soul is an integrated soul.” (Dallas Willard words to John Ortberg in Soul Keeping) It is so critically important. 


“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG)

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.” (AMP)

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So I rested. and rested and rested.

28 Come to me and I will give you rest—all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke. Wear my yoke—for it fits perfectly—and let me teach you; for I am gentle and humble, and you shall find rest for your souls; for I give you only light burdens.” (TLB)

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And I began to recover my life. With room to breathe. Room to reconnect with who I really am, not a restrictive, distorted, lifeless, suffocated version of me.
I learned that so-called holy words were twisted and forced on me and used against me. My entire being, my spirit was torn down, there was no building up. I wasn’t enough for them. I was too much for them. I wasn’t accepted for who I was and for who and how God designed me.
 

This is the face of freedom, just a few days after my move:

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Lorde (the artist/singer/songwriter) sings a haunting song that resonates with me. It is one of the things that was said to me, almost verbatim. She sings:
‘They say, You’re a little much for me
You’re a liability
You’re a little much for me”
So they pull back, make other plans
I understand, I’m a liability
Get you wild, make you leave
I’m a little much for
E-a-na-na-na, everyone’

Since that day, I have moved again, this time flying back to California with my nephew and a much lighter load, in more than one sense of the word. Just one year on with four years of trauma behind me and I still have a long road of recovery. It’s been a hard, lonely road; pursuing a healthy soul is no easy road but it is a spacious road of freedom.
 
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If you’ve experienced spiritual trauma and been hurt by the church, you are welcome here. I hope to offer spiritual sobriety here, soul care, and compassion, both for ourselves, and for each other. That is my commitment to you. Your story, your voice, your feelings are valid and you’re invited here, whether you join me on your mat in a class or online. And I’m always down for a latte and a conversation. Not everything is appropriate or ready for public consumption, and only you will know when you’re ready to tell your story, and how.

Loved Back to Life: Redemption

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I studied music with a calling to lead worship. I was honored to have space to do this for several years. But I was restless. I attempted to get work at churches unsuccessfully for a countless number of years. Countless number of resumes and interviews, just to get my foot in the door. I was willing to settle for anything at that point.

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Seeking, I spent a year long process applying and joined cru in 2011. While I loved our training, I crashed and burned and still felt out of place as far as gifts and interests went. Support raising was impossible. Broken and hungry for purpose and new direction I moved to chicago on a “mission.”

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My voice was taken away from me. (And I don’t mean my vocal chords). I lost all meaning and purpose in my life. For months I described my state as feeling like an empty carcass. Yeah. I felt like shit. Eventually, my body began speaking to me through anxiety. As we learned this week at retreat, “listen to your body for it knows before you do!” This has been so true in my experience.

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I found refuge in Greatly Gracious in Chicago. Experiential worship through movement and prayer in stillness and listening. I was loved back to life as I attended weekly classes with Sarah at Greatly Gracious.

I believe the reason God led me to Chicago was to find my way to Sarah’s class that first night and to be rescued. I came back every single week, for two years. That was three years ago. The same year I attended HY Touch training with Jonnie and a month later attended the Soul Care retreat in St Louis with Jill, Laura, and Whitney. That was just the beginning.
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Every single encounter, every person I have met in this Yoga family has spoken LIFE to me.

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LOVED BACK TO LIFE.
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Redemption. Are you ready for this?

I have found myself in a worship ministry. A ministry of healing and soul care and holistic ministry. I will speak LIFE and hold space for others.

Quick Christmas (115 of 7)

How’s that for redemption?

I’m still amazed. I can’t wait for the rest. As I dream and step into this next season in great anticipation and HOPE.

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Pictured here with some of my LIFEgroup gals who have been just that: LIFE for the past 4 months.

An Odyssey Moment

 

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My life came to a halt four years ago when I was stopped from pursuing worship leadership. I thought it was over. I had nothing else to live for, the life was zapped from me, and I felt limp and lifeless. Then, almost 3 years ago, I started going to a weekly yoga class that was essentially a worship experience. I learned to listen in prayer, to listen in the stillness as we stretched our bodies and rested in child’s pose or savasana, laying on your back, relaxed, it’s a resting pose.

Five months later, I attended a one-day workshop where I learned some Thai Touch techniques and yoga massage. That experience solidified my desire to teach yoga as I witnessed what looked to me as our instructors leading us in worship. It was a huge moment of epiphany. They were worship leaders. It expanded my view of what I already felt was a broad and diverse understanding of worship, but with music feeling like such a deep wound, it gave me a renewed vision and renewed hope for my life.


 

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my view from the stage for our first of two performances, with the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra in front of us, in the beautiful University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel

 

One year ago I auditioned and was accepted into the incredible historic choir in Chicago, The Apollo Chorus and dove into the deep end with a difficult, classical, oratorio, musical work by the name of Elijah, by Felix Mendelsohn from the 18th century; 172 years ago. Intense, emotional, difficult and deeply moving. It is an epic musical work. A part of my brain that had been dormant for 3 years or more came alive and I began composing and writing again.

 


After I left, I began practicing Spiritual Sobriety and right now I can’t even imagine what going back into doing music in a church setting will look like. Music, hell yes, but leading worship again…it’s still so painful, and a tender wound.

And then, back to today, I remember that I’m about to begin my Yoga Instructor training, in two weeks from today and it feels almost full circle as I unwrapped two of my books from today’s mail.  A name in the foreword of one of the books almost took my breath away.  It was a name I came across at least a few times doing research for my undergrad studies in church music (before they began calling it worship leadership). And it didn’t scare me, it didn’t hurt.


It hit me like such a gentle “woah” moment, quiet, and gentle and like the gentlest tap on your shoulder, almost like a surprise, long awaited embrace, relief, and a coming home.
This epic odyssey continues but the coming home parts keep “woah-ing” me away.

Woah.

Like, woooooah.

Breathless, silent, woah. I don’t know if I’m ready, but I’m so ready for this.

I’m about to be studying worship once again, the subject that I have put so much time and energy and schooling towards. And I didn’t even realize it until this moment. Today. And after much time awaiting and wanting to go through Yoga Instructor Training, it’s finally here. Beginning officially in two weeks, and I could not be more excited! 


My educational and career journey aren’t just a collection of random mismatched, aimless jobs.

I have a BA music degree, studied and completed a semester of graduate Masters in Worship studies with a 4.0, and am adding certified Yoga Instructor to my artist’s palette, or tool belt. It is slowly, gently, beginning makes sense, now. The puzzle pieces *do* go together.

  • Planning and arranging set-lists and putting together playlists and learning how to sequence a yoga flow…actually goes together.
  • Learning about design and furniture and research about how a space, room, or environment makes you feel…
  • Teaching a women’s workout at a gym and encouraging healthy habits.
  • Taking care of kids fits in there somewhere too. I love kids yoga.
  • Waiting tables and making espresso, fits in there too.
  • Learning about entrepreneurship back in 2009.
  • Technology and social media marketing, totally fits.